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Creating The Feature Queries Manager DevTools Extension

Creating The Feature Queries Manager DevTools Extension

Ire Aderinokun

Within the past couple of years, several game-changing CSS features have been rolled out to the major browsers. CSS Grid Layout, for example, went from 0 to 80% global support within the span of a few months, making it an incredibly useful and reliable tool in our arsenal. Even though the current support for a feature like CSS Grid Layout is relatively great, not all recent or current browsers support it. This means it’s very likely that you and I will currently be developing for a browser in which it is not supported.

The modern solution to developing for both modern and legacy browsers is feature queries. They allow us to write CSS that is conditional on browser support for a particular feature. Although working with feature queries is almost magical, testing them can be a pain. Unlike media queries, we can’t easily simulate the different states by just resizing the browser. That’s where the Feature Queries Manager comes in, an extension to DevTools to help you easily toggle your feature query conditions. In this article, I will cover how I built this extension, as well as give an introduction to how developer tools extensions are built.

Working With Unsupported CSS

If a property-value pair (e.g. display: grid), is not supported by the browser the page is viewed in, not much happens. Unlike other programming languages, if something is broken or unsupported in CSS, it only affects the broken or unsupported rule, leaving everything else around it intact.

Let’s take, for example, this simple layout:

The layout in a supporting browser

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We have a header spanning across the top of the page, a main section directly below that to the left, a sidebar to the right, and a footer spanning across the bottom of the page.

Here’s how we could create this layout using CSS Grid:

See the Pen layout-grid by Ire Aderinokun (@ire) on CodePen.

In a supporting browser like Chrome, this works just as we want. But if we were to view this same page in a browser that doesn’t support CSS Grid Layout, this is what we would get:

The layout in an unsupporting browser

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It is essentially the same as if we had not applied any of the grid-related styles in the first place. This behavior of CSS was always intentional. In the CSS specification, it says:

In some cases, user agents must ignore part of an illegal style sheet, [which means to act] as if it had not been there

Historically, the best way to handle this has been to make use of the cascading nature of CSS. According to the specification, “the last declaration in document order wins.” This means that if there are multiple of the same property being defined within a single declaration block, the latter prevails.

For example, if we have the follow declarations:

  display: flex;
  display: grid;

Assuming both Flexbox and Grid are supported in the browser, the latter — display: grid — will prevail. But if Grid is not supported by the browser, then that rule is ignored, and any previous valid and supported rules, in this case display: flex, are used instead.

  display: flex;
  display: grid;

Cascading Problems

Using the cascade as a method for progressive enhancement is and has always been incredibly useful. Even today, there is no simpler or better way to handle simple one-liner fallbacks, such as this one for applying a solid colour where the rgba() syntax is not supported.

    background-color: rgb(0,0,0);
    background-color: rgba(0,0,0,0.5);

Using the cascade, however, has one major limitation, which comes into play when we have multiple, dependent CSS rules. Let’s again take the layout example. If we were to attempt to use this cascade technique to create a fallback, we would end up with competing CSS rules.

See the Pen layout-both by Ire Aderinokun (@ire) on CodePen.

In the fallback solution, we need to use certain properties such as margins and widths, that aren’t needed and in fact interfere with the “enhanced” Grid version. This makes it difficult to rely on the cascade for more complex progressive enhancement.

Feature Queries To The Rescue!

Feature queries solve the problem of needing to apply groups of styles that are dependent on the support of a CSS feature. Feature queries are a “nested at-rule” which, like the media queries we are used to, allow us to create a subset of CSS declarations that are applied based on a condition. Unlike media queries, whose condition is dependent on device and screen specs, feature query conditions are instead based on if the browser supports a given property-value pair.

A feature query is made up of three parts:

  1. The @supports keyword
  2. The condition, e.g. display: flex
  3. The nested CSS declarations.

Here is how it looks:

@supports (display: grid) 
    body  display: grid; 

If the browser supports display: grid, then the nested styles will apply. If the browser does not support display: grid, then the block is skipped over entirely.

The above is an example of a positive condition within a feature query, but there are four flavors of feature queries:

  1. Positive condition, e.g. @supports (display grid)

  2. Negative condition, e.g. @supports not (display: grid)

  3. Conjunction, e.g. @supports (display:flex) and (display: grid)

  4. Disjunction, e.g. @supports (display:-ms-grid) or (display: grid)

Feature queries solve the problem of having separate fallback and enhancement groups of styles. Let’s see how we can apply this to our example layout:

See the Pen Run bunny run by Ire Aderinokun (@ire) on CodePen.

Introducing The Feature Queries Manager

When we write media queries, we test them by resizing our browser so that the styles at each breakpoint apply. So how do we test feature queries?

Since feature queries are dependent on whether a browser supports a feature, there is no easy way to simulate the alternative state. Currently, the only way to do this would be to edit your code to invalidate/reverse the feature query.

For example, if we wanted to simulate a state in which CSS Grid is not supported, we would have to do something like this:

/* fallback styles here */

@supports (display: grrrrrrrrid) 
    /* enhancement styles here */

This is where the Feature Queries Manager comes in. It is a way to reverse your feature queries without ever having to manually edit your code.

(Large preview)

It works by simply negating the feature query as it is written. So the following feature query:

@supports (display: grid) 
    body  display: grid; 

Will become the following:

@supports not (display: grid) 
    body  display: grid; 

Fun fact, this method works for negative feature queries as well. For example, the following negative feature query:

@supports not (display: grid) 
    body  display: block; 

Will become the following:

@supports not (not (display: grid)) 
    body  display: block; 

Which is actually essentially the same as removing the “not” from the feature query.

@supports (display: grid) 
    body  display: block; 

Building The Feature Queries Manager

FQM is an extension to your browser’s Developer Tools. It works by registering all the CSS on a page, filtering out the CSS that is nested within a feature query, and giving us the ability to toggle the normal or “inverted” version of that feature query.

Creating A DevTools Panel

Before I go on to how I specifically built the FQM, let’s cover how to create a new DevTools panel in the first place. Like any other browser extension, we register a DevTools extension with the manifest file.

  "manifest_version": 2,
  "name": "Feature Queries Manager",
  "short_name": "FQM",
  "description": "Manage and toggle CSS on a page behind a @supports Feature Query.",
  "version": "0.1",
  "permissions": [
    "128": "images/icon@128.png",
    "64": "images/icon@64.png",
    "16": "images/icon@16.png",
    "48": "images/icon@48.png"

To create a new panel in DevTools, we need two files — a devtools_page, which is an HTML page with an attached script that registers the second file, panel.html, which controls the actual panel in DevTools.

The devtools script creates the panel page

Large preview

First, we add the devtools_page to our manifest file:

  "manifest_version": 2,
  "name": "Feature Queries Manager",
  "devtools_page": "devtools.html",

Then, in our devtools.html file, we create a new panel in DevTools:

<!DOCTYPE html>
  <meta charset="utf-8"></head>
<!-- Note: I’m using the browser-polyfill to be able to use the Promise-based WebExtension API in Chrome -->
<script src="../browser-polyfill.js"></script>

<!-- Create FQM panel -->
browser.devtools.panels.create("FQM", "images/icon@64.png", "panel.html");

Finally, we create our panel HTML page:

<!DOCTYPE html>
  <meta charset="utf-8"></head>
  <h1>Hello, world!</h1>

If we open up our browser, we will see a new panel called “FQM” which loads the panel.html page.

A new panel in browser DevTools showing the “Hello, World” text

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Reading CSS From The Inspected Page

In the FQM, we need to access all the CSS referenced in the inspected document in order to know which are within feature queries. However, our DevTools panel doesn’t have direct access to anything on the page. If we want access to the inspected document, we need a content script.

The content script reads CSS from the HTML document

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A content script is a javascript file that has the same access to the html page as any other piece of javascript embedded within it. To register a content script, we just add it to our manifest file:

      "manifest_version": 2,
      "name": "Feature Queries Manager",
      "content_scripts": [
        "matches": [""],
        "js": ["browser-polyfill.js", "content.js"]

In our content script, we can then read all the stylesheets and css within them by accessing document.styleSheets:

Array.from(document.styleSheets).forEach((stylesheet) => 
      let cssRules;
        cssRules = Array.from(stylesheet.cssRules);
        return console.warn(`[FQM] Can't read cssRules from stylesheet: $ stylesheet.href `);
      cssRules.forEach((rule, i) => 
        /* Check if css rule is a Feature Query */
        if (rule instanceof CSSSupportsRule) 
          /* do something with the css rule */

Connecting The Panel And The Content Scripts

Once we have the rules from the content script, we want to send them over to the panel so they can be visible there. Ideally, we would want something like this:

The content script passes information to the panel and the panel sends instructions to modify CSS back to the content

Large preview

However, we can’t exactly do this, because the panel and content files can’t actually talk directly to each other. To pass information between these two files, we need a middleman — a background script. The resulting connection looks something like this:

The content and panel scripts communicate via a background script

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As always, to register a background script, we need to add it to our manifest file:

  "manifest_version": 2,
  "name": "Feature Queries Manager",
    "scripts": ["browser-polyfill.js", "background.js"]

The background file will need to open up a connection to the panel script and listens for messages coming from there. When the background file receives a message from the panel, it passes it on to the content script, which is listening for messages from the background. The background script waits for a response from the content script and relays that message back to the panel.

Here’s a basic of example of how that works:

// Open up a connection to the background script
const portToBackgroundScript = browser.runtime.connect();

// Send message to content (via background)
portToBackgroundScript.postMessage("Hello from panel!");

// Listen for messages from content (via background)
portToBackgroundScript.onMessage.addListener((msg) => 
  // => "Hello from content!"
// backrgound.js

// Open up a connection to the panel script
browser.runtime.onConnect.addListener((port) => 
  // Listen for messages from panel
  port.onMessage.addListener((request) => 
    // Send message from panel.js -> content.js
    // and return response from content.js -> panel.js
    browser.tabs.sendMessage(request.tabId, request)
      .then((res) => port.postMessage(res));
// content.js

// Listen for messages from background
browser.runtime.onMessage.addListener((msg) => 

  // => "Hello from panel!"
  // Send message to panel
  return Promise.resolve("Hello from content!");

Managing Feature Queries

Lastly, we can get to the core of what the extension does, which is to “toggle” on/off the CSS related to a feature query.

