Tag: Beyond

Beyond Media Queries: Using Newer HTML & CSS Features for Responsive Designs

Beyond using media queries and modern CSS layouts, like flexbox and grid, to create responsive websites, there are certain overlooked things we can do well to make responsive sites. In this article, we’ll dig into a number tools (revolving around HTML and CSS) we have at the ready, from responsive images to relatively new CSS functions that work naturally whether we use media queries or not.

In fact, media queries become more of a complement when used with these features rather than the full approach. Let’s see how that works.

Truly responsive images

Remember when we could just chuck width: 100% on images and call it a day? That still works, of course, and does make images squishy, but there are a number of downsides that come with it, the most notable of which include:

  • The image might squish to the extent that it loses its focal point.
  • Smaller devices still wind up downloading the full size image.

When using images on the web, we have to make sure they’re optimized in terms of their resolution and size. The reason is to ensure that we have the right image resolution to fit the right device, so we don’t end up downloading really large and heavy images for smaller screens which could end up reducing the performance of a site. 

In simple terms, we’re making sure that larger, high-resolution images are sent to larger screens, while smaller, low-resolution variations are sent to smaller screens, improving both performance and user experience.

HTML offers the <picture> element that allows us specify the exact image resource that will be rendered based on the media query we add. As described earlier, instead of having one image (usually a large, high-resolution version) sent to all screen sizes and scaling it to the viewport width, we specify a set of images to serve in specific situations.

<picture>   <source media="(max-width:1000px)" srcset="picture-lg.png">   <source media="(max-width:600px)" srcset="picture-mid.png">   <source media="(max-width:400px)" srcset="picture-sm.png">   <img src="picture.png" alt="picture""> </picture>

In this example, picture.png is the full-size image. From there, we define the next-largest version of the image, picture-lg.png, and the size reduces in descending order until the smallest version, picture-sm.png. Note that we’re still using media queries in this approach, but it’s the <picture> element itself that is driving the responsive behavior rather than defining breakpoints in the CSS.

The media queries are added appropriately to scale with the sizes of the picture:

  • Viewports that are 1000px and above get picture.png.
  • Viewports that are between 601px and 999px get picture-lg.png.
  • Viewports that are between 401px and 600px get picture-sm.png.
  • Any thing smaller than 400px gets picture-sm.png.

Interestingly, we can also label each image by image density —  1x, 2x, 3x and so forth — after the URL. This works if we have made the different images in proportion to each other (which we did). This allows the browser to determine which version to download based on the screen’s pixel density in addition to the viewport size. But note how many images we wind up defining:

<picture>   <source media="(max-width:1000px)" srcset="picture-lg_1x.png 1x, picture-lg_2x.png 2x, picture-lg_3x.png 3x">   <source media="(max-width:600px)" srcset="picture-mid_1x.png 1x, picture-mid_2x.png 2x, picture-mid_3x.png 3x">   <source media="(max-width:400px)" srcset="picture-small_1x.png 1x, picture-small_2x.png 2x, picture-small_1x.png 3x">   <img src="picture.png" alt="picture""> </picture>

Let’s look specifically at the two tags nested inside the <picture> element: <source> and <img>.

The browser will look for the first <source> element where the media query matches the current viewport width, and then it will display the proper image (specified in the srcset attribute). The <img> element is required as the last child of the <picture> element, as a fallback option if none of the initial source tags matches.

We can also use image density to handle responsive images with just the <img> element using the srcset attribute:

<img  srcset="   flower4x.png 4x,   flower3x.png 3x,   flower2x.png 2x,   flower1x.png 1x  "  src="flower-fallback.jpg" >

Another thing we can do is write media queries in the CSS based on the screen resolution (usually measured in dots per inch, or dpi) of the device itself and not just the device viewport. What this means is that instead of:

@media only screen and (max-width: 600px) {   /* Style stuff */ }

We now have:

@media only screen and (min-resolution: 192dpi) {   /* Style stuff */ }

This approach lets us dictate what image to render based the screen resolution of the device itself, which could be helpful when dealing with high resolution images. Basically, that means we can display high quality pictures for screens that support higher resolutions and smaller versions at lower resolutions. It’s worth noting that, although mobile devices have small screens, they’re usually high resolution. That means it’s probably not the best idea rely on resolution alone when determining which image to render. It could result in serving large, high-resolution images to really small screens, which may not be the version we really want to display at such a small screen size.

body {   background-image : picture-md.png; /* the default image */ } 
 @media only screen and (min-resolution: 192dpi) {   body {     background-image : picture-lg.png; /* higher resolution */   } }

What <picture> gives us is basically the ability to art direct images. And, in keeping with this idea, we can leverage CSS features, like the object-fit property which, when used with object-position, allows us to crop images for better focal points while maintaining the image’s aspect ratio.

