Tagged “css”

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Tables and pseudo-tables: lessons and tactics

At work I have to think about complex HTML tables a lot. The challenge with doing tables well is that 99% of online table tutorials use fairly simple examples… whereas in reality design and product teams often want to squeeze in lots more. It’s really hard to balance those needs against accessibility, systemisation, styling and responsiveness.

Heads up: I’ve published this post early while it’s still a work in progress because it’s better for me to have it available for reference than languishing in drafts and forgotten. Apologies if you read it in a temporarily rough state.

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Saving CSS changes in DevTools without leaving the browser

Scott Jehl recently tweeted:

Browser devtools have made redesigning a site such a pleasure. I love writing and adjusting a CSS file right in the sources panel and seeing design changes happen as I type, and saving it back to the file. (…) Designing against live HTML allows happy accidents and discoveries to happen that I wouldn't think of in an unconstrained design mockup

I feel very late to the party here. I tend to tinker in the DevTools Element Styles panel rather than save changes. So, inspired by Scott, I’ve just tried this out on my personal website. Here’s what I did.

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Theming to optimise for user colour scheme preference

“Dark mode” has been a buzz-phrase in web development since around 2019. It refers to the ability provided by modern operating systems to set the user interface’s appearance to either light or dark. Web browsers and technologies support this by allowing developers to detect whether or not the OS provides such settings, and if so which mode the user prefers. Developers can create alternate light and dark themes for their websites and switch between these intelligently (responsively?) to fit with the user’s system preference.

I’ve been meaning to do some work on this front for a while and finally got around to it. (You might even be reading this post with your computer’s dark colour scheme enabled and seeing the fruits of my labour.) Here’s how I set things up and the lessons I learned along the way.

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Building a toast component (by Adam Argyle)

Great tutorial (with accompanying video) from Adam Argyle which starts with a useful definition of what a Toast is and is not:

Toasts are non-interactive, passive, and asynchronous short messages for users. Generally they are used as an interface feedback pattern for informing the user about the results of an action. Toasts are unlike notifications, alerts and prompts because they're not interactive; they're not meant to be dismissed or persist. Notifications are for more important information, synchronous messaging that requires interaction, or system level messages (as opposed to page level). Toasts are more passive than other notice strategies.

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Web animation tips

Warning: this entry is a work-in-progress and incomplete. That said, it's still a useful reference to me which is why I've published it. I’ll flesh it out soon!

There are lots of different strands of web development. You try your best to be good at all of them, but there’s only so much time in the day! Animation is an area where I know a little but would love to know more, and from a practical perspective I’d certainly benefit from having some road-ready solutions to common challenges. As ever I want to favour web standards over libraries where possible, and take an approach that’s lean, accessible, progressively-enhanced and performance-optimised.

Here’s my attempt to break down web animation into bite-sized chunks for ocassional users like myself.

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Resources for learning front-end web development

A designer colleague recently asked me what course or resources I would recommend for learning front-end web development. She mentioned React at the beginning but I suggested that it’d be better to start by learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. As for React: it’s a subset or offshoot of JavaScript so it makes sense to understand vanilla JS first.

For future reference, here are my tips.

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Buttons and links: definitions, differences and tips

Some of the web’s design and development practices have led to buttons and links becoming conceptually bundled together and misunderstood. Practitioners can fall into the trap of seeing the surface-level commonality that “you click the thing, then something happens” and mistakenly thinking the two elements are interchangeable. Some might even consider them as a single “button component” without considering the distinctions underneath. However this mentality is harmful for effective web development and causes our users problems. In this post I’ll address why buttons and links are different and exist separately, and when to use each.

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HTML with Superpowers (from Dave Rupert)

Here’s a great new presentation by Dave Rupert (of the Shop Talk show) in which he makes a compelling case for adopting Web Components. Not only do they provide the same benefits of encapsulation and reusability as components in proprietary JavaScript frameworks, but they also bring the reliability and portability of web standards, work without build tools, are suited to progressive enhancement, and may pave the way for a better web.

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Harry Roberts says “Get Your Head Straight”

Harry Roberts (who created ITCSS for organising CSS at scale but these days focuses on performance) has just given a presentation about the importance of getting the content, order and optimisation of the <head> element right, including lots of measurement data to back up his claims. Check out the slides: Get your Head Straight

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Practical front-end performance tips

I’ve been really interested in the subject of Web Performance since I read Steve Souders’ book High Performance Websites back in 2007. Although some of the principles in that book are still relevant, it’s also fair to say that a lot has changed since then so I decided to pull together some current tips. Disclaimer: This is a living document which I’ll expand over time. Also: I’m a performance enthusiast but not an expert. If I have anything wrong, please let me know.

