To see the new blend modes in action, grab a copy of the latest Chrome Canary or WebKit nightly builds, enable the CSS Shaders option in about:flags and point your browser to Adobe’s sample code over on Codepen. Previously, CSS Shaders required a special build of WebKit [Update: As Adobe's Alan Greenblatt points out in the comments, CSS shader support has been in Chrome stable since v25 (you still need to enable the flag). But if you want to play around with these new blend modes then you'll need Canary (or a WebKit nightly).]
HTML5 and CSS 3 offer web developers new semantic tags, native animation tools, server-side fonts and much more, but that’s not the end of the story. In fact, for developers slogging away in the web design trenches, one of the most promising parts of CSS 3 is still just over the horizon — true page layout tools.
Perhaps even more powerful — especially for those building responsive websites — the Flexbox order property allows you to create layouts completely independent of the HTML source order. Want the footer at the top of the page for some reason? No problem, just set your footer CSS to order: 1;. Flexbox also makes it possible to do vertical centering. Finally.
We’ve looked at Flexbox in the past, but, unfortunately the spec has undergone a serious re-write since then, which renders older code obsolete. If you’d like to get up to speed with the new syntax, the Adobe Developer Blog recently published a guide to working with Flexbox by developer Steven Bradley.
Bradley walks through the process of using Flexbox in both mobile and desktop layouts, rearranging source order and elements to get both layouts working with a fraction of the code it would take to do the same using floats and other, older layout tools. The best way to wrap your head around Flexbox is to see it in action, so be sure to follow the links to Bradley’s demo page using either Chrome, Opera or Firefox 20+.
For some it may still be too early to use Flexbox. Browser support is improving, but obviously older browsers will never support Flexbox, so bear that in mind. Opera 12 supports the new syntax, no prefix necessary. Chrome supports the new syntax, but needs the -webkit prefix. Like Opera, Firefox 20+ Firefox 22 supports the unprefixed version of the new spec. Prior to v22 (currently in the beta channel), Firefox supports the old syntax. IE 10 supports the older Flexbox syntax. Most mobile browsers support the older syntax, though that is starting to change. [Update: Mozilla developer Daniel Holbert, who is working on the Flexbox code in Firefox, wrote to let me know that the Flexbox support has been pushed back to Firefox 22. Actually the new Flexbox syntax is part of Firefox 20 and up, but until v22 arrives it's disabled by default. You can turn it on by heading to about:config and searching for layout.css.flexbox.enabled pref. Set it to true and the modern syntax will work.]
So, as of this writing, only two web browsers really support the new Flexbox syntax, though Firefox will make that three in the next month or so.
But there is a way to work around some of the issues. First off, check out Chris Coyier’s article on mixing the old and new syntaxes to get the widest possible browser support. Coyier’s methods will get your Flexbox layouts working in pretty much everything but IE 9 and below.
If you’re working on a personal site that might be okay — IE 9 and below would just get a simplified, linear layout. Or you could serve an extra stylesheet with some floats to older versions of IE (or use targeted CSS classes if you prefer). That defeats some of the benefits of Flexbox since you’ll be writing floats and the like for IE, but when usage drops off you can just dump that code and help move your site, and the web, forward.
Building responsive websites means that your design has to adapt to different screen sizes. We’ve covered a number of ways to do that in the past, including working with percentage widths, em-based type and other flexible techniques of responsive design.
There’s another way to achieve flexibility that doesn’t involve keeping track of ems or percentages — the new CSS REM unit. REMs are just like ems — REM stands for Root Em — but instead of being relative to the parent element like Ems, REMs are relative to the document root’s font size. Most of the time that means the html element.
We’ve previously looked at REMs as a way to achieve fluid typography, but REMs can help with more than just type sizing.
Mobify’s Roman Rudenko has an article on CSS-Tricks that shows how to use REM units to scale specific page elements while leaving others unaffected. Rudenko even shows how you can use REM units as a replacement for the very powerful, but not very well supported, viewport width unit.