If you recall, in the content script, we looped through all the CSS within feature queries. When we do this, we also need to save certain information about the CSS rule:

  1. The rule itself
  2. The stylesheet it belongs to
  3. The index of the rule within the stylesheet
  4. An “inverted” version of the rule.

This is what that looks like:

cssRules.forEach((rule, i) => 
  const cssRule = rule.cssText.substring(rule.cssText.indexOf(""));
  const invertedCSSText = `@supports not ( $ rule.conditionText  ) $ cssRule `;
    rule: rule,
    stylesheet: stylesheet,
    index: i, 
    invertedCSSText: invertedCSSText

When the content script receives a message from the panel to invert all declarations relating to the feature query condition, we can easily replace the current rule with the inverted one (or vice versa).

function toggleCondition(condition, toggleOn) 
  FEATURE_QUERY_DECLARATIONS.forEach((declaration) => 
    if (declaration.rule.conditionText === condition) 
      // Remove current rule
      // Replace at index with either original or inverted declaration
      const rule = toggleOn ? declaration.rule.cssText : declaration.invertedCSSText;
      declaration.stylesheet.insertRule(rule, declaration.index);

And that is essentially it! The Feature Query Manager extension is currently available for Chrome and Firefox.

Limitations Of The FQM

The Feature Queries Manager works by “inverting” your feature queries, so that the opposite condition applies. This means that it cannot be used in every scenario.


If your “enhancement” CSS is not written within a feature query, then the extension cannot be used as it is dependent on finding a CSS supports rule.

Unsupported Features

You need to take note of if the browser you are using the FQM in does or does not support the feature in question. This is particularly important if your original feature query is a negative condition, as inverting it will turn it into a positive condition. For example, if you wrote the following CSS:

div  background-color: blue; 

@supports not (display: grid) 
  div  background-color: pink; 

If you use the FQM to invert this condition, it will become the following:

div  background-color: blue; 

@supports (display: grid) 
  div  background-color: pink; 

For you to be able to actually see the difference, you would need to be using a browser which does in fact support display: grid.

I built the Feature Queries Manager as a way to more easily test the different CSS as I develop, but it isn’t a replacement for testing layout in the actual browsers and devices. Developer tools only go so far, nothing beats real device testing.

Smashing Editorial
(ra, yk, il)


Creating The Feature Queries Manager DevTools Extension


Monthly Web Development Update 5/2018: Browser Performance, Iteration Zero, And Web Authentication

Monthly Web Development Update 5/2018: Browser Performance, Iteration Zero, And Web Authentication

Anselm Hannemann

As developers, we often talk about performance and request browsers to render things faster. But when they finally do, we demand even more performance.

Alex Russel from the Chrome team now shared some thoughts on developers abusing browser performance and explains why websites are still slow even though browsers reinvented themselves with incredibly fast rendering engines. This is in line with an article by Oliver Williams in which he states that we’re focusing on the wrong things, and instead of delivering the fastest solutions for slower machines and browsers, we’re serving even bigger bundles with polyfills and transpiled code to every browser.

It certainly isn’t easy to break out of this pattern and keep bundle size to a minimum in the interest of the user, but we have the technologies to achieve that. So let’s explore non-traditional ways and think about the actual user experience more often — before defining a project workflow instead of afterward.

Front-End Performance Checklist 2018

To help you cater for fast and smooth experiences, Vitaly Friedman summarized everything you need to know to optimize your site’s performance in one handy checklist. Read more →



  • Oliver Williams wrote about how important it is that we rethink how we’re building websites and implement “progressive enhancement” to make the web work great for everyone. After all, it’s us who make the experience worse for our users when blindly transpiling all our ECMAScript code or serving tons of JavaScript polyfills to those who already use slow machines and old software.
  • Ian Feather reveals that around 1% of all requests for JavaScript on BuzzFeed time out. That’s about 13 million requests per month. A good reminder of how important it is to provide a solid fallback, progressive enhancement, and workarounds.
  • The new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) directive is coming very soon, and while our inboxes are full of privacy policy updates, one thing that’s still very unclear is which services can already provide so-called DPAs (Data Processing Agreements). Joschi Kuphal collects services that offer a DPA, so that we can easily look them up and see how we can obtain a copy in order to continue using their services. You can help by contributing to this resource via Pull Requests.


Product design principles
How to create a consistent, harmonious user experience when designing product cards? Mei Zhang shares some valuable tips. (Image credit)



  • The GDPR Checklist is another helpful resource for people to check whether a website is compliant with the upcoming EU directive.
  • Bloomberg published a story about the open-source privacy-protection project pi-hole, why it exists and what it wants to achieve. I use the software daily to keep my entire home and work network tracking-free.
GDPR Compliance Checklist
Achieving GDPR Compliance shouldn’t be a struggle. The GDPR Compliance Checklist helps you see clearer. (Image credit)

Web Performance

  • Postgres 10 has been here for quite a while already, but I personally struggled to find good information on how to use all these amazing features it brings along. Gabriel Enslein now shares Postgres 10 performance updates in a slide deck, shedding light on how to use the built-in JSON support, native partitioning for large datasets, hash index resiliency, and more.
  • Andrew Betts found out that a lot of websites are using outdated headers. He now shares why we should drop old headers and which ones to serve instead.


Page previews
Page previews open possibilities in multiple areas, as Nirzar Pangarkar explains. (Image credit: Nirzar Pangarkar)


  • Rarely talked about for years, CSS tables are still used on most websites to show (and that’s totally the correct way to do so) data in tables. But as they’re not responsive by default, we always struggled when making them responsive and most of us used JavaScript to make them work on mobile screens. Lea Verou now found two new ways to achieve responsive tables by using CSS: One is to use text-shadow to copy text to other rows, the other one uses element() to copy the entire <thead> to other rows — I still try to understand how Lea found these solutions, but this is amazing!
  • Rachel Andrew wrote an article about building and providing print stylesheets in 2018 and why they matter a lot for users even if they don’t own a printer anymore.
  • Osvaldas Valutis shares how to implement the so-called “Priority Plus” navigation pattern mostly with CSS, at least in modern browsers. If you need to support older browsers, you will need to extend this solution further, but it’s a great start to implement such a pattern without too much JavaScript.
  • Rachel Andrew shares what’s coming up in the CSS Grid Level 2 and Subgrid specifications and explains what it is, what it can solve, and how to use it once it is available in browsers.


  • Chris Ashton “used the web for a day with JavaScript turned off.” This piece highlights the importance of thinking about possible JavaScript failures on websites and why it matters if you provide fallbacks or not.
  • Sam Thorogood shares how we can build a “native undo & redo for the web”, as used in many text editors, games, planning or graphical software and other occasions such as a drag and drop reordering. And while it’s not easy to build, the article explains the concepts and technical aspects to help us understand this complicated matter.
  • There’s a new way to implement element/container queries into your application: eqio is a tiny library using IntersectionObserver.

Work & Life

  • Johannes Seitz shares his thoughts about project management at the start of projects. He calls the method “Iteration Zero”. An interesting concept to understand the scope and risks of a project better at a time when you still don’t have enough experience with the project itself but need to build a roadmap to get things started.
  • Arestia Rosenberg shares why her number one advice for freelancers is to ‘lean into the moment’. It’s about doing work when you can and using your chance to do something else when you don’t feel you can work productively. In the end, the summary results in a happy life and more productivity. I’d personally extend this to all people who can do that, but, of course, it’s best applicable to freelancers indeed.
  • Sam Altman shares a couple of handy productivity tips that are not just a ‘ten things to do’ list but actually really helpful thoughts about how to think about being productive.

Going Beyond…

  • Ethan Marcotte elaborates on the ethical issues with Google Duplex that is designed to imitate human voice so well that people don’t notice if it’s a machine or a human being. While this sounds quite interesting from a technical point of view, it will push the debate about fake news much further and cause more struggle to differentiate between something a human said or a machine imitated.
  • Our world is actually built on promises, and here’s why it’s so important to stick to your promises even if it’s hard sometimes.
  • I bet that most of you haven’t heard of Palantir yet. The company is funded by Peter Thiel and is a data-mining company that has the intention to collect as much data as possible about everybody in the world. It’s known to collaborate with various law enforcement authorities and even has connections to military services. What they do with data and which data they have from us isn’t known. My only hope right now is that this company will suffer a lot from the EU GDPR directive and that the European Union will try to stop their uncontrolled data collection. Facebook’s data practices are nothing compared to Palantir it seems.
  • Researchers sound the alarm after an analysis showed that buying a new smartphone consumes as much energy as using an existing phone for an entire decade. I guess I’ll not replace my iPhone 7 anytime soon — it’s still an absolutely great device and just enough for what I do with it.
  • Anton Sten shares his thoughts on Vanity Metrics, a common way to share numbers and statistics out of context. And since he realized what relevancy they have, he thinks differently about most of the commonly readable data such as investments or usage data of services now. Reading one number without having a context to compare it to doesn’t matter at all. We should keep that in mind.

We hope you enjoyed this Web Development Update. The next one is scheduled for Friday, June 15th. Stay tuned.

Smashing Editorial

See the original article here: 

Monthly Web Development Update 5/2018: Browser Performance, Iteration Zero, And Web Authentication


Could the Breadcrumb Technique Help Boost Your Landing Page Conversions?

We’ve all heard the term “less is more”. And we’ve been told this applies for landing pages too. I.e. your forms should be short and only ask for only the bare minimum of required information if you want to convert.

However, when used across the board, this advice can backfire.

As an example, one of the main questions someone typically has when faced with a landing page is is how much your offer will cost. But if the offer on your landing page is for a free quote, you can’t necessarily disclose pricing on the page. When there’s no pricing, but instead a form requiring a name, phone number, and email, the visitor knows:

  • They’re going to need to talk to someone to get an answer to their question (they’re well aware you can’t give a customized quote from such limited info), plus, prospects are very reluctant to give their information out to just anyone.
  • They can click the back button and find a competitor that will give them what they want faster.

So why would we expect a form with super generic fields to be compelling enough for someone to engage with us in all cases?

As we’ve found at our agency KlientBoost, by increasing the amount of steps and the amount of form fields, we could actually increase conversion rates. The key here for us has been the order in which we present our steps and what info we ask for first.

Can more form fields really increase conversions?

As you may know, adding form fields goes against everything we’ve typically been advised to do:

You can find the sources for the above here, here, and here.

And while there are certainly cases in which fewer form fields are best, we’ve found adding more of the right form fields in progression can help ease conversion anxiety. When done correctly, it can take your free quote/lead generation landing pages to the next level.

