But in that short amount of time, Chrome has a few new tricks up its sleeve. One of the features Umar covered was the ability to emulate certain browsing conditions including, among many, vision deficiencies like blurred vision.
Chrome 86 introduces new emulators!
Emulate missing local fonts (great for testing when a user’s device does not have an installed font)
Emulate prefers-reduced-data (to complement Chrome support for this new feature!)
Emulate inactive users (yay, no more multiple browser windows with different user accounts!)
I’m excited to share some of the newer features in Chrome DevTools with you. There’s a brief introduction below, and then we’ll cover many of the new DevTools features. We’ll also look at what’s happening in some other browsers. I keep up with this stuff, as I create Dev Tips, the largest collection of DevTools tips you’ll find online!
It’s a good idea to find out what’s changed in DevTools because it’s constantly evolving and new features are specifically designed to help and improve our development and debugging experience.
Let’s jump into the latest and greatest. While the public stable version of Chrome does have most of these features, I’m using Chrome Canary as I like to stay on the bleeding edge.
Lighthouse is an open source tool for auditing web pages, typically around performance, SEO, accessibility and such. For a while now, Lighthouse has been bundled as part of DevTools meaning you can find it in a panel named… Lighthouse!
I really like Lighthouse because it’s one of easiest parts of DevTools to use. Click “Generate report” and you immediately get human-readable notes for your webpage, such as:
Document uses legible font sizes 100% legible text
Avoid an excessive DOM size (1,189 elements)
Almost every single audit links to developer documentation that explains how the audit may fail, and what you can do to improve it.
The best way to get started with Lighthouse is to run audits on your own websites:
Open up DevTools and navigate to the Lighthouse panel when you are on one of your sites
Select the items you want to audit (Best practices is a good starting point)
This is a subtle and, in some ways, very small feature, but it can have profound effects on how we treat web accessibility.
Here’s how it works. When you use Inspect Element — what is arguably the most common use of DevTools — you now get a tooltip with additional information on accessibility.
The reason I say this can have a profound impact is because DevTools has had accessibility features for quite some time now, but how many of us actually use them? Including this information on a commonly used feature like Inspect Element will gives it a lot more visibility and makes it a lot more accessible.
The tooltip includes:
the contrast ratio of the text (how well, or how poorly, does the foreground text contrast with the background color)
Exactly as it says on the tin, you can use Chrome DevTools to emulate vision impairments. For example, we can view a site through the lens of blurred vision.
How can you do this in DevTools? Like this:
Open DevTools (right click and “Inspect” or Cmd + Shift + C).
Open the DevTools Command menu (Cmd + Shift + P on Mac, Ctrl + Shift + P on Windows).
Select Show Rendering in the Command menu.
Select a deficiency in the Rendering pane.
We used blurred vision as an example, but DevTools has other options, including: protanopia, deuteranopia, tritanopia, and achromatopsia.
Like with any tool of this nature, it’s designed to be a complement to our (hopefully) existing accessibility skills. In other words, it’s not instructional, but rather, influential on the designs and user experiences we create.
Here are a couple of extra resources on low vision accessibility and emulation:
The Performance Panel in DevTools can sometimes look like a confusing mish-mash of shapes and colors.
This update to it is great because it does a better job surfacing meaningful performance metrics.
What we want to look at are those extra timing rectangles shown in the “Timings” in the Performance Panel recording. This highlights:
DOMContentLoaded: The event which triggers when the initial HTML loads
First Paint: When the browser first paints pixels to the screen
First Contentful Paint: The point at which the browser draws content from the DOM which indicates to the user that content is loading
Onload: When the page and all of its resources have finished loading
Largest Contentful Paint: The largest image or text element, which is rendered in the viewport
As a bonus, if you find the Largest Contentful Paint event in a Performance Panel recording, you can click on it to get additional information.
While there is a lot of golden information here, the “Related Node” is potentially the most useful item because it specifies exactly which element contributed to the LCP event.