So, to change the focal point of an image:

@media only screen and (min-resolution: 192dpi) {   body {     background-image : picture-lg.png;     object-fit: cover;     object-position: 100% 150%; /* moves focus toward the middle-right */   } }

Setting minimum and maximum values in CSS

The min() function specifies the absolute smallest size that an element can shrink to. This function proves really useful in terms of helping text sizes to properly scale across different screen sizes, like never letting fluid type to drop below a legible font size:

html {   font-size: min(1rem, 22px); /* Stays between 16px and 22px */ }

min() accepts two values, and they can be relative, percentage, or fixed units. In this example, we’re telling the browser to never let an element with class .box go below 45% width or 600px, whichever is smallest based on the viewport width:

.box {   width : min(45%, 600px) }

If 45% computes to a value smaller than 600px, the browser uses 45% as the width. Conversely, if  45% computes to a value greater than 600px, then 600px will be used for the element’s width.

The same sort of thing goes for the max() function. It also accepts two values, but rather than specifying the smallest size for an element, we’re defining the largest it can get.

.box {   width : max(60%, 600px) }

If 60% computes to a value smaller than 600px, the browser uses 60% as the width. On the flip side, if 60% computes to a value greater than 600px, then 600px will be used as the element’s width.

And, hey, we can even set a minimum and maximum range instead using the minmax() function:

.box {   width : minmax( 600px, 50% ); /* at least 600px, but never more than 50% */ }

Clamping values

Many of us have been clamoring for clamp() for some time now, and we actually have broad support across all modern browsers (sorry, Internet Explorer). clamp() is the combination of the min() and max() functions, accepting three parameters:

  1. the minimum value,
  2. the preferred value, and
  3. the maximum value

For example:

.box {   font-size : clamp(1rem, 40px, 4rem) }

The browser will set the font at 1rem until the computed value of 1rem is larger than 40px. And when the computed value is above 40px? Yep, the browser will stop increasing the size after it hits 4rem. You can see how clamp() can be used to make elements fluid without reaching for media queries.

Working with responsive units

Have you ever built a page with a large heading or sub-heading and admired how great it looked on a desktop screen, only to check it on a mobile device and find out that’s it’s too large? I have definitely been in this situation and in this section I’ll be explaining how to handle such problems.

In CSS, you can determine sizes or lengths of elements using various units of measurements, and the most used units of measurements includes: px, em, rem, %, vw, and vh. Although, there are several more units that aren’t used as frequently. What’s of interest to us is that px can be considered an absolute unit, while the rest are considered relative units.

Absolute units

A pixel (px) is considered an absolute unit mainly because it’s fixed and does not change based on the measurement of any other element. It can be considered as the base, or root, unit that some other relative units use. Trying to use pixels for responsive behavior can bump into issues because it’s fixed, but they’re great if you have elements that should not be resized at all.

Relative units

Relative units, like %, em, and rem, are better suited to responsive design mainly because of their ability to scale across different screen sizes.

vw: Relative to the viewport’s width
vh: Relative to the viewport’s height
rem: Relative to the root (<html>) element (default font-size is usually 16px )
em: Relative to the parent element
%: Relative to the parent element

Again, the default font size for most browsers is 16px and and that’s what rem units use to generate their computed values. So, if a user adjusts the font size on the browser, everything on the page scales properly depending on the root size. For example, when dealing a root set at 16px, the number you specify will multiply that number times the default size. For example:

.8rem = 12.8px (.8 * 16) 1rem = 16px (1 * 16) 2rem = 32px (2 * 16)

What if either you or the user changes the default size? As we said already, these are relative units and the final size values will be based off of the new base size. This proves useful within media queries, where you just change the font size and the entire page scales up or down accordingly.