For those wondering why you might want to resize some elements and not others, here’s Rudenko’s use case:
This style of sizing can be useful for user-driven customization, or to adapt layouts for cases that require secondary elements to be more touchable (tablet) or visible (TV). Without REM, every adjustable element would have to be resized separately.
This technique can be applied to whole pages as well. For example, if your type is all sized in REMs and you want it to be a bit larger as screen sizes get bigger, all you need to do is adjust the font size on the html element with each media query and all your REM-sized type will get bigger based on that single line of code.
ZURB has released a major new version of its popular Foundation framework, a web development toolkit for quickly building responsive websites. The new Foundation v4 is a ground-up re-write that sees ZURB taking a mobile-first approach.
Like its erstwhile competitor Bootstrap, Foundation offers a set of HTML and CSS building blocks you can use to quickly develop basic site structure and design — layouts, typography, forms and other common design elements are all available.
There are three ways you can try out Foundation 4. You can download the straight compressed CSS and use that as a starting point for your own customizations. Alternately you can customize your build of Foundation, including only the elements you need; or you can install the SASS version of Foundation and customize it within your SASS code.
If you’re upgrading from Foundation 3 be sure to read through ZURB’s migration guide as the syntax for the grid and other elements has changed.
The real power of Foundation 4 doesn’t really come into play unless you go with the SASS option. Thanks to SASS’s “mixins” concept you can now use the grid tools in Foundation 4 without littering your HTML with the various (purely presentational) grid class names. Using Foundation 4 within your SASS project also makes it dead simple to use only the components you need, for example, you can include the grid mixins, but skip the typography if it’s not to your liking.
Be aware that the new mobile-first approach in Foundation 4 means browsers which don’t support media queries will only get very basic styling for the grid and other UI elements. Yes, that pretty much only affects IE 8. But, if your project needs more robust support for IE 8, there is a modified version of Foundation 4 with support for IE 8 (alternately, you could stick with Foundation 3).
It’s also worth noting that, because Foundation 4 is such a departure from the previous version, ZURB plans to continue supporting Foundation 3 for some time.
If you’ve got questions about Foundation 4, head on over to the official site and check out the documentation. You can also explore the code on GitHub — Foundation is one of the top 20 most-starred projects on the site.
Some flexible foundations are better than others. Image: McPig/Flickr
If you’re using pixels as part of your responsive designs you’re probably making your life harder than it needs to be.
There’s nothing “wrong” with using pixels in an otherwise responsive layout, but if you do you’ll likely end up writing more code than you would using flexible units.
Jon Allsopp’s A Dao of Web Design predates responsive design by a decade, but its prescient advice remains perhaps the best way to approach any design, responsive or otherwise: “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.”
More than just embracing the nature of the medium, building your sites atop what developer Trent Walton calls “Flexible Foundations” can go a long way to making development easier. As Walton points out in his post, using pixels often means more code since pixel-based type, margins and padding mean you need to add new values at every responsive breakpoint.
“In many ways,” writes Walton, “every time we use a pixel value in CSS we’re rasterizing what was a fully-scalable web.”
Stick with percentages, ems or the newer rem units and your designs can scale simply by changing the body font size. Embracing the flexibility of the medium means you can adapt as well — no need to panic when a client wants to make the logo bigger at the last minute, you can scale the whole layout up (or down) with a few lines of code. For Walton’s design firm, Paravel, the flexible approach has already proved its worth in just this way:
This paid off a few weeks ago, when a client wanted to make significant changes to the layout for his site. Type, imagery, buttons, etc. needed to be smaller and overall width & spacing (margins / padding) needed to be reduced. Thankfully, this was as simple as adjusting the body font-size at wide views. Years ago, however, this could have set the project weeks beyond scoped timeline and budget.
As developer Brad Frost has said, “Get your content ready to go anywhere because it’s going to go everywhere.” Pixels may work today, but they make for a rigid site that might well break on new devices. As Walton concludes “the sites we’ve built to display on a desktop, smartphone, or a tablet today could be on a TV screen, coffee table display, or mega space yacht projection system tomorrow.” Start with a flexible foundation and your site should handle just about any hardware that tries to load it.