At our agency we call our multi-step form approach the Breadcrumb Technique – think Hansel and Gretel where the breadcrumbs lead them in the right direction.

Experimenting with the Breadcrumb Technique

This is the landing page version of the sales technique called the “Yes Ladder”. It’s the art of eventually getting to what you want (the conversion) as a marketer, by getting visitors to say yes to much smaller requests first.

Click above to see a larger image of our landing page form flow. As each step progresses, the questions become more personal in nature.

Instead of having one page and one form to capture leads, you spread the form fields across two or more steps. So potential leads that visit the first page via your ads will fill in a short form and, after clicking the CTA button, they’re directed to the next step.

The first step starts with the least personal questions that allow the visitor to stay anonymous, whereas the second (and possible additional steps) ask for more, (albeit) reasonable, personal information. Here’s an example from one of our clients ZipLending. Their landing page offers a quote for rates on mortgages:

Notice the questions being asked in the step one form:

  • What kind of property are you considering?
  • What is your estimated credit score?
  • What is your desired loan amount?

All fairly low threat questions that allow the prospect to stay anonymous but feel like they’re going to get a quality answer they’re looking for, tailored to them.

Next, they’re directed to the second step form fields:

This step asks for more personal information, but logically reminds the prospect we need this information to send custom rates their way.

And while I can’t share the nitty gritty numbers of this test, I can share some high-level results. After the multi-step changes were made in the form above, we were able to bring in 35 more leads for ZipLending from March 2017 to May 2017. The client also noticed they were really high quality leads because of the qualifying questions we had included in our first step.

When we experimented with a multi-step form for another client, Garza Law, we were able to steadily increase the number of leads, bringing in 66 more in March 2018 than in December 2017, for example. Here’s a look at that:

Depending on the industry you’re working with and the typical value of a lead, 35-66 more leads in a given month can be a huge upgrade for a client and it’s why we’re thrilled to be able to deliver this via the multi-step form approach.

Why the BreadCrumb Technique is a cool experiment

If you want to try this with your landing pages, on the first step form, you set up questions pertinent to what the prospect might ask had they called you on the phone. This establishes the custom nature of what they will receive in return.

In the particular example we’ve outlined above, the visitor is interested in getting a no-obligation quote. So surely we’d need certain information on what they’re looking for to be helpful, and because the prospect understands this they’re more willing to participate for the perceived, increased value.

Replacing highly personal, red-flag-raising questions in the first step with questions that help the prospect hone in on exactly what they’re looking for will not only grow your conversions, but often improves lead quality as well.

Additionally, on the ZipLending page, notice the the headline changes between step one and two to let people know that they’re not yet finished with the process.

The “get rates” CTA button text also changes to “send rates”.
If the language does not differ from your step one to step two, this could cause a drop in conversions as people may think the form just refreshed and they’re done with the process.

Remember: all your landing page forms need to be GDPR compliant by May 25, 2018 (featuring privacy policies and opt-in checkboxes). Learn how to make your landing pages compliant by design here.

The psychology backing up this technique

After filling out the initial questions in step one, the last step of filling out the more sensitive fields like name, email, phone number becomes much easier because of compliance psychology.

Dr. Robert Cialdini said it best:

“Once we’ve made a choice, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.” Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion

In other words, once you commit to small things, you’re more likely to continue onto bigger commitments aligned with your initial decision.

Scott Fraser and Jonathan Freedman also conducted research on how to get people to say yes. They went door to door asking people to put up a sign that read: “Drive Carefully” in their front yard, but only 20% of people agreed to this.

They then did the same test in a nearby neighborhood, but this time they asked people to put much smaller signs in their yard. This created the opportunity to get them to eventually say yes to putting up the original, larger signs.

Next time around, 76% people agreed to put up the larger signs compared to the original 20%. Psychology baby!

Following the multi-step model designed to ease visitors into a commitment, here’s another successful built-in-Unbounce landing page example from one of our clients:

The first step

The first form step asks about what the prospect needs.

The second step

The second step, reminding the prospect that what they want is almost ready to go.
Notice how the first step asks for make, model, and year of the car. In this first step, make sure to ask questions that are super easy for the visitor to answer, but also strongly relate to your offer.

Successful multi-step forms weren’t a one-time thing for us

What’s cool is that this multi-step landing page technique has worked for us at KlientBoost several times for different clients.

Below you can see our client Mention’s Unbounce landing page offering their free demo, Auto Buyer’s landing page for their offer on your vehicle, and Watchex’s estimate for purchasing your Rolex. These campaigns all followed the same breadcrumb technique:

Client example: Mention.
Another client example: Auto Buyer’s.
Another client example: Watchex.

Progress bars can help light the way

When it comes to multi-step landing pages, something to consider testing is adding a progress bar, or a step wizard. This is especially handy when you have more than two steps, like the following example:

Step 1 says 0% complete.
Step 2 let’s the user know that this is the last step before completion.

The wizard signals to people just how much they will need to fill out, which can help ease any uncertainty about how much information is required.

In our experience, we’ve found it works best to include the wizard starting on the second step form fields and not the first. Visitors are more likely to continue through the whole process if they start the process, as per compliance psychology.

How do you try out The Breadcrumb Technique on your Unbounce landing pages?

It’s easy! Instead of having your usual one-step form, head to your form confirmation dialog and make your first-step’s form destination direct to the url of your second step (See below).

When you select the form in the Unbounce builder, you will see options on the right of where the form confirmation goes. Under confirmation, select “Go to URL”, then paste in the url of the second step form, and make sure that the “Append form data to URL” is checked.

For the second step of the form, you must make sure a very crucial step is completed, otherwise the information from your first step will not pass over and you will not receive a full lead. See below:

You will need to create hidden fields with the same field IDs of the form fields on your first step. If they don’t match, the information will not pass over. As long as you have all fields from the first step as hidden fields on the second step, you should be just fine.

Now that your first and second step are linked together correctly, you can continue with your regularly scheduled programming of sending the second step form to your form confirmation dialog (or a thank you page). All done!

Unbounce has an easy multi-step function

There’s always more than one way to do something! Although this requires some development work, Noah Matsell from Unbounce has some helpful tips on creating multi-step forms within the same page/url. This means you won’t need to paste in the second form url as the destination of your first form.

Note that this workaround allows you to create a form with one field per step, so this may not work for those who would like to have several form fields appear in a given step, however you can test out what works for you.

To create these multi-step forms on the same page:

Step 1.
Create your form in Unbounce.

Step 2.
Create a new button element for your ‘Next’ button and one for your ‘Previous’ button. Keep in mind when positioning these buttons (and your form submission button) that only one field will be shown at a time.

Step 3.
Copy the JS from ‘multistep_form.js’ and paste it into the Javascripts section of your page with placement ‘Before Body End Tag’.

Step 4.
Update the script with the ID of your ‘Previous’ and ‘Next’ button elements. Tip: Make sure you exclude the ‘#’ in the ID.

Step 5.
Copy the CSS from ‘multistep_form.css’ and paste it into the Stylesheets section of your page.

That’s it! See the whole process and the required code here.

Test out the technique on your next landing page

It might take a bit of practice to figure out the correct questions to be asking on your first step, or to find out the type of language to use on your form; but that’s what conversion rate optimization is all about: testing and trying new things to see what sticks. Ask the questions your visitors want answers to, and ask the questions your sales people need answers to to give a prospect a more personal answer.

If you give this a try, we would love to hear about your experience with a comment below.

Remember, all your forms (multi-step or otherwise) need to be GDPR compliant by May 25, 2018. See how to make your landing pages compliant by design and allow a visitor to opt-in here.

Read original article: 

Could the Breadcrumb Technique Help Boost Your Landing Page Conversions?


Managing SVG Interaction With The Pointer Events Property

Managing SVG Interaction With The Pointer Events Property

Tiffany Brown

Try clicking or tapping the SVG image below. If you put your pointer in the right place (the shaded path) then you should have Smashing Magazine’s homepage open in a new browser tab. If you tried to click on some white space, you might be really confused instead.

See the Pen Amethyst by Tiffany Brown (@webinista) on CodePen.

This is the dilemma I faced during a recent project that included links within SVG images. Sometimes when I clicked the image, the link worked. Other times it didn’t. Confusing, right?

I turned to the SVG specification to learn more about what might be happening and whether SVG offers a fix. The answer: pointer-events.

Not to be confused with DOM (Document Object Model) pointer events, pointer-events is both a CSS property and an SVG element attribute. With it, we can manage which parts of an SVG document or element can receive events from a pointing device such as a mouse, trackpad, or finger.

A note about terminology: “pointer events” is also the name of a device-agnostic, web platform feature for user input. However, in this article — and for the purposes of the pointer-events property — the phrase “pointer events” also includes mouse and touch events.

Outside Of The Box: SVG’s “Shape Model”

Using CSS with HTML imposes a box layout model on HTML. In the box layout model, every element generates a rectangle around its contents. That rectangle may be inline, inline-level, atomic inline-level, or block, but it’s still a rectangle with four right angles and four edges. When we add a link or an event listener to an element, the interactive area matches the dimensions of the rectangle.

Note: Adding a clip-path to an interactive element alters its interactive bounds. In other words, if you add a hexagonal clip-path path to an a element, only the points within the clipping path will be clickable. Similarly, adding a skew transformation will turn rectangles into rhomboids.

SVG does not have a box layout model. You see, when an SVG document is contained by an HTML document, within a CSS layout, the root SVG element adheres to the box layout model. Its child elements do not. As a result, most CSS layout-related properties don’t apply to SVG.

So instead, SVG has what I’ll call a ‘shape model’. When we add a link or an event listener to an SVG document or element, the interactive area will not necessarily be a rectangle. SVG elements do have a bounding box. The bounding box is defined as: the tightest fitting rectangle aligned with the axes of that element’s user coordinate system that entirely encloses it and its descendants. But initially, which parts of an SVG document are interactive depends on which parts are visible and/or painted.

Painted vs. Visible Elements

SVG elements can be “filled” but they can also be “stroked”. Fill refers to the interior of a shape. Stroke refers to its outline.

Together, “fill” and “stroke” are painting operations that render elements to the screen or page (also known as the canvas). When we talk about painted elements, we mean that the element has a fill and/or a stroke. Usually, this means the element is also visible.

However, an SVG element can be painted without being visible. This can happen if the visible attribute value or CSS property is hidden or when display is none. The element is there and occupies theoretical space. We just can’t see it (and assistive technology may not detect it).