For example, if you changed the font-size to 10px within the CSS, then the calculated sizes would end up being:

html {   font-size : 10px; }
1rem = 10px (1 * 10) 2rem = 20px (2 * 10) .5rem = 5px (.5 * 10)

Note: This also applies to percentage %. For instance:

100% = 16px; 200% = 32px;  50% = 8px;

And what’s the difference between rem and em units? It’s what the unit uses as its base element. rem calculates values using the font size of the root (<html>) element, whereas an element declaring em values references the font size of the parent element that contains it. If the size of specified parent element is different from the root element (e.g. the parent elements is 18px but the root element is 16px) then em and rem will resolve to different computed values. This gives us more fine-grained control of how our elements respond in different responsive contexts.

vh is an acronym for viewport height, or the viewable screen’s height. 100vh represent 100% of the viewport’s height (depending on the device). In the same vein, vw stands for viewport width, meaning the viewable screen’s width of the device, and 100vw literally represents 100% of the viewport’s width.

Moving beyond media queries

See that? We just looked at a number of really powerful and relatively new HTML and CSS features that give us additional (and possible more effective) ways to build for responsiveness. It’s not that these new-fangled techniques replace what we’ve been doing all along. They are merely more tools in our developer tool belt that give us greater control to determine how elements behave in different contexts. Whether it’s working with font sizes, resolutions, widths, focal points, or any number of things, we have more fine-grain control of the user experience than ever before.

So, next time you find yourself working on a project where you wish you had more control over the exact look and feel of the design on specific devices, check out what native HTML and CSS can do to help — it’s incredible how far things have come along.


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Going Beyond Automatic SVG Compression With the “use” Element

If you draw your own SVG files or if you download them from the internet, tools like this SVG-Editor or SVGOMG are your friends. Compressing the files with those tools takes only few seconds and reduces your file size a lot. But if you need to use your SVG inline to animate or interact with the code, there’s still a lot you can do about code legibility.

Reusing content with SVG’s <use> is not always an option, but when it is, you won’t regret taking a few extra minutes to put it in practice.

In this article, I’ll show an example where I was able to take a lot of advantage of this element — not only for keeping the file size down, but also a clearer markup that became more legible and easy to maintain.

This is the first design that I needed to work with. It was originally created in Illustrator:

Take a look at the following code, this is the original file exported directly from the software, weighs 2.05kb:

It’s not a heavy file at all. However, open it and you’ll find there are lots of empty tags, deprecated namespaces, unnecessary white space, commas and extra information applied by the software. This makes the code hard to work with, annoying to scan and creates a big scroll for those hundreds of lines in your document.

You’ll also notice that the file is indeed using <use> and <defs> elements, but not in the best way it could. And that’s not the software’s fault! Each astronaut illustration in the original file has a clipping mask: an invisible circle that acts like a window through which we can see our character. Without it, the suit of the astronaut would be flooding outside the circle. There are a few ways to avoid this in Illustrator, like cropping those extra parts with a pathfinder option. That way we would gain a few bytes and avoid using an extra circle only for clipping information of the graphic that we won’t show. The compression of the file starts in the software. Still, there are a lot of things we’ll be able to improve on the code in case we don’t want to edit the original file.

Compressing the SVG with SVGOMG and keeping the default options won’t take any effort and you’ll get a file that weighs 1.46kb. That is a reduction of 30% compared to the original size and the graphic will look exactly the same.

Reusing content

This will require going through the SVG and making some adjustments. I know this option takes more time regarding the previous example, but it’s not as hard as it seems. 