To try this feature out:
Open up DevTools and navigate to the Performance panel
Click “Start profiling and reload page”
Observe the timing metrics in the Timings section of a recording
Click the individual metrics to see what additional information you get
If you want to quickly get started using DevTools to analyze performance and you’ve already tried Lighthouse, then I recommend the Performance Monitor feature. This is sort of like having WebPageTest.org right at your fingertips with things like CPU usage.
Here’s how to access it:
Open up the Command menu (Cmd + Shift + P on Mac, Ctrl + Shift + P on Windows)
Select “Show performance monitor” from the Command menu
Interact and navigate around the website
Observe the results
The Performance Monitor can give you interesting metrics, however, unlike Lighthouse, it’s for you to figure out how to interpret them and take action. No suggestions are provided. It’s up to you to study that CPU usage chart and ask whether something like 90% is an acceptable level for your site (it probably isn’t).
The Performance Monitor has an interactive legend, where you can toggle metrics on and off, such as:
JS heap size
JS event listeners
Layouts / sec
Style recalcs / sec
CSS overview and local overrides
CSS-Tricks has already covered these features, so go and check them out!
CSS Overview: A handy DevTools panel that gives a bunch of interesting stats on the CSS your page is using
Local Overrides: A powerful feature that lets you override production websites with your local resources, so you can easily preview changes
So, what about DevTool in other browsers?
I’m sure you noticed that I’ve been using Chrome throughout this article. It’s the browser I use personally. That said, it’s worth considering that:
In other words, keep an eye out because this is a quickly evolving space!
We covered a lot in a short amount of space!
Lighthouse: A panel that provides tips and suggestions for performance, accessibility, SEO and best practices.
Inspect Element: An enhancement to the Inspect Element feature that provides accessibility information to the Inspect Element tooltip
Emulate vision deficiencies: A feature in the Rendering Pane to view a page through the lens of low vision.
Performance Panel Timings: Additional metrics in the Performance panel recording, showing user-orientated stats, like Largest Contentful Paint
Performance Monitor – A real-time visualization of performance metrics for the current website, such as CPU usage and DOM size
Please check out my mailing list, Dev Tips, if you want to stay keep up with the latest updates and get over 200 web development tips! I also have a premium video course over at ModernDevTools.com. And, I tend to post loads of bonus web development resources on Twitter.
It’s useful when DevTools tells you that a declaration is invalid. For example, colr: red; isn’t valid because colr isn’t a valid property. Likewise color: rd; isn’t valid because rd isn’t a valid value. For the most part, a browser’s DevTools shows the declaration as crossed out with a warning () icon. It would be nice if they went a step further to tell you which thing was wrong (or both) and suggest likely fixes, but hey, I don’t wanna look a gift horse in the mouth.
Firefox is starting to go a step further in telling you when certain declarations aren’t valid, not because of a syntax error, but because they don’t meet other qualifications. For example, I tossed a grid-column-gap: 1rem on a random <p> and I was told this in a little popup:
grid-column-gap has no effect on this element since it’s not a flex container, a grid container, or a multi-column container.
Try adding either display:grid, display:flex, or columns:2. Learn more
Well that’s awful handy.
Elijah Manor has a blog post and video digging into this a bit.
I’d like to tell you how I see code and design intersect and support one another. Specifically, I want to cover how designers can use code in their everyday work. I suggest this not because it’s a required skill, but because even a baseline understanding of coding can make designs better and the hand-off from design to development smoother.
As a UX Designer, I am always looking for good ways to both explore my UX design problems and communicate the final designs to others. Over the past 30 years, my work has always involved working alongside developers, but generally there has been a great divide between what I do and what developers do.
I can code at a basic level. For example, I’ve helped teach C to undergraduates back when I was a post-graduate student. I’ve worked on the usability of JDeveloper Oracle’s Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Java. I also worked for a very short while on simplifying the UX of a WordPress content management environment to make it accessible to less technical users. This required a good understanding of HTML and CSS. I also volunteered on the design of the PHP website and had to develop some understanding of the server side of web development.
But even given these experiences, I am not a developer in any true sense of the word. If I happen to be looking at code, it’s in a “just in time” learning model — I look up what I need and then hack it until it works. Learning this way has often been frowned upon, a bit like learning to drive without lessons. You pick up bad development habits but maybe that’s OK for the work I do.