Perhaps more confusingly, an element can also be visible — that is, have a computed visibility value of visible — without being painted. This happens when elements lack both a stroke and a fill.

Note: Color values with alpha transparency (e.g. rgba(0,0,0,0)) do not affect whether an element is painted or visible. In other words, if an element has an alpha transparent fill or stroke, it’s painted even if it can’t be seen.

Knowing when an element is painted, visible, or neither is crucial to understanding the impact of each pointer-events value.

All Or None Or Something In Between: The Values

pointer-events is both a CSS property and an SVG element attribute. Its initial value is auto, which means that only the painted and visible portions will receive pointer events. Most other values can be split into two groups:

  1. Values that require an element to be visible; and
  2. Values that do not.

painted, fill, stroke, and all fall into the latter category. Their visibility-dependent counterparts — visiblePainted, visibleFill, visibleStroke and visible — fall into the former.

The SVG 2.0 specification also defines a bounding-box value. When the value of pointer-events is bounding-box, the rectangular area around the element can also receive pointer events. As of this writing, only Chrome 65+ supports the bounding-box value.

none is also a valid value. It prevents the element and its children from receiving any pointer events. The pointer-events CSS property can be used with HTML elements too. But when used with HTML, only auto and none are valid values.

Since pointer-events values are better demonstrated than explained, let’s look at some demos.

Here we have a circle with a fill and a stroke applied. It’s both painted and visible. The entire circle can receive pointer events, but the area outside of the circle cannot.

See the Pen Visible vs painted in SVG by Tiffany Brown (@webinista) on CodePen.

Disable the fill, so that its value is none. Now if you try to hover, click, or tap the interior of the circle, nothing happens. But if you do the same for the stroke area, pointer events are still dispatched. Changing the fill value to none means that this area visible, but not painted.

Let’s make a small change to our markup. We’ll add pointer-events="visible" to our circle element, while keeping fill=none.

See the Pen How adding pointer-events: all affects interactivity by Tiffany Brown (@webinista) on CodePen.

Now the unpainted area encircled by the stroke can receive pointer events.

Augmenting The Clickable Area Of An SVG Image

Let’s return to the image from the beginning of this article. Our “amethyst” is a path element, as opposed to a group of polygons each with a stroke and fill. That means we can’t just add pointer-events="all" and call it a day.

Instead, we need to augment the click area. Let’s use what we know about painted and visible elements. In the example below, I’ve added a rectangle to our image markup.

See the Pen Augmenting the click area of an SVG image by Tiffany Brown (@webinista) on CodePen.

Even though this rectangle is unseen, it’s still technically visible (i.e. visibility: visible). Its lack of a fill, however, means that it is not painted. Our image looks the same. Indeed it still works the same — clicking white space still doesn’t trigger a navigation operation. We still need to add a pointer-events attribute to our a element. Using the visible or all values will work here.

See the Pen Augmenting the click area of an SVG image by Tiffany Brown (@webinista) on CodePen.

Now the entire image can receive pointer events.

Using bounding-box would eliminate the need for a phantom element. All points within the bounding box would receive pointer events, including the white space enclosed by the path. But again: pointer-events="bounding-box" isn’t widely supported. Until it is, we can use unpainted elements.

Using pointer-events When Mixing SVG And HTML

Another case where pointer-events may be helpful: using SVG inside of an HTML button.

See the Pen Ovxmmy by Tiffany Brown (@webinista) on CodePen.

In most browsers — Firefox and Internet Explorer 11 are exceptions here — the value of event.target will be an SVG element instead of our HTML button. Let’s add pointer-events="none" to our opening SVG tag.

See the Pen How pointer-events: none can be used with SVG and HTML by Tiffany Brown (@webinista) on CodePen.

Now when users click or tap our button, the event.target will refer to our button.

Those well-versed in the DOM and JavaScript will note that using the function keyword instead of an arrow function and this instead of event.target fixes this problem. Using pointer-events="none" (or pointer-events: none; in your CSS), however, means that you don’t have to commit that particular JavaScript quirk to memory.


SVG supports the same kind of interactivity we’re used to with HTML. We can use it to create charts that respond to clicks or taps. We can create linked areas that don’t adhere to the CSS and HTML box model. And with the addition of pointer-events, we can improve the way our SVG documents behave in response to user interaction.

Browser support for SVG pointer-events is robust. Every browser that supports SVG supports the property for SVG documents and elements. When used with HTML elements, support is slightly less robust. It isn’t available in Internet Explorer 10 or its predecessors, or any version of Opera Mini.

We’ve just scratched the surface of pointer-events in this piece. For a more in-depth, technical treatment, read through the SVG Specification. MDN (Mozilla Developer Network) Web Docs offers more web developer-friendly documentation for pointer-events, complete with examples.

Smashing Editorial
(rb, ra, yk, il)

Link to original:

Managing SVG Interaction With The Pointer Events Property


Contributing To MDN Web Docs

Contributing To MDN Web Docs

Rachel Andrew

MDN Web Docs has been documenting the web platform for over twelve years and is now a cross-platform effort with contributions and an Advisory Board with members from Google, Microsoft and Samsung as well as those representing Firefox. Something that is fundamental to MDN is that it is a huge community effort, with the web community helping to create and maintain the documentation. In this article, I’m going to give you some pointers as to the places where you can help contribute to MDN and exactly how to do so.

If you haven’t contributed to an open source project before, MDN is a brilliant place to start. Skills needed range from copyediting, translating from English to other languages, HTML and CSS skills for creating Interactive Examples, or an interest in browser compatibility for updating Browser Compatibility data. What you don’t need to do is to write a whole lot of code to contribute. It’s very straightforward, and an excellent way to give back to the community if you have ever found these docs useful.

Contributing To The Documentation Pages

The first place you might want to contribute is to the MDN docs themselves. MDN is a wiki, so you can log in and start to help by correcting or adding to any of the documentation for CSS, HTML, JavaScript or any of the other parts of the web platform covered by MDN.

To start editing, you need to log in using GitHub. As is usual with a wiki, any editors of a page are listed, and this section will use your GitHub username. If you look at any of the pages on MDN contributors are listed at the bottom of the page, the below image shows the current contributors to the page on CSS Grid Layout.

A list showing names of people who contributed to this page

The contributors to the CSS Grid Layout page. (Large preview)

What Might You Edit?

Things that you might consider as an editor are fixing obvious typos and grammatical errors. If you are a good proofreader and copyeditor, then you may well be able to improve the readability of the docs by fixing any spelling or other errors that you spot.

You might also spot a technical error, or somewhere the specs have changed and where an update or clarification would be useful. With the huge range of web platform features covered by MDN and the rate of change, it is very easy for things to get out of date, if you spot something – fix it!

You may be able to use some specific knowledge you have to add additional information. For example, Eric Bailey has been adding Accessibility Concerns sections to many pages. This is a brilliant effort to highlight the things we should be thinking about when using a certain thing.

A screenshot of the Accessibility Concerns section

This section highlights the things we should be aware of when using background-color. (Large preview)

Another place you could add to a page is in adding “See also” links. These could be links to other parts of MDN, or to external resources. When adding external resources, these should be highly relevant to the property, element or technique being described by that document. A good candidate would be a tutorial which demonstrates how to use that feature, something which would give a reader searching for information a valuable next step.

How To Edit A Document?

Once you are logged in you will see a link to Edit on pages in MDN, clicking this will take you into a WYSIWYG editor for editing content. Your first few edits are likely to be small changes, in which case you should be able to follow your nose and edit the text. If you are making extensive edits, then it would be worth taking a look at the style guide first. There is also a guide to using the WYSIWYG Editor.

After making your edit, you can Preview and then Publish. Before publishing it is a good idea to explain what you added and why using the Revision Comment field.

Screenshot of this field in the edit form

Add a comment using the Revision Comment field. (Large preview)

Language Translations

Those of us with English as a first language are incredibly fortunate when it comes to information on the web, being able to get pretty much all of the information that we could ever want in our own language. If you are able to translate English language pages into other languages, then you can help to translate MDN Web Docs, making all of this information available to more people.

A screenshot showing the drop-down translations list

Translations available for the background-color page. (Large preview)

If you click on the language icon on any page, you can see which languages that information has been translated into, and you can add your own translations following the information on the page Translating MDN Pages.

Interactive Examples

The Interactive Examples on MDN, are the examples that you will see at the top of many pages of MDN, such as this one for the grid-area property.

Screenshot of an Interactive Example

The Interactive Example for the grid-area property. (Large preview)

These examples allow visitors to MDN to try out various values for CSS properties or try out a JavaScript function, right there on MDN without needing to head into a development environment to do so. The project to add these examples has been in progress for around a year, you can read about the project and progress to date in the post Bringing Interactive Examples to MDN.

The content for these Interactive Examples is held in the Interactive Examples GitHub repository. For example, if you wanted to locate the example for grid-area, you would find it in that repo under live-examples/css-examples/grid. Under that folder, you will find two files for grid-area, an HTML and a CSS file.


<section id="example-choice-list" class="example-choice-list large" data-property="grid-area">
    <div class="example-choice" initial-choice="true">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: a;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
    <div class="example-choice">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: b;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
    <div class="example-choice">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: c;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
    <div class="example-choice">
        <pre><code class="language-css">grid-area: 2 / 1 / 2 / 4;</code></pre>
        <button type="button" class="copy hidden" aria-hidden="true">
        <span class="visually-hidden">Copy to Clipboard</span>
<div id="output" class="output large hidden">
    <section id="default-example" class="default-example">
        <div class="example-container">
            <div id="example-element" class="transition-all">Example</div>


    background-color: #eee;
    border: .75em solid;
    padding: .75em;
    display: grid;
    grid-template-columns: 1fr 1fr 1fr;
    grid-template-rows: repeat(3, minmax(40px, auto));
    "a a a"
    "b c c"
    "b c c";
    grid-gap: 10px;
    width: 200px;
    .example-container > div 
    background-color: rgba(0, 0, 255, 0.2);
    border: 3px solid blue;
    background-color: rgba(255, 0, 200, 0.2);
    border: 3px solid rebeccapurple;

An Interactive Example is just a small demo, which uses some standard classes and IDs in order that the framework can pick up the example and make it interactive, where the values can be changed by a visitor to the page who wants to quickly see how it works. To add or edit an Interactive Example, first fork the Interactive Examples repo, clone it to your machine and follow the instructions on the Contributing page to install the required packages from npm and be able to build and test examples locally.