We have one repeated element, which is the astronaut inside the circle. That’s the one we’ll compress on SVGOMG. The result will look something like this:

<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" viewBox="0 0 95.8 95.8"> <style>.st3,.st4{fill:#ffcb2f;stroke:#12192c;stroke-width:1.4891;stroke-miterlimit:10}.st4{fill:#69b2b1}</style> <circle cx="47.9" cy="47.9" r="47.9" fill="#12192c"/>    <circle cx="47.9" cy="47.9" r="40.7" fill="#f6a2a4"/>    <defs><circle id="SVGID_1_" cx="47.9" cy="47.9" r="40.7"/></defs>    <clipPath id="SVGID_2_"><use xlink:href="#SVGID_1_" overflow="visible"/></clipPath> <g clip-path="url(#SVGID_2_)">      <path class="st3" d="M63.9 45.6H32c-4 0-7.2 1.9-7.3 4.3l-.8 26.6H72l-.8-26.6c-.2-2.5-3.4-4.3-7.3-4.3z"/>      <path class="st4" d="M74.3 86.9L66 88.2C53.8 90 41.4 90 29.1 88.1l-7.7-1.2v-14c0-4 3.2-7.2 7.2-7.2h38.5c4 0 7.2 3.2 7.2 7.2v14z"/>      <path class="st3" d="M31.8 47.3h-.6c-.7 0-1.2-.6-1.2-1.2V23.2c0-.7.6-1.2 1.2-1.2h.6c.7 0 1.2.6 1.2 1.2v22.9c0 .7-.6 1.2-1.2 1.2z"/>      <circle class="st4" cx="31.5" cy="20.7" r="2.8"/>      <circle class="st4" cx="47.9" cy="51.4" r="20.3"/>      <path d="M64.5 53.1c0 8-7.4 11.2-16.5 11.2S31.4 61 31.4 53.1s7.4-14.4 16.5-14.4 16.6 6.4 16.6 14.4z" fill="#13192d" stroke="#12192c" stroke-width="1.489" stroke-miterlimit="10"/>      <path fill="none" stroke="#12192c" stroke-width="1.489" stroke-linecap="round" stroke-linejoin="round" stroke-miterlimit="10" stroke-dasharray="9.6793,3.7228" d="M65.9 88V76.9"/>      <path fill="none" stroke="#12192c" stroke-width="1.489" stroke-linecap="round" stroke-linejoin="round" stroke-miterlimit="10" d="M29.6 87.9v-11"/>    </g>  </svg>

First recommendations: 

  1. Move the <style> content to the CSS file (assuming you can use your SVG inline and that you have a stylesheet linked in your document).
  2. Rename the IDs with something that makes sense to you. 
  3. Round those complicated numbers, like stroke-width="1.489" to stroke-width="1.5". This is something that could happen if you resize your vectors in Illustrator with the option of scaling borders checked.
  4. Remove the stroke-miterlimit="10" as we don’t need it since our stroke-linejoin is round.
  5. This code will be our astronaut template. We need to wrap everything in a group, add an ID to that group and place it inside a <defs> tag. Notice that we already have a <defs> element with a circle inside it. We can remove that one as it will be part of a bigger <defs> tag.

Notice that the first two circles are filled shapes with different radius and color. We can keep the smaller one and add a stroke big enough to achieve the same effect — again, something that we could avoid using a circle with border in Illustrator in the first place.

Another important thing is that our current viewBox is too small for what we want to build. Let’s make it bigger and add some negative space on the X axis so we can start cloning our astronaut from the middle. 

To learn more about viewBox, check out this beautiful guide to scaling SVG by Amelia Wattenberger.

We will end with something like this:

<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" viewBox="-400 0 1000 5000">  <defs>   <g id="astronaut">    <circle cx="94.5" cy="48" r="44" fill="currentColor" stroke="#12192c" stroke-width="8"/><clipPath id="a"><circle cx="94.5" cy="47.9" r="40"/></clipPath>    <g clip-path="url(#a)"><path class="st3" d="M110.5 45.6H78.6c-4 0-7.2 1.9-7.3 4.3l-.8 26.6h48.1l-.8-26.6c-.1-2.5-3.4-4.3-7.3-4.3z"/><path class="st4" d="M121 86.9l-8.3 1.3C100.4 90 88 90 75.8 88.1l-7.7-1.2v-14c0-4 3.2-7.2 7.2-7.2h38.5c4 0 7.2 3.2 7.2 7.2v14z"/><path class="st3" d="M78.4 47.3h-.6c-.7 0-1.2-.6-1.2-1.2V23.2c0-.7.6-1.2 1.2-1.2h.6c.7 0 1.2.6 1.2 1.2v22.9c0 .7-.5 1.2-1.2 1.2z"/><circle class="st4" cx="78.1" cy="20.7" r="2.8"/><circle class="st4" cx="94.5" cy="51.4" r="20.3"/><path d="M111.1 53.1c0 8-7.4 11.2-16.5 11.2S78 61 78 53.1s7.4-14.4 16.5-14.4 16.6 6.4 16.6 14.4z" fill="#13192d" /><path fill="none" stroke="#12192c" stroke-width="1.5" stroke-linecap="round" d="M112.5 88V76.9"/><path fill="none" stroke="#12192c" stroke-width="1.5" stroke-linecap="round" d="M76.3 87.9v-11"/></g>   </g>  </defs> </svg>