So, no I don’t develop or write code. My day-to-day work is mostly been spent drawing, talking and gathering requirements. As far as design goes, I’ll start by sketching concepts in a notebook or using Balsamiq. Then I draw up UX wireframes and prototypes using tools like Axure, Adobe XD, InVision Studio, Figma and Sketch. By the time I’m ready to hand off my deliverables to development, all the visual assets and documentation have been defined and communicated. But I don’t step over the line into code development. That is just not my area of expertise.
So, why should designers know code?
We’ve already established that I’m no developer, but I have recently become an advocate for designers getting a good feel for how design and code interact.
In fact, I’d call it “playing with code.” I am definitely not suggesting that UX designers become developers, but at the very least, I think designers would benefit by becoming comfortable with a basic understanding of what is currently possible with CSS and best practices in HTML.
Being experimental is a huge part of doing design. Code is just another medium with which we can experiment and build beautiful solutions. So, we’re going to look at a couple of ways designers can experiment with code, even with a light understanding of it. What we’re covering here may be obvious to developers, but there are plenty of designers out there who have never experimented with code and will be seeing these for the first time.
So, it’s for them (and maybe a refresher for you) that we look at the following browser tools.
DevTools: The ultimate code playground
One of the concerns a UX designer might have is knowing how a design holds up once it’s in the browser. Are the colors accurate? Are fonts legible throughout? How do the elements respond on various devices? Will my grey hover state work with the white/grey zebra striping on my application grids in practice? These are some of the styling and interaction issues designers are thinking about when we hand our work off for development.
This is where DevTools can be a designer’s best friend. Every browser has its own version of it. You may have already played with such tools before. It’s that little “Inspect” option when right clicking on the screen.
What makes DevTools such a wonderful resource is that it provides a way to manipulate the code of a live website or web application without having to set up a development environment. And it’s disposable. Any edits you make are for your eyes only and are washed away the very moment the browser refreshes.
Over the past few months, I have been working on a complex web client for an enterprise-level application. Last sprint, my UX design story was to explore the look of the entry page of the web application and how to introduce a new color scheme. It was hard to envision how the changes I was making were going to impact the tool as a whole as some of the components I was changing are used throughout the product.
One day, when discussing a design decision, one of the developers tested out my suggested change to a component using the latest DevTools in his browser. I was amazed by how much DevTools has grown and expanded since I last remember it. I could immediately see the impact of that change across our whole web application and how different design decisions interacted with the existing design. I started to experiment with DevTools myself and was able to preview and experiment with how my own simple CSS changes to components would impact the whole web application. Super helpful!
However, it was also a little frustrating to not be able store my experiments and changes for future reference. So, I went exploring to see what else was out there to support my design process.
Chrome browser extensions
DevTools is are amazing right out of the box, but experimenting with code gets even more awesome when browser extensions are added to the mix. Chrome, in particular, has a couple that I really like.
Chrome Extension 1: User CSS
User CSS is a Chrome browser extension that allows you to save the changes you make in DevTools in an editable CSS code tab. These CSS changes are automatically executed on that page if User CSS is enabled. This means that you can set up CSS overrides for any page on the web, view them later, and share them with others. This can be an incredible tool when, say, doing a design review of a staging site prior to release, or really any design exploration for a web application or website that is viewable in a browser.
User CSS has a nice built-in code editor, so my code is always well formatted and includes syntax highlighting so I don’t have to worry about that sort of thing. I particularly like the fact that overrides are executed immediately so you can see changes on the fly. It also has a useful switch that allows you to turn your overrides on and off. This makes it very simple to demonstrate a set of changes to a team. This extension has allowed me to easily present a comparison between an existing page design and proposed changes. I’ve even used it to make a simple video demonstrating the proposed design changes.
In this video I make some simple edits to my web page and then show how I can turn on and off the edits by simply clicking the on/off button on User CSS:
That’s where the next extension comes into play.