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Progressively enhanced burger menu tutorial by Andy Bell

Here’s a smart and comprehensive tutorial from Andy Bell on how to create a progressively enhanced narrow-screen navigation solution using a custom element. Andy also uses Proxy for “enabled” and “open” state management, ResizeObserver on the custom element’s containing header for a Container Query like solution, and puts some serious effort into accessible focus management.

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Astro

Astro looks very interesting. It’s in part a static site builder (a bit like Eleventy) but it also comes with a modern (revolutionary?) developer experience which lets you author components as web components or in a JS framework of your choice but then renders those to static HTML for optimal performance. Oh, and as far as I can tell theres no build pipeline!

Astro lets you use any framework you want (or none at all). And if most sites only have islands of interactivity, shouldn’t our tools optimize for that?

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Inspire.js

Lean, hackable, extensible slide deck framework

I’ve been on the lookout for a lightweight, web standards based slide deck solution for a while and this one from Lea Verou could well be perfect.

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Container Queries in Web Components | Max Böck

Max’s demo is really clever and features lots of interesting web component related techniques.

I came up with this demo of a book store. Each of the books is draggable and can be moved to one of three sections, with varying available space. Depending on where it is placed, different styles will be applied to the book.

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Ruthlessly eliminating layout shift on netlify.com, by Zach Leatherman

I love hearing about clever front-end solutions which combine technologies and achieve multiple goals. In Zach’s post we hear how Netlify’s website suffered from layout shift when conditionally rendering dismissible promo banners, and how he addressed this by rethinking the problem and shifting responsibilities around the stack.

Here’s my summary of the smart ideas covered in the post:

  • decide on the appropriate server-rendered content… in this case showing rather than hiding the banner, making the most common use case faster to load
  • have the banner “dismiss” button’s event handling script store the banner’s href in the user’s localStorage as an identifier accessible on return visits
  • process lightweight but critical JavaScript logic early in the <head>… in this case a check for this banner’s identifier existing in localStorage
  • under certain conditions – in this case when the banner was previously seen and dismissed – set a “state” class (banner--hide) on the <html> element, leading to the component being hidden seamlessly by CSS
  • build the banner as a web component, the first layer of which being a custom element <announcement-banner> and the second a JavaScript class to enhance it
  • delegate responsibility for presenting the banner’s “dismiss” button to the same script responsible for the component’s enhancements, meaning that a broken button won’t be presented if that script were to break.

So much to like in there!

Here are some further thoughts the article provoked.

Web components FTW #

It feels like creating a component such as this one as a web component leads to a real convergence of benefits:

  • tool-free, async loading of the component JS as an ES module
  • fast, native element discovery (no need for a document.querySelector)
  • enforces using a nice, idiomatic class providing encapsulation and high-performing native callbacks
  • resilience and progressive enhancement by putting all your JS-dependent stuff into the JS class and having that enhance your basic custom element. If that JS breaks, you still have the basic element and won’t present any broken elements.

Even better, you end up with framework-independent, standards-based component that you could share with others for reuse elsewhere, just like Zach did.

Multiple banners #

I could see there being a case where there are multiple banners during the same time period. I guess in that situation the localStorage banner value could be a stringified object rather than a simple, single-URL string.

Setting context on the root #

It’s really handy to have a way to exert just-in-time control over the display of a server-rendered element in a way that avoids flashes of content… and adding a class to the <html> element offers that. In this approach, we run the small amount of JavaScript required to test a local condition (e.g. checking for a value in localStorage) really early. That lets us process our conditional logic before the element is rendered… although this also means that it’s not yet available in the DOM for direct manipulation. But adding a class to the HTML element means that we can pre-prepare CSS to use that class as a contextual selector for hiding the element.

We’re already familiar with the technique of placing classes on the root element from libraries like modernizr and some font-loading approaches, but this article serves as a reminder that we can employ it whenever we need it.

Handling the close button #

Zach’s approach to handling the banner’s dismiss button was interesting. He makes sure that it’s not shown unless the web component’s JavaScript runs successfully which is great, but rather than inject it with JavaScript he includes it in the initial HTML but hidden with CSS, and his method of hiding is opacity.