Then create a branch and edit or create your new example. Once you are happy with it, send a Pull Request to the Interactive Examples repo to ask for your example to be reviewed. In order to keep the examples consistent, reviews are fairly nitpicky but should point out the changes you need to make in a clear way, so you can update your example and have it approved, merged and added to an MDN page.

Screenshot of a tweet asking for help with HTML examples

MDN looking for help with HTML Interactive Examples. (Large preview)

With pretty much all of CSS now covered (in addition to the JavaScript examples), MDN is now looking for help to build the HTML examples. There are instructions as to how to get started in a post on the MDN Discourse Forum. Check out that post as it gives links to a Google doc that you can use to indicate that you are working on a particular example, as well as some other useful information.

The Interactive Examples are incredibly useful for people exploring the web platform, so adding to the project is an excellent way to contribute. Contributing to CSS or HTML examples requires knowledge of CSS and HTML, plus the ability to think up a clear demonstration. This last point is often the hardest part, I’ve created a lot of CSS Interactive Examples and spent more time thinking up the best example for each property than I do actually writing the code.

Browser Compat Data

Fairly recently the browser compatibility data listed on MDN Pages has begun to be updated through the Browser Compatibility Project. This project is developing browser compat data in JSON format, which can display the compatibility tables on MDN but also be useful data for other purposes.

An example screenshot of the old tables on MDN

The Old Browser Compat Tables on MDN. (Large preview)

An example screenshot of the new tables on MDN

The New Browser Compat Tables on MDN. (Large preview)

The Browser Compatibility Data is on GitHub, and if you find a page that has incorrect information or is still using the old tables, you can submit a Pull Request. The repository contains contribution information, however, the simplest way to start is to edit an existing example. I recently updated the information for the CSS shape-outside property. The property already had some data in the new format, but it was incomplete and incorrect.

To edit this data, I first forked the Browser Compat Data so that I had my own fork. I then cloned that to my machine and created a new branch to make my changes in.

Once I had my new branch, I found the JSON file for shape-outside and was able to make my edits. I already had a good idea about browser support for the property; I also used the live example on the shape-outside MDN page to test to see support when I wasn’t sure. Therefore making the edits was a case of working through the file, checking the version numbers listed for support of the property and updating those which were incorrect.

As the file is in JSON format is pretty straightforward to edit in any text editor. The .editorconfig file explains the simple formatting rules for these documents. There are also some helpful tips in this checklist.

Once you have made your edits, you can commit your changes, push your branch to your fork and then make a Pull Request to the Browser Compat Data repository. It’s likely that, as with the live examples, the reviewer will have some changes for you to make. In my PR for the Shapes data I had a few errors in how I had flagged the data and needed to make some changes to links. These were simple to make, and then my PR was merged.

Get Started

You can get started simply by picking something to add to and starting work on it in many cases. If you have any questions or need some help with any of this, then the MDN Discourse forum is a good place to post. MDN is the place I go to look up information, the place I send new developers and experienced developers alike, and its strength is the fact that we can all work to make it better.

If you have never made a Pull Request on a project before, it is a very friendly place to make that first PR and, as I hope I have shown, there are ways to contribute that don’t require writing any code at all. A very valuable skill for any documentation project is that of writing, editing and translating as these skills can help to make technical documentation easier to read and accessible to more people around the world.

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Read this article:

Contributing To MDN Web Docs


A Guide To The State Of Print Stylesheets In 2018

A Guide To The State Of Print Stylesheets In 2018

Rachel Andrew

Today, I’d like to return to a subject that has already been covered in Smashing Magazine in the past — the topic of the print stylesheet. In this case, I am talking about printing pages directly from the browser. It’s an experience that can lead to frustration with enormous images (and even advertising) being printed out. Just sometimes, however, it adds a little bit of delight when a nicely optimized page comes out of the printer using a minimum of ink and paper and ensuring that everything is easy to read.

This article will explore how we can best create that second experience. We will take a look at how we should include print styles in our web pages, and look at the specifications that really come into their own once printing. We’ll find out about the state of browser support, and how to best test our print styles. I’ll then give you some pointers as to what to do when a print stylesheet isn’t enough for your printing needs.

Key Places For Print Support

If you still have not implemented any print styles on your site, there are a few key places where a solid print experience will be helpful to your users. For example, many users will want to print a transaction confirmation page after making a purchase or booking even if you will send details via email.

Any information that your visitor might want to use when away from their computer is also a good candidate for a print stylesheet. The most common thing that I print are recipes. I could load them up on my iPad but it is often more convenient to simply print the recipe to pop onto the fridge door while I cook. Other such examples might be directions or travel information. When traveling abroad and not always having access to data these printouts can be invaluable.

Reference materials of any sort are also often printed. For many people, being able to make notes on paper copies is the way they best learn. Again, it means the information is accessible in an offline format. It is easy for us to wonder why people want to print web pages, however, our job is often to make content accessible — in the best format for our visitors. If that best format is printed to paper, then who are we to argue?

Why Would This Page Be Printed?

A good question to ask when deciding on the content to include or hide in the print stylesheet is, “Why is the user printing this page?” Well, maybe there’s a recipe they’d like to follow while cooking in the kitchen or take along with them when shopping to buy ingredients. Or they’d like to print out a confirmation page after purchasing a ticket as proof of booking. Or perhaps they’d like a receipt or invoice to be printed (or printed to PDF) in order to store it in the accounts either as paper or electronically.

Considering the use of the printed document can help you to produce a print version of your content that is most useful in the context in which the user is in when referring to that print-out.


Once we have decided to include print styles in our CSS, we need to add them to our workflow to ensure that when we make changes to the layout we also include those changes in the print version.

Adding Print Styles To A Page

To enable a “print stylesheet” what we are doing is telling the browser what these CSS rules are for when the document is printed. One method of doing this is to link an additional stylesheet by using the <link> element.

<link media="print" href="print.css">

This method does keep your print styles separate from everything else which you might consider to be tidier, however, that has downsides.

The linked stylesheet creates an additional request to the server. In addition, that nice, neat separation of print styles from other styles can have a downside. While you may take care to update the separate styles before going live, the stylesheet may find itself suffering due to being out of sight and therefore out of mind — ultimately becoming useless as features are added to the site but not reflected in the print styles.

The alternate method for including print styles is to use @media in the same way that you includes CSS for certain breakpoints in your responsive design. This method keeps all of the CSS together for a feature. Styles for narrow to wide breakpoints, and styles for print. Alongside Feature Queries with @supports, this encourages a way of development that ensures that all of the CSS for a design feature is kept and maintained together.

@media print 

Overwriting Screen CSS Or Creating Separate Rules

Much of the time you are likely to find that the CSS you use for the screen display works for print with a few small adjustments. Therefore you only need to write CSS for print, for changes to that basic CSS. You might overwrite a font size, or family, yet leave other elements in the CSS alone.

If you really want to have completely separate styles for print and start with a blank slate then you will need to wrap the rest of your site styles in a Media Query with the screen keyword.

@media screen 

On that note, if you are using Media Queries for your Responsive Design, then you may have written them for screen.

@media screen and (min-width: 500px) 

If you want these styles to be used when printing, then you should remove the screen keyword. In practice, however, I often find that if I work “mobile first” the single column mobile layout is a really good starting point for my print layout. By having the media queries that bring in the more complex layouts for screen only, I have far less overwriting of styles to do for print.

Add Your Print Styles To Your Pattern Libraries And Style Guides

To help ensure that your print styles are seen as an integral part of the site design, add them to your style guide or pattern library for the site if you have one. That way there is always a reminder that the print styles exist, and that any new pattern created will need to have an equivalent print version. In this way, you are giving the print styles visibility as a first-class citizen of your design system.

Basics Of CSS For Print

When it comes to creating the CSS for print, there are three things you are likely to find yourself doing. You will want to hide, and not display content which is irrelevant when printed. You may also want to add content to make a print version more useful. You might also want to adjust fonts or other elements of your page to optimize them for print. Let’s take a look at these techniques.

Hiding Content

In CSS the method to hide content and also prevent generation of boxes is to use the display property with a value of none.

  display: none;

Using display: none will collapse the element and all of its child elements. Therefore, if you have an image gallery marked up as a list, all you would need to do to hide this when printed is to set display: none on the ul.

Things that you might want to hide are images which would be unnecessary when printed, navigation, advertising panels and areas of the page which display links to related content and so on. Referring back to why a user might print the page can help you to decide what to remove.

Inserting Content

There might be some content that makes sense to display when the page is printed. You could have some content set to display: none in a screen stylesheet and show it in your print stylesheet. Additionally, however, you can use CSS to expose content not normally output to the screen. A good example of this would be the URL of a link in the document. In your screen document, a link would normally show the link text which can then be clicked to visit that new page or external website. When printed links cannot be followed, however, it might be useful if the reader could see the URL in case they wished to visit the link at a later time.

We achieve this by using CSS Generated Content. Generated Content gives you a way to insert content into your document via CSS. When printing, this becomes very useful.

You can insert a simple text string into your document. The next example targets the element with a class of wrapper and inserts before it the string, “Please see www.mysite.com for the latest version of this information.”

  content: "Please see www.mysite.com for the latest version of this information.";

You can insert things that already exist in the document however, an example would be the content of the link href. We add Generated Content after each instance of a with an attribute of href and the content we insert is the value of the href attribute – which will be the link.

  content: " (" attr(href) ")";

You could use the newer CSS :not selector to exclude internal links if you wished.

  content: " (" attr(href) ")";

There are some other useful tips like this in the article, “I Totally Forgot About Print Stylesheets”, written by Manuel Matuzovic.

Advanced Print Styling

If your printed version fits neatly onto one page then you should be able to create a print stylesheet relatively simply by using the techniques of the last section. However, once you have something which prints onto multiple pages (and particularly if it contains elements such as tables or figures), you may find that items break onto new pages in a suboptimal manner. You may also want to control things about the page itself, e.g. changing the margin size.

CSS does have a way to do these things, however, as we will see, browser support is patchy.

Paged Media

The CSS Paged Media Specification opens with the following description of its role.

“This CSS module specifies how pages are generated and laid out to hold fragmented content in a paged presentation. It adds functionality for controlling page margins, page size and orientation, and headers and footers, and extends generated content to enable page numbering and running headers/footers.”