Chrome Extension 2: Web Overrides
Web Overrides also allows you to save multiple files so that you can switch different parts of a design on or off in different combinations. It also quickly switches between the different options to show off different design concepts.
This video shows how I added an HTML element into a page and edited the new element with some basic CSS:
These edits may be trivial from a coding perspective, but they allow me to explore hundreds of alternative designs in a much shorter time and with a lot less risk than scooting pixels around in a design application. I literally could not explore as many ideas as quickly using my traditional UX prototyping tools as I can with this one extension.
And, what is more, both me and my team have confidence in the design deliverables because we tested them early on in the browser. Even the most pixel-perfect Photoshop file can get lost in translation when the design is in the browser because it’s really just a snapshot of a design in a static state. Testing designs first in the browser using these extensions prove that what we have designed is possible.
I am excited about what I have learned since leaning into DevTools and browser extensions. I believe my designs are so much better as a result. I also find myself able to have more productive conversations with developers because we now have a way to communicate well. The common ground between design and code in rapid prototypes really helps facilitate discussion. And, because I am playing around with actual code, I have a much better sense about how the underlying code will eventually be written and can empathize a lot more with the work developers do — and perhaps how I can make their jobs easier in the process.
It has also created a culture of collaborative rapid prototyping on my team which is a whole other story.
Playing with code has opened up new ideas and encouraged me to adapt my work to the context of the web. It’s been said that getting into the browser earlier in the design process is ideal and these are the types of tools that allow me (and you) to do just that!
Do you have other tools or processes that you use to facilitate the collaboration between design and code? Please share them in the comments!
Here’s a wonderful post by Nicolas Chevobbe on what the Firefox DevTools team was up to last year. What strikes me is how many improvements they shipped — from big visual design improvements to tiny usability fixes that help us make sure our code works as we expect it to in the console.
There are lots of interesting hints here about the future of Firefox DevTools, too. For example, tighter integrations with MDN and, as Nicolas mentions in that post, tools to make it feel like a playground where you can improve your design, rather just fixing things. Anyway, I already feel that Firefox DevTools has the best features for typography of any browser (make sure to check out the “Fonts” tab in the Inspector). I can’t wait to see what happens next!
This is such an interesting conversation thread that keeps popping up year after year. The idea is that there could (and perhaps should) be in-browser tooling that helps web designers do their job. This tooling already exists to some degree. Let’s check in on perspectives from a wide array of people and companies who have shared thoughts on this topic.
Ahmad Shadeed wrote for us last year about how DevTools can be useful to designers in a number of ways, like changing state, content, colors, variables, etc.:
Editing things visually like that will give [designers] more control over some design details, they can tweak things in the browser and show the result to the developer to be implemented.
In a post titled, “A DevTools for Designers”, A.J. Kandy wrote that, just because you’re a designer, it doesn’t mean you don’t know how to code — but you might not be production-level and might be faster elsewhere:
I can edit front-end markup; I’m just way faster at drawing rectangles and arranging them into user interfaces. I’m technical, but not a coder.
It sparked a lot of responses and thoughts back when we originally shared the post:
It’s one thing to augment the existing DevTools to be better for designers. Firefox has done great work in that area with stuff like their animation tooling, flexbox and grid inspectors. At the same time, it’s also nice to see entirely fresh takes on how we can approach it! For example, Google dropped VisBug, an extension with designers squarely in mind. The video is only 30 seconds:
There have been a lot of opinions about browser extensions that allow design editing over the years. Check out options like Stylebot (Chrome store link).
Perhaps design tooling will lead us in this direction in a big way?
✨isual ✨ evelopment ✨ nvironments
☝️Just like most code-based developers use IDEs to develop software today, we're going to start seeing multiple new VDEs emerge that enable a primarily-visual way of designing and shipping software.
… it’s possible to use Chrome DevTools to investigate competitors, see what’s not working with add-ons, change your viewport, understand page load timings and edit the web; all of which can help digital marketers, product managers or anyone working with a website to do their job more efficiently. It’s a tool which I use every day and I hope that you will too!
Hard to look at all that and not see this is where tooling is headed.