We use opacity to toggle the close button so that it doesn’t reflow the component when it’s enabled via JavaScript.

I think what Zach’s saying is that the alternatives – inserting the button with JS, or toggling the hidden attribute or its CSS counterpart display:none – would affect geometry causing the browser to perform layout… whereas modifying opacity does not.

I love that level of diligence! Typically I prefer to delegate responsibility for inserting JS-dependent buttons to JavaScript because in comparison to including a button in the server-rendered HTML then hiding it, it feels more resilient and a more maintainable separation of concerns. However as always the best solution depends on the situation.

If I were going down Zach’s route I think I’d replace opacity with visibility since the latter hiding method removes the hidden element from the document which feels more accessible, while still avoiding triggering the reflow that display would.

Side-thoughts #

In a server-side scripted application – one using Rails or PHP, for example – you could alternatively handle persisting state with cookies rather than localStorage… allowing you to test for the presence of the cookie on the server then handle conditional rendering of the banner on the server too, rather than needing classes which trigger hiding. I can see an argument for that. Thing is though, not everyone’s working in that environment. Zach has provided a standalone solution.

References #

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Observer APIs in a nutshell

I’ve played with the various HTML5 Observer APIs (IntersectionObserver, ResizeObserver and MutationObserver) a little over the last few years—for example using ResizeObserver in a container query solution for responsive grids. But in all honesty their roles, abilities and differences haven’t yet fully stuck in my brain. So I’ve put together a brief explainer for future reference.

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How I subset web fonts

On my personal website I currently use three web fonts from the Source Sans 3 group: regular, italic and semibold. I self-host my fonts because that’s a good practice. Additionally I use a variety of special characters to add some typographic life to the text.

When self-hosting it’s important from a performance perspective to minimise the weight of the font files your visitors must download. To achieve this I subset my fonts so as to include only the characters my pages use but no more. Here’s how I do it.

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Front-of-the-front-end and back-of-the-front-end web development (by Brad Frost)

The Great Divide between so-called front-end developers is real! Here, Brad Frost proposes some modern role definitions.

A front-of-the-front-end developer is a web developer who specializes in writing HTML, CSS, and presentational JavaScript code.

A back-of-the-front-end developer is a web developer who specializes in writing JavaScript code necessary to make a web application function properly.

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Use CSS Clamp to create a more flexible wrapper utility (on Piccalilli)

Here’s Andy Bell recommending using CSS clamp() to control your wrapper/container width because it supports setting a preferred value in vw to ensure sensible gutters combined with a maximum tolerance in rem—all in a single line of code.

If we use clamp() to use a viewport unit as the ideal and use what we would previously use as the max-width as the clamp’s maximum value, we get a much more flexible setup.

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A Utility Class for Covering Elements (on CSS { In Real Life })

Need to overlay one HTML element on top of and fully covering another, such as a heading with translucent background on top of an image? Michelle Barker has us covered with this blog post in which she creates an overlay utility to handle this. She firstly shows how it can be accomplished with positioning, then modernises her code using the inset CSS logical property, before finally demonstrating a neat CSS Grid based approach.

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Newsletters, by Robin Rendle

A fantastic so-called “Scroll Story” from Robin Rendle. In his own words it’s “an elaborate blog post where I rant about a thing” however given the beautiful typography, layout and illustrations on show I think he’s selling it a little short!

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Minimalist Container Queries

Scott Jehl’s experimental take on a container/element query aimed at letting us set responsive styles for our elements based on their immediate context rather than that of the viewport.

I made a quick and minimal take on approximating Container/Element Queries using a web component and basic CSS selectors.

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Cheating Entropy with Native Web Technologies (on Jim Nielsen’s Weblog)

This is why, over years of building for the web, I have learned that I can significantly cut down on the entropy my future self will have to face by authoring web projects in vanilla HTML, CSS, and JS. I like to ask myself questions like:

  • Could this be done with native ES modules instead of using a bundler?
  • Could I do this with DOM scripting instead of using a JS framework?
  • Could I author this in CSS instead of choosing a preprocessor?

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How to hide elements on a web page

In order to code modern component designs we often need to hide then reveal elements. At other times we want to provide content to one type of user but hide it from another because it’s not relevant to their mode of browsing. In all cases accessibility should be front and centre in our thoughts. Here’s my approach, heavily inspired by Scott O’Hara’s definitive guide Inclusively Hidden.