The screen is continuous media; if there is more content, we scroll to see it. There is no concept of it being broken up into individual pages. As soon as we are printing we output to a fixed size page, described in the specification as paged media. The Paged Media specification doesn’t deal with how content is fragmented between pages, we will get to that later. Instead, it looks at the features of the pages themselves.

We need a way to target an individual page, and we do this by using the @page rule. This is used much like a regular selector, in that we target @page and then write CSS to be used by the page. A simple example would be to change the margin on all of the pages created when you print your document.

  margin: 20px;

You can target specific pages with :left and :right spread pseudo-class selectors. The first page can be targeted with the :first pseudo-class selector and blank pages caused by page breaks can be selected with :blank. For example, to set a top margin only on the first page:

@page :first 
  margin-top: 250pt;

To set a larger margin on the right side of a left-hand page and the left side of a right-hand page:

@page :left 
  margin-right: 200pt;

@page :right 
  margin-left: 200pt;

The specification defines being able to insert content into the margins created, however, no browser appears to support this feature. I describe this in my article about creating stylesheets for use with print-specific user agents, Designing For Print With CSS.

CSS Fragmentation

Where the Paged Media module deals with the page boxes themselves, the CSS Fragmentation Module details how content breaks between fragmentainers. A fragmentainer (or fragment container) is a container which contains a portion of a fragmented flow. This is a flow which, when it gets to a point where it would overflow, breaks into a new container.

The contexts in which you will encounter fragmentation currently are in paged media, therefore when printing, and also when using Multiple-column layout and your content breaks between column boxes. The Fragmentation specification defines various rules for breaking, CSS properties that give you some control over how content breaks into new fragments, in these contexts. It also defines how content breaks in the CSS Regions specification, although this isn’t something usable cross-browser right now.

And, speaking of browsers, fragmentation is a bit of a mess in terms of support at the moment. The browser compatibility tables for each property on MDN seem to be accurate as to support, however testing use of these properties carefully will be required.

Older Properties From CSS2

In addition to the break-* properties from CSS Fragmentation Level 3, we have page-break-* properties which came from CSS2. In spec terms, these have been superseded by the newer break-* properties, as these are more generic and can be used in the different contexts breaking happens. There isn’t much difference between a page and a multicol break. However, in terms of browser support, there is better browser support for the older properties. This means you may well need to use those at the current time to control breaking. Browsers that implement the newer properties are to alias the older ones rather than drop them.

In the examples that follow, I shall show both the new property and the old one where it exists.

break-before & break-after

These properties deal with breaks between boxes, and accept the following values, with the initial value being auto. The final four values do not apply to paged media, instead being for multicol and regions.

  • auto
  • avoid
  • avoid-page
  • page
  • left
  • right
  • recto
  • verso
  • avoid-column
  • column
  • avoid-region
  • region

The older properties of page-break-before and page-break-after accept a smaller range of values.

  • auto
  • always
  • avoid
  • left
  • right
  • inherit

To always cause a page break before an h2 element, you would use the following:

  break-before: page;

To avoid a paragraph being detached from the heading immediately preceding it:

h2, h3 
  break-after: avoid-page;

The older page-break-* property to always cause a page break before an h2:

  page-break-before: always;

To avoid a paragraph being detached from the heading immediately preceding it:

h2, h3
  page-break-after: avoid;

On MDN find information and usage examples for the properties:


This property controls breaks inside boxes and accepts the values:

  • auto
  • avoid
  • avoid-page
  • avoid-column
  • avoid-region

As with the previous two properties, there is an aliased page-break-inside from CSS2, which accepts the values:

  • auto
  • avoid
  • inherit

For example, perhaps you have a figure or a table and you don’t want a half of it to end up on one page and the other half on another page.

  break-inside: avoid;

And when using the older property:

  page-break-inside: avoid;


Orphans And Widows

The Fragmentation specification also defines the properties orphans and widows. The orphans property defines how many lines can be left at the bottom of the first page when content such as a paragraph is broken between two pages. The widows property defines how many lines may be left at the top of the second page.

Therefore, in order to prevent ending up with a single line at the end of a page and a single line at the top the next page, you can use the following:

  orphans: 2;
  widows: 2;

The widows and orphans properties are well supported (the missing browser implementation being Firefox).



The final property defined in the Fragmentation module is box-decoration-break. This property deals with whether borders, margins, and padding break or wrap the content. The values it accepts are:

  • slice
  • clone

For example, if my content area has a 10-pixel grey border and I print the content, then the default way that this will print is that the border will continue onto each page, however, it will only wrap at the end of the content. So we get a break before going to the next page and continuing.

The border does not wrap each page and so breaks between pages

The border does not wrap each page and so breaks between pages

If I use box-decoration-break: clone, the border and any padding and margin will complete on each page, thus giving each page a grey border.

The border wraps each individual page

The border wraps each individual page

Currently, this only works for Paged Media in Firefox, and you can find out more about box-decoration-break on MDN.

Browser Support

As already mentioned, browser support is patchy for Paged Media and Fragmentation. Where Fragmentation is concerned, an additional issue is that breaking has to be specified and implemented for each layout method. If you were hoping to use Flexbox or CSS Grid in print stylesheets, you will probably be disappointed. You can check out the Chrome bugs for Flexbox and for Grid.

The best suggestion I can give right now is to keep your print stylesheets reasonably simple. Add fragmentation properties — including both the old page-break-* properties as well as the new properties. However, accept that these may well not work in all browsers. And, if you find lack of browser support frustrating, raise these issues with browsers or vote for already raised issues. Fragmentation, in particular, should be treated as a suggestion rather than a command, even where it is supported. It would be possible to be so specific about where and when you want things to break that it is almost impossible to lay out the pages. You should assume that sometimes you may get suboptimal breaking.

Testing Print Stylesheets

Testing print stylesheets can be something of a bore, typically requiring using print preview or printing to a PDF repeatedly. However, browser DevTools have made this a little easier for us. Both Chrome and Firefox have a way to view the print styles only.


Open the Developer Toolbar then type media emulate print at the prompt.

Typing media emulate print

Emulating print styles in Firefox


Open DevTools, click on the three dots icon and then select “More Tools” and “Rendering”. You can then select print under Emulate CSS Media.

Chrome DevTools emulate print media

Emulating print styles in Chrome

This will only be helpful in testing changes to the CSS layout, hidden or generated content. It can’t help you with fragmentation — you will need to print or print to PDF for that. However, it will save you a few round trips to the printer and can help you check as you develop new parts of the site that you are still hiding and showing the correct things.

What To Do When A Print Stylesheet Isn’t Enough

In an ideal world, browsers would have implemented more of the Paged Media specification when printing direct from the browser, and fragmentation would be more thoroughly implemented in a consistent way. It is certainly worth raising the bugs that you find when printing from the browser with the browsers concerned. If we don’t request these things are fixed, they will remain low priority to be fixed.

If you do need to have a high level of print support and want to use CSS, then currently you would need to use a print-specific User Agent, such as Prince. I detail how you can use CSS to format books when outputting to Prince in my article “Designing For Print With CSS.”

Prince is also available to install on your server in order to generate nicely printed documents using CSS on the web, however, it comes at a high price. An alternative is a server like DocRaptor who offer an API on top of the Prince rendering engine.

There are open-source HTML- and CSS-to-PDF generators such as wkhtmltopdf, but most use browser rendering engines to create the print output and therefore have the same limitations as browsers when it comes to implementing the Paged Media and Fragmentation specifications. An exception is WeasyPrint which seems to have its own implementation and supports slightly different features, although is not in any way as full-featured as something like Prince.

You will find more information about user agents for print on the print-css.rocks site.

Other Resources

Due to the fact that printing from CSS has really moved on very little in the past few years, many older resources on Smashing Magazine and elsewhere are still valid. Some additional tips and tricks can be found in the following resources. If you have discovered a useful print workflow or technical tip, then add it to the comments below.

Smashing Editorial


A Guide To The State Of Print Stylesheets In 2018


On Failures And Successes: Meet SmashingConf Freiburg 2018

On Failures And Successes: Meet SmashingConf Freiburg 2018

Vitaly Friedman

Everybody loves speaking about successes, but nobody can succeed without failing big time along the way. It’s through mistakes that we grow and get smarter. So for the upcoming SmashingConf Freiburg 2018 (Sept. 10–11), we want to put these stories into focus for a change and explore practical techniques and strategies learned in real projects — the hard way. Aarron Walter, Josh Clark, Tammy Everts, Morten Rand-Hendriksen & many others. Sept 10–11. Early-Birds are available now →

SmashingConf Freiburg 2018
One track, two days, honest talks, live sessions, and a handful of practical workshops. That’s SmashingConf Freiburg 2018! Excited yet?

The night before the conference we’ll be hosting a FailNight — a warm-up party with a twist. Every session will be highlighting how we all failed on a small or big scale, and what we all can learn from it. With talks from the community, for the community. Sounds like fun? Well, it will be!


As usual, one track, two conference days (Sept. 10–11), 12 speakers, and just 260 available seats. The conference will cover everything from efficient design workflow to design systems and copywriting, multi-cultural designs, designing for mobile and other fields that may come up in your day-to-day work.

First confirmed speakers include:

First confirmed speakers
Aarron Walter and Tammy Everts are two of the first confirmed speakers.

Conference Tickets

€499Get Your Ticket

Two days of great speakers and networking
Check all speakers →

Conf + Workshop Tickets

Save €100 Conf + Workshop

Three days full of learning and networking
Check all workshops →

Workshops At SmashingConf Freiburg

Our workshops give you the opportunity to spend a full day on the topic of your choice. Tickets for the full-day workshops cost €399. If you buy a workshop ticket in combination with a conference ticket, you’ll save €100 on the regular workshop ticket price. Seats are limited

Workshops on Wednesday, September 12th

Josh Clark on Design For What’s Next
Josh ClarkSpend a day exploring the web’s emerging interactions and how you can put them to work today. Your guide is designer Josh Clark, author of Designing for Touch and ambassador of the near future. As you move into newer design tools — speech, bots, physical interfaces, artificial intelligence, and more — you’ll learn the tools and techniques for prototyping and launching these new interfaces and get answers to foundational questions for all your projects. Read more…

Seb Lee-Delisle on JavaScript Graphics And Animation
Seb Lee-DelisleIn this workshop, Seb will demonstrate a variety of beautiful visual effects using JavaScript and HTML5 canvas. You will learn animation and graphics techniques that you can use to add a sense of dynamism to your projects. Seb demystifies programming and explores its artistic possibilities. His presentations and workshops enable artists to overcome their fear of code and encourage programmers of all backgrounds to be more creative and imaginative. Read more…

Vitaly Friedman on Dirty Little Tricks From The Dark Corners Of eCommerce
Vitaly FriedmanIn this workshop, Vitaly will use real-life examples as a case study and examine refinements of the interface on spot. You’ll set up a very clear roadmap on how you can do the right things in the right order to improve conversion and customer experience. That means removing distractions, minimizing friction and avoiding disruptions and dead ends caused by the interface. Read more…


As always, the Historical Merchants’ Hall located right in the heart of our hometown Freiburg will be the home of SmashingConf Freiburg. First mentioned in 1378 and having retained its present-day form since 1520, the “Kaufhaus” is a symbol of the importance of trade in medieval Freiburg, and, well, its beautiful architecture still blows our audience away each year anew.