What goes inside the <defs> won’t render anywhere. To start cloning our astronaut, we need to link its ID inside a <use> element like this:

<use xlink:href="#astronaut"/>

xlink:href is deprecated since SVG2, but is better to use it for compatibility purposes. You can use href in modern browsers, but I tested it on Safari and it wasn’t working as of this writing. If you usexlink:href,make sure you include this namespace in your SVG tag: xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink (you won’t need it if you decide to use href).

Now we can add the corresponding text to this first figure and align it with the transform attribute. We better place both elements inside a group so in the future instances we’ll be able to translate the whole group to the position we want:

<g transform="translate(-95 210)">   <use xlink:href="#astronaut"/>   <text transform="translate(25 130)">Tech Leader</text> </g>

The connecting lines are simple shapes that can be drawn directly with <path>. Paths looks scary but, for rect lines, there is not much to worry about. I’ll explain this code:

<path class="line" d="M-4 200v-25h200"/>

d="" is for data and that’s where we’ll place our commands. M is to move our hand to the place where we’ll start drawing (but it’s not drawing anything). -4 200 means we place our pencil four units to the left and 200 to the bottom of our viewBox (following the orientation of the SVG coordinate system). v is the command to start drawing a vertical line that will go from this place to -25 units up. h is for horizontal, so we’re drawing a line from there to  200 to the right. It feels like logo writer.

I separated the lines in three paths, but we can use just one with the M value after a series of commands to move our hand and start drawing from a new point in the coordinate system.

Take a look at the final document. Now the file weighs 779 bytes and has 12 lines of legible and scalable code:

If we declare any value in the attributes we defined in the <defs> then it won’t be possible to change it in their clones because of the nature of the <use> element. That’s why in the example above the fill of the main circle was replaced with a value of currentColor to have control of the backgrounds of all the replications. currentColor will inherit the CSS color value of the element (or any element above it). In the SVG, I’m adding a class to some replicated astronauts and adding a color value in CSS to those classes. This way, I’ll be able to change all instances of the <use> element with that class. To understand more about <use> and how to style its content, this post by Sara Soueidan has everything you need to know.

With this code ready, we’ll be able to scale the graphic to something like this much more easily:

SVG org chart (Demo)

Here are the three examples side by side to compare legibility and amount of code, we went from 241 to 10 neat lines:

From left to right: Code direct from Illustrator, code after SVGOMG, code after optimization.

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What it means to be a front-end developer in 2020 (and beyond)

I wrote a piece for Layout, the blog of my hosting sponsor Flywheel.

Stick around in this field for a while, and you’ll see these libraries, languages, build processes, and heck, even entire philosophies on how best to build websites come and go like a slow tide.​​

You might witness some old-timer waving their fist from time to time, yelling that we should learn from the mistakes of the past. You could also witness some particularly boisterous youth waving their fists just as high, pronouncing the past an irrelevant context and no longer a useful talking point.

​​They’re both right, probably. As long as nobody is being nasty, it’s all part of the flow.

I’ve spent this whole year thinking about how I think the term front-end developer is still pretty meaningful, despite the divide in focus. The widening of the role just brings about more opportunity.

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Awards That Look Beyond the Flashy

Dan Mall is judging the Communication Arts Interactive 2020 awards. These types of things are usually a celebration of flashy, short-lived, one-off designs. Those things are awesome, but Dan has more in mind:

I’d love to award work that demonstrates creative use of the highest level of color contrast ratios and works well on assistive devices. I’d love to award work that’s still useful when JavaScript fails. I’d love to award work that shows smart thinking and strategy in addition to flawless execution and art direction. I’d love to award work that serves business and user needs.

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