In responsive design we generally want a single component to get different styles in different contexts. Up until recently the prevailing method of context-awareness was to use a CSS media query to query the viewport size. This wasn’t ideal. For example you might want an component to be styled differently when in a narrow context such as a sidebar (regardless of the device size), and viewport-based queries don’t help with that.
But everything has changed. We can now use CSS to query the size of any given container and this feature is supported in all major browsers.
There’s a bit of new syntax to learn, so I recently had my first play with container queries on codepen.
My pen is pretty trivial, but the goal was specifically to do the most minimal test that lets me test-drive the key syntax. It turns out that it’s quite straightforward.
Define an element as a container:
Change the styles of another element (
.foo) when it’s inside that container and the container’s inline-size (the logical property name for
width) matches a given query:
Note that you could also omit the
ctr-sidebar context in the above query, if you wanted the change to apply in all defined containers.
Responsive design for tables is tricky. Sure, you can just make the table’s container horizontally scrollable but that’s more a developer convenience than a great user experience. And if you instead try to do something more clever, you can run into challenges as I did in the past. Still, we should strive to design good narrow screen user experiences for tables, alongside feasible technical solutions to achieve them.
Here’s another tool from the Utopia creators to assist with breakpoint-free fluid responsive design.
Until now, the tooling for Utopia has been predominantly developer-focused, but we know that's only half the story. To start to address this, we've created a pair of Figma plugins to help designers set out Utopian project foundations.
Something I’ve found interesting while reviewing recent code test submissions (within job applications) at work is that more developers than I’d expect still use
display: inline-block when they need to lay out multiple elements horizontally such as the items in a navigation menu. It’s interesting because Flexbox – which has now been around for almost 10 years – gives you a modern, purpose-built solution to that.
I’ve started trialling different HTML and technologies for the “simple” responsive images (i.e. not art-directed per breakpoint) used in blog articles on this site. I’m continuing to lean on Cloudinary as my free image host, CDN and format-conversion service. But at the HTML level I’ve moved from a complicated
<img srcset> based approach which included many resized versions of the same image. I now use a simpler
<source> based pattern that keeps the number of images and breakpoints low, leaning instead into the performance gains offered by the newer image formats
Here’s a handy tool from the smart folks at 9elements for making a value – such as a font-size, or margin – fluidly responsive. In their words the tool…
calculates the CSS clamp formula to interpolate between two values in a given viewport range.
At work in our Design System team, we’ve been doing a lot of content and documentation writing for a new reference website. So it was really timely to read Jeremy Keith of Clearleft’s new post on the process of writing Learn Responsive Design for Google’s web.dev resource. The course is great, very digestible and I highly recommend it to all. But I also love this new post’s insight into how Google provided assistance, provided a Content handbook as “house style” for writing on web.dev and managed the process from docs and spreadsheets to Github. I’m sure there will be things my team can learn from that Content Handbook as we go forward with our technical writing.
“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.
Jeremy Keith’s new course for Google’s web.dev learning platform is fantastic and covers a variety of aspects of responsive design including layout (macro and micro), images, icons and typography.
Here’s a “media query free” CSS one-liner which lets you set an element to have no border-radius when it is the full width of the viewport, but otherwise to have a border-radius.
line-height on the web is a tricky thing, but this tool offers a clever solution.
A lovely post by Cassie Evans in which she demonstrates that SVG is not just for icons and illustrations. You might also reach for it to create a responsive, animated grid of images.
we have another grid at our disposal. SVG has its own internal coordinate system and it's responsive by design.
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.
Chris Coyier checks out Sizzy, Polypane et al and decides which suits him best.
There are a number of these desktop apps where the goal is showing your site at different dimensions all at the same time. So you can, for example, be writing CSS and making sure it’s working across all the viewports in a single glance.
While bookmarking the mastery.games article yesterday, I started getting the feeling that something was awfully familiar. It was! I’ve seen this layout before – from Tyler Sticka back in 2017 to be precise – but failed to bookmark it at the time.
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.
Modern CSS Solutions for Old CSS Problems
When people zoom a page, it is typically because they want the text to be bigger. When we anchor the text to the viewport size, even with a (fractional) multiplier, we can take away their ability to do that. It can be as much a barrier as disabling zoom. If a user cannot get the text to 200% of the original size, you may also be looking at a WCAG 1.4.4 Resize text (AA) problem.
This interactive, web-based tool which lets you swipe through various space objects to see their relative size is pretty cool, really nicely done, and handy whenever you could use a dose of perspective! (via @adactio)
Create a more flexible component which allows the text to wrap based on the content rather than the viewport size.
Polypane is a browser built specifically for developing responsive websites. It can present typical device resolutions side-by-side (for example iphone SE next to iphone 7 next to iPad) but also has some nice features such as automatically creating views based on your stylesheet’s media query breakpoints.
John Allsopp’s classic article in which he looks at the medium of web design through the prism of the Tao Te Ching, and encourages us to embrace the web’s inherent flexibility and fluidity.
It’s time to throw out the rituals of the printed page, and to engage the medium of the web and its own nature.
It’s choc-full of quotable lines, but here are a few of my favourites:
We must “accept the ebb and flow of things.”
Everything I’ve said so far could be summarized as: make pages which are adaptable.
The web’s greatest strength, I believe, is often seen as a limitation, as a defect. It is the nature of the web to be flexible, and it should be our role as designers and developers to embrace this flexibility, and produce pages which, by being flexible, are accessible to all. The journey begins by letting go of control, and becoming flexible.
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