Historical Merchants’ Hall
The “Kaufhaus” (Historical Merchants’ Hall) will be our Freiburg venue also this time around. (Image credit: John Davey)

Why This Conference Could Be For You

Each SmashingConf is a friendly and intimate experience. A cozy get-together of likeminded people who share their stories, their ideas, their hard-learned lessons. At SmashingConf Freiburg you will learn how to:

  1. Use production-ready CSS Grid layouts,
  2. Performance audits,
  3. Recognize, revise, and resolve dark patterns and misleading copy in your own products,
  4. Design and build a product with a global audience in mind,
  5. Extract action-oriented insights from real user data,
  6. Create better e-commerce experiences,
  7. Create responsible machine-learning applications,
  8. Get leading design right,
  9. … and a lot more.

Download “Convince Your Boss” PDF

You need to convince your boss to send you to Freiburg? No worries, we’ve prepared a neat Convince Your Boss PDF that you can use to tip the scales in your favor. Fingers crossed.

Diversity And Inclusivity

SmashingConfs are a safe, friendly place. We care about diversity and inclusivity at our events and don’t tolerate any disrespect. We also provide student and diversity tickets.

See You In Freiburg!

We’d love you to join us for two memorable days, lots of learning, sharing, and inspiring conversations with friendly people, of course. See you there!

Smashing Editorial
(ms, cm, il)


On Failures And Successes: Meet SmashingConf Freiburg 2018


Web Typography: Where East Meets West

When we talk about typography, the most common associations are print and Latin-based letters. Many associate printing with Gutenberg’s printing press, but the first moveable type was invented by Bi Sheng in China approximately 400 years earlier. And today, even though print has yet to fall out of favour, the explosion of the web has resulted in a lot of reading being done off screens of all sizes.
Analog typesetting is done with metal slugs, but the web uses CSS to set type.

Read More: 

Web Typography: Where East Meets West

Art Directing For The Web With CSS Grid Template Areas

Art Directing For The Web With CSS Grid Template Areas

Andrew Clarke

(This article is kindly sponsored by CoffeeCup Software.) Alright, I’m going to get straight to the point. CSS Grid is important, really important, too important to be one of those “I’ll use it when all browsers support it” properties. That’s because, with CSS Grid, we can now be as creative with layout on the web as we can in print, without compromising accessibility, responsiveness, or usability.

If you’re at all serious about web design or development, you need to be serious about learning and using CSS Grid too. In this article I’m going to explain how to use one aspect, grid-template areas, a way of arranging elements that even a big, dumb mug like me can understand, and one that doesn’t get enough attention.

Now, you want to see some action and some code, I know that, but hold on one Goddam minute. Before you learn “how,” I want to teach you “why” it’s important to make the kind of layouts we’ve seen in other media for decades, but have mostly been absent from the web.

Feeling Frustrated

I guess you’ve seen those “which one of these two layouts are you designing today?” tweets, lamenting the current state of design on the web. Even I’ve spoken about how web design’s lost its “soul.” I bet you’ve also seen people use CSS Grid to recreate posters or pages from magazines. These technical demonstrations are cool, and they show how easy implementing complex layouts with CSS Grid can be when compared to other methods, but they don’t get to the bottom of why doing this stuff matters.

So what’s the reason? Why’s layout such an important part of design? Well, it all boils down to one thing, and that’s communication.

For what seems like forever, web designers have created templates, then filled them, with little consideration of the relationship between content and layout. I suppose that’s inevitable, given considerations for content management systems, our need to make designs responsive, and the limitations of the CSS properties we’ve used until now. Sure, we’ve made designs that are flexible, usable, but we’ve been missing a key piece of the puzzle, the role that layout plays in delivering a message.

If you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ll know the role color plays in setting the right tone for a design. I don’t need to tell you that type plays its part too. Pick the wrong typeface, and you run the risk of communicating ineffectively and leaving people feeling differently to how you intended.

Layout — closely linked to aspects of typography like the ’measure’ — plays an equally important role. Symmetry and asymmetry, harmony and tension. These principles draw people to your content, guide them, and help them understand it more easily. That’s why crafting the right layout is as important as choosing the most appropriate typeface. Print designers have known this for years.

Telling Stories Through Art Direction

Art direction matters as much on the web as it does in other media, including print, and what I’m going to cover applies as much to promoting digital products as it does to telling stories.

What do you think of when you hear the term ’art direction?’ Do you think about responsive images, presenting alternative crops, sizes or orientations to several screen sizes using the <picture> element or ’sizes’ in HTML? They’ve become useful responsive design and art direction tools, but there’s more to web design than tools.

Do you think of those designers like Jason Santa Maria and Trent Walton who sometimes art direct their writing by giving an entry its own, distinctive image, layout and typography. This gets us closer to understanding art direction, but images, layout, and typography are only the result of art direction, not the meaning of it.

So if art direction isn’t exactly those things, what exactly is it? In a sentence, it’s the art of distilling an essential, precise meaning or purpose from a piece of content — be that magazine article or a list of reasons why to use the coolest app from the hottest start-up — and conveying that meaning or purpose better by using design. We don’t hear much about art direction on the web, but it’s well established in another medium, perhaps the most memorable being magazines and to some extent newspapers.

I’m not old enough to remember first hand Alexey Brodovitch’s work on Harpers Bazaar magazine from 1934 to 1958.

designs by Brodovitch

Fig.1. What I love about these designs — particularly his pencil sketches — is how Brodovitch placed his content to perfectly reflect the image that accompanies it.

I do remember Neville Brody’s artistic art direction for the Face magazine and I’m still inspired by it every day.

Brody’s pages from The Face magazine

Fig.2. Even twenty five years after he created them, Brody’s pages from The Face magazine are still remarkable designs.

Art direction is so rarely discussed in relation to the web that you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s not relevant. Perhaps you see art direction as an activity that’s more suited to the print world than it is to the web? Some people might think of art direction as elitist in some way.

I don’t think that any of that’s true. Stories are stories, no matter where they’re told or through what medium. They may be thought-provoking like the ones published on ProPublica, or they might be the story of your company and why people should do business with you. There’s the story of how your charity supports a good cause and why people should donate to it. Then there’s the story of your start-up’s new app and why someone should download it. With all of these stories, there’s a deeper message beyond just telling the facts about what you do or sell.

Art direction is about understanding those messages and deciding how best to communicate them through the organization and presentation of words and visuals. Is art direction relevant for the web? Of course. Art directors use design to help people better understand the significance of a piece of content, and that’s as important on the web as it is in print. In fact, the basic principles of art direction haven’t changed between print and digital.

I’d go further, by saying that art direction is essential to creating cohesive experiences across multiple channels, so that the meaning of a story isn’t lost in the gaps between devices and screen sizes.

David Hillman, formerly of The Guardian and New Statesman and designer of many other publications said:

“In its best form, (art direction) involves the art director having a full and in-depth understanding of what the magazine says, and through design, influencing how it is said.”

My friend Mark Porter, coincidentally the former Creative Director at The Guardian also said:

“Design is being in charge of the distribution of elements in space.”

CSS Grid makes being in charge of the distribution of elements more possible than ever before.

Art Directing A Hardboiled Story

I guess now is the time to get down to it, so I’m going to tell you how to put some of this to work in a series of Hardboiled examples. I’ll shine a flashlight on layout and how it helps storytelling and then give you the low down on how to develop one of these designs using CSS Grid.

several ’shots’ of a story in a Hardboiled book

Fig.3. When I conceived the covers for my Hardboiled books, I wanted the story to continue across several ’shots.’ (Left: Cover illustrations by Kevin Cornell. Right: Cover illustrations by Natalie Smith.) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

First, the backstory. On the cover of my 2010 edition of Hardboiled Web Design (1), a mystery woman in a red dress (there’s always a woman in a red dress) is pointing a gun at our private dick. (Sheesh, I know that feeling.) By the Fifth Anniversary Edition in 2015 (2), the story’s moved on and a shadow moves ominously across the door of our detective’s office. The door flies open, two villains burst in (3), and a fist fight ensues (4). Our mystery woman sure knows how to throw a punch and before you can say “kiss me, deadly” one villain’s tied to a chair and ready to spill the beans (5).

Chapter Three

I’ll start telling that story at the explosive moment when those two villains bust open the door. Now, if you’ve read Scott McCloud’s book ‘Understanding Comics’ you’ll know that panel size affects how long people spend looking at an area, so I want to make the image of our bad guys as large as possible to maximise its impact (1). What the hoods don’t know is that our woman is waiting for them. I use layout to add tension by connecting their eye lines, (2) at the same time drawing a reader’s eyes to where the content starts.

Adding tension by connecting eye lines and maximise impact through large images.

Fig.4. Add tension by connecting eye lines and maximise impact through large images. (View project files on CodePen) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Chapter Four

As the first villain bursts onto the scene, I use the left edge of the page, without margins, to represent the open door (1). As most of the action takes place on the right, I create a large spacial zone using the majority of the height and width of the page (2).

Now, when fists fly in all directions, our layout needs to do the same, so my content comes from the top — where whitespace draws the eye down to the bold paragraph (3) — and from the left with the enormous headline (4). You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned that smaller image in the top-right, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

When fists fly, a layout needs to do the same.