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Note · 10:15 PM · Glasgow

Daniel Post shared a really cool performance-optimisation trick for Eleventy on Twitter the other day. When statically generating your site you can loop through your pages and, for each, use PurgeCSS to find the required CSS, then inline that into the <head>. This way, each page contains only the CSS it needs and no more!

Check out the code.

I’ve just installed this on my personal site. I was already inlining my CSS into the <head> but the promise of only including the minimum CSS that each specific page needs was too good to resist.

Turned out it was a breeze to get working, a nice introduction to Eleventy transforms, and so far it’s working great!

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Three CSS Alternatives to JavaScript Navigation (on CSS-Tricks)

In general this is a decent article on non-JavaScript-based mobile navigation options, but what I found most interesting is the idea of having a separate page for your navigation menu (at the URL /menu, for example).

Who said navigation has to be in the header of every page? If your front end is extremely lightweight or if you have a long list of menu items to display in your navigation, the most practical method might be to create a separate page to list them all.

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Color Theme Switcher (on mxb.dev)

Max shows us how to build a colour theme switcher to let users customise your website. He uses a combination of Eleventy, JSON, Nunjucks with macros, a data attribute on the html element, CSS custom properties and a JavaScript based switcher.

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CSS Section Separator Generator (on wweb.dev)

A handy tool that generates the required HTML and CSS for various section separator effects (including diagonal lines, spikes, and waves) by cleverly manipulating backgrounds and generated content.

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BEM Methodology

Documentation for the BEM component and CSS class-naming notation

methodology BEM was invented at Yandex to develop sites which should be launched fast and supported for a long time. It helps to create extendable and reusable interface components.

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CSS Triggers

Check whether or not a CSS property is a good candidate for smooth animation based on whether updates to its value trigger expensive changes (to, for example, “element geometry”) causing layout updates and repaints.

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The Contrast Triangle

Removing underlines from links in HTML text presents an accessibility challenge. In order for a design to be considered accessible, there is now a three-sided design contraint - or what I call "The Contrast Triangle". Your text, links and background colors must now all have sufficient contrast from each other. Links must have a contrast ratio of 3:1 from their surrounding text. By not using underlines, a design has to rely on contrast alone to achieve this.

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BBC GEL Inclusive Components Technical Guide

The BBC Global Experience Language (GEL) Technical Guides are a series of framework-agnostic, code-centric recommendations and examples for building GEL design patterns in websites. They illustrate how to create websites that comply with all BBC guidelines and industry best practice, giving special emphasis to accessibility.

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You Don't Need

A nice list of tips and tools on how to use simpler browser standards and APIs to avoid the added weight of unnecessary JavaScript and libraries.

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Old CSS, new CSS (eev.ee)

I first got into web design/development in the late 90s, and only as I type this sentence do I realize how long ago that was. Here’s a history of CSS and web design, as I remember it.

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Webfont loading strategies

When it comes to webfonts, if you want to serve an accessible and high performance experience across device types it’s not as straightforward as just specifying your fonts in CSS then hoping for the best.

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Intrinsically Responsive CSS Grid with minmax and min

Evan Minto notes that flexible grids created with CSS Grid’s repeat, auto-fill, and minmax are only intrinsically responsive (responsive to their container rather than the viewport) up to a point, because when the container width is narrower than the minimum width specified in minmax the grid children overflow.

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Using aria-current is a win-win situation

The HTML attribute aria-current allows us to indicate the currently active element in a sequence. It’s not only great for accessibility but also doubles as a hook to style that element individually.

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Box Shadow around the full box

Sometimes when coding a UI element you want a shadow around the whole box. However, most CSS box-shadow examples/tutorials tend to show inset box-shadows or ones that otherwise sit off to the side.

Here’s how to apply box-shadow to the whole box for a simple but nice effect.

.box-with-shadow {
box-shadow: 0 0 4px #ccc;
}

And here’s how it looks:

Lorem ipsum
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Styling a Select Like It’s 2019 (Filament Group, Inc.)

Recently, we’d seen some articles suggest that things haven’t changed a great deal with select's styling limitations, but I decided to return to the problem and tinker with it myself to be sure. As it turns out, a reasonable set of styles can create a consistent and attractive select across new browsers, while remaining just fine in older ones too.

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Image Color

A handy tool for identifying colours – provided in numerous different CSS-ready formats – and creating a complimentary colour palette from an image you upload or provide as a URL.

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