Fig.5. When fists fly, a layout needs to do the same. (View project files on CodePen) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Chapter Five

The fight’s over, and our detective is back in control, so on this final page I use a more structured layout to reflect the order that’s returned. Solid columns of justified text (1) with plenty of whitespace around them add to the feeling of calm. At the same time, the right aligned caption (2) feels edgy and uncomfortable, like the gunpoint interrogation that’s taking place.

using layout to create order as well as disorder

Fig.6. We can use layout to create order as well as disorder. (View project files on CodePen) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Getting My Dands Dirty

It’s time for a confession. I’m not going to teach you everything you need to know about developing layouts using CSS Grid as there are plenty of smarter people who’ve done that before:

Instead, I’ll show you the inspiration for one grid, how I translated it into a (large screen) layout using columns and rows in CSS Grid, and then placed elements into the spacial zones created using the grid-template areas property. Finally, I’ll deconstruct and alter the design for smaller screen sizes.

The Perfect Beat

My inspiration for the layout I use came from this 1983 design by Neville Brody for The Face Magazine. I was drawn to how Brody cleverly created both horizontal and vertical axis and the large space occupied by the main image.

layout by Neville Brody for The Face Magazine

Fig.7. This layout by Neville Brody for The Face Magazine felt like the perfect starting point for my design. Look closely at Brody’s grid, and you should spot that he used five columns of equal width.

I did the same by applying the following CSS Grid properties to the margin-less <body> element of my page, where columns one fraction unit wide repeat five times with a 2vw gap between them:

margin: 0;
padding : 0;
display: grid;
grid-column-gap : 2vw;
grid-template-columns: repeat(5, 1fr); 

combining five equal width columns

Fig.8. I combine five equal width columns in different ways to create spacial zones.

In CSS Grid we define a grid module by giving it a name, then we place an element into either a single module or multiple adjacent modules — known as spacial zones — with the grid-template-areas property. Sounds complicated huh? No, not really. It’s one of the easiest and most obvious ways of using CSS Grid, so let’s get to work.

First things, first. I have five elements to position, and they are my “Kiss Me, Deadly” title, the largest ’banner’ image, main content, aside paragraph and two images, fig-1 and fig-2. My HTML looks like this:

<picture role="banner">…</picture>
<h1 class="title">…</h1>
<img class="fig-1">
<img class="fig-2">

I wrote that markup in the order that makes most sense, just as I would when constructing a narrative. It reads like a dream on small screens and even without styles. I give each element a grid-area value that in a moment I’ll use to place it on my grid:

[role="banner"]  grid-area: banner; 
.title  grid-area: title; 
main  grid-area: main; 
aside  grid-area: aside; 
.fig-1  grid-area: fig-1; 
.fig-2  grid-area: fig-2; 

Your grid area values don’t necessarily need to reflect your element types. In fact, you can use any values, even single letters like a, b, c, or d.

Back with the grid, I add three rows to the columns I created earlier. The height of each row is automatically defined by the height of the content inside it:

grid-template-rows: repeat(3, auto); 

Here’s where the magic happens. I literally draw the grid in CSS using the grid-template-areas property, where each period (.) represents one empty module:

".  .  .  .  ."
".  .  .  .  ."
".  .  .  .  ."; 

Now it’s time to position elements on that grid using the grid-area values I created earlier. I place each elements’ value into a module on the grid and if I repeat that value across multiple adjacent modules — either across columns or row, that element will expand across them to create a spacial zone. Leaving a period (.) will create an empty space:

".  aside  .  fig-2  fig-2"
"title  title  banner  banner  banner"
"fig-2  main  banner  banner  banner"; 

One more small detail before I finish the layout CSS. I want the content of the aside element to sit at the bottom — close to the title and leaving ample white space above it to draw someone’s eye down — so I use an align-self property that might be familiar from learning Flexbox, but with a new value of ’end.‘

align-self: end; 

CSS Grid layout for larger screens

Fig.9. That’s it, my CSS Grid layout for larger screens is done. (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

All that remains is to add a few other styles to bring the design to life, including a striking inverse color scheme and a bright, red accent that ties the word “Deadly” in the title to the color of our woman’s dress:

<h1 class="title">Kiss Me, <em>Deadly</em></h1>

.title em 
font-style: normal;
color : #fe3d6b; 

Going Up In Smoke

Now, I know you’ve been wondering about that smaller fight image, and I need to admit something. Natalie Smith made only one finished fists flying illustration for my Hardboiled Shot covers, but her sketches were too good to waste. I used CSS Grid to position an inverted version of one pencil sketch above the gun and rotated it with a CSS transform to form a cloud of smoke.

CSS Grid and transforms turn this sketch into a cloud of smoke.

Fig.10. CSS Grid and transforms turn this sketch into a cloud of smoke. (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Breaking It Down

In this article, I’ve shown how to create a layout for large screens, but in reality, I start with a small one and then work up, using breakpoints to add or change styles. With CSS Grid, adapting a layout to various screen sizes is as easy as positioning elements into different grid-template areas. There are two ways that I can do this, first by changing the grid itself:

grid-template-columns: 50px repeat(2, 1fr); 

@media screen and (min-width : 48em) 
grid-template-columns: repeat(5, 1fr); 

The second, by positioning elements into different grid-template areas on the same grid:

"fig-1  aside  aside  aside  aside"
"fig-1  title  title  title  title"
"banner  banner  banner  banner  banner"
"....  main  main  main  main"; 

@media screen and (min-width : 64em) 
"....  aside  ....  fig-2  fig-2"
"title  title  banner  banner  banner"
"fig-1  main  banner  banner  banner"; 

adapting layout to various screen sizes

Fig.11. Adapting my layout to various screen sizes is as easy as positioning elements into different grid-template areas. Small screen (left) Medium screen (right). (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Using CSS Grid Builder

Grid template areas make developing art directed layouts so easy that even a flat-foot like me can do it, but if you’re the type that likes tools to do the dirty work, CSS Grid Builder from CoffeeCup Software might be just the thing for you. You may have used WYSIWYG editors before, so you might be remembering how lousy the code they spat out was. Let me stop you there. CSS Grid Builder outputs clean CSS and accessible markup. Maybe not as clean as you write yourself, but pretty damn close, and the small team who developed it plan to make it even better. My handwritten HTML looks like this:

<picture role="banner">
    <source srcset="banner.png" media="(min-width: 64em)">
    <img src="banner-small.png" alt="Kiss Me, Deadly">

The CSS Grid Builder <picture> element comes wrapped in an extra division, with a few other elements thrown in for good measure:

<div class="responsive-picture banner" role="banner">
    <!--[if IE 9]><video style="display: none;"><![endif]-->
    <source srcset="banner.png" media="(min-width: 64em)">
    <!--[if IE 9]></video><![endif]-->
    <img alt="Kiss Me, Deadly" src="banner-small.png">

Like I said, close enough, and if you don’t believe me, download a set of exported files from my Hardboiled example. Maybe that’ll convince you.

Browsers’ developer tools are getting better at inspecting grids, but CSS Grid Builder helps you build them. Obviously. At its core, CSS Grid Builder is a Chromium-based browser wrapped in a user-interface, and it runs on macOS and Windows. That means that if the browser can render it, the UI tools can write it, with one or two notable exceptions including CSS Shapes.

In fact, CSS Grid Builder builds more than grids, and you can use it to create styles for backgrounds — including gradients, which is very handy — borders, and typography. It even handles Flexbox and multi-column layouts, but you’re here because you want to learn about CSS Grid.

Looking Around The Interface

The interface in CSS Grid Builder, is pretty much as you’d expect it, with a wide area for the design you’re making on the left and controls over on the right. Those controls include common elements; text, images, interactive buttons and form controls, and layout containers. If you need one of those elements, drag and drop it into your work area.

Drag and drop common elements including text, images, and layout containers.

Drag and drop common elements including text, images, and layout containers.

Press to reveal the Styles tab, and you’ll find controls for naming class and ID attributes, applying styles at specific breakpoints and in particular states. All very useful, but it’s the layout section — somewhat inconveniently tucked away at the bottom of the pane — that’s the most interesting.

Styles layout section contains grid controls.

Styles layout section contains grid controls.

In this section you can design a grid. Setting up columns and rows to form a layout without visual representation can be one of the hardest parts of learning how ‘grid’ works. The app’s ability to visually define the grid structure is a handy feature, especially when you’re new to CSS Grid. This is the section I’m going to explain.

The Grid Editor contains tools for building a grid visually.

The Grid Editor contains tools for building a grid visually.

Using CSS Grid Builder I added a container division. When selecting that in the work area, I get access to the Grid Editor. Activate that, and all the tools needed to visually build a grid are there:

  • Add columns and rows
  • Align and justify content and items within each module
  • Size columns and rows using every type of unit including fr and minmax
  • Specify gaps
  • Name grid-template-areas
  • Specify breakpoints

When I’m happy with those settings, “OK” the changes and they’re applied to the design in the work area. Back there, use sliders to preview the results at various breakpoints, and if you’re one of those people who’s worried about the shrinking percentage of people using incapable browsers, CSS Grid Builder also offers settings where you can figure fallbacks. Then just copy and paste CSS styles to somewhere else in your project or export the whole kit and caboodle.

preview results at various breakpoints

Preview results at various breakpoints, save the project to edit later or export the files.

CSS Grid Builder is currently free while CoffeeCup develops it and if you like what they’re doing, you can throw a few dollars their way to help fund its development.

Cleaning Up

I’m finding it hard to contain my excitement about CSS Grid. Yes, I know I should get out more, but I really do think that it offers us the best chance yet of learning lessons from other media to make the websites we create better at communicating what we aim to convey to our audiences. Whether we make websites for businesses who want to sell more, charities who need to raise more money through donations to good causes, or news outlets who want to tell stories more effectively, CSS Grid plus thoughtful, art directed content makes that all possible.

Now that’s Hardboiled.

I hope you enjoyed this article, now view the project files on CodePen or download the example files.

Art Direction for the Web‘Art Direction for the Web’ by Andy Clarke, the first Hardboiled Web Design ‘shot.’ Shots are a series of short books on ‘Art Directing for the web, ’ ‘Designing with a Browser,’ and ‘Selling Creative Ideas’ to be published throughout 2018.

Smashing Editorial
(ms, ra, il)


Art Directing For The Web With CSS Grid Template Areas

Understanding Logical Properties And Values

In the past, CSS has tied itself to physical dimensions and directions, physically mapping the placement of elements to the left, right and top and bottom. We float an element left or right, we use the positioning offset properties top, left, bottom and right. We set margins, padding, and borders as margin-top and padding-left. These physical properties and values make sense if you are working in a horizontal, top to bottom, left to right writing mode and direction.

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Understanding Logical Properties And Values