Articles in the ‘User Interfaces’ Category

Responsive web design in practice: making Steve and Emily’s

Over the last few months I’ve been making a web site for my wedding. Emily (my fiancée) and I didn’t want your run-of-the-mill wedding website, hosted by someone on an unrecognisable domain (for example, or sub-domains). I wanted something that I had control over, that I could make as the perfect website for us, not a nice template that thousands of others have. We wanted something personal.

Secondly, these pre-packaged themes aren’t suited to modern web standards. They just-about work on small screens, and quite a few of them use flash, or they take 5-10 seconds to load (lots of people, heavily shared servers, you do the math). Don’t get me started on the ones that play music in the background.

So I started with a solid foundation of responsive web design and HTML5. This is how I did it.

Steve an Emily's Wedding homepageThe spine of this site is:

I used wordpress because it’s easy to make great themes quickly. You’ve got full control of the output in a simple CMS. Job done, but for one thing: the default theme doesn’t use HTML5 semantics.
I took the WordPress html5 boilerplate from Jeffrey Sambells and used that as my base, giving me a good template for responsive web design.

320 and up
The choice of layout framework, 320 and up, comes from seeing Ethan Marcotte present at Future of Web Design, showing off the re-design. I thought it was a wonderful talk and seeing how a site responds to screen size and context on such a high profile site made me rethink my views on responsive design. I used to think that for large, image-heavy sites, it just wasn’t economical to make a site work with media queries.
It’s a change in mind-set to design for mobile first. Thinking like that, instead of retrofitting a smaller design onto your UI, makes the whole proposition a lot more appealing. Andy Clark took this concept and made a framework out of it, and that is 320 and up.

320 and up works on the principle that you code a mobile site, and layer additional layout on top with media queries for each of the sizes you want to support. Coding this way also makes you very aware that the content is very much the purpose of the site, and that nothing should be left out, no matter what screen size you’re on.

Adding 320 and up to the HTML5 WordPress baseline wasn’t as easy as I’d have liked. No offence to Malarkey, but you don’t need all of the 320 framework to make a great site, so I cut a number of the hacks out and updated the respond.js library. Still, it solves many of the gotchas for you, so use it :-)

320 and up has these screen size stops built in: 480, 768, 992, 1182, and a high-dpi option for retina displays . For my this site, I added in 768 and orientation: portrait to deal with iPad portrait mode problems. It’s up to you what stops you use, but these worked for me. If you want to support the galaxy tab and other screen sizes, more media queries are easy to add in.

Steve and Emily's Wedding at 480px
Steve and Emily's Wedding at 1024px
Steve and Emily's Wedding at 1200px

The Design
There’s a lot of CSS3 that’s gone into this site. The background and header uses CSS3 multiple backgrounds to allow the layout to flex without the overhead of another div to layer the extra backgrounds on. Note, I did chicken out and add those extra divs in as it just didn’t look as good on IE7/8 and that’s what 30% of people are using on my this site.

The font choice was very important for me and Emily, and FontSquirrel came to the rescue. It’s got a great selection of script fonts that just aren’t available in the standard set that comes with computers these days. Text shadow adds to the effects but isn’t essential, so it doesn’t look out of place on IE.

My use of box shadow is basically in place of borders. It makes the whole theme pop off the page with slight shadows and a red tint that matches the theme really well. However, box shadow on the iPhone and small screen devices slows down scrolling, and should be used sparingly. Lovingly, responsive web design lets me turn it off for small screens :-)

There’s lots of other little things, like using CSS3 selectors so that class names don’t have to be used all the time, and some nice stuff for the first letter, and also border radius (as standard).

The site uses appcache to speed up the site loading, and it makes a massive difference. The cache is around 1MB, that’s data I’ll never have to download again. It works on all of the latest browsers and mobiles (where is makes the most difference). I can’t recommend it enough.

For the useful information section, I used local storage to keep the different sections open/closed so that it’s the same when you come to the page next time.

Site performance

In summary, this site has allowed me to showcase responsive design, mobile first, lots of CSS3 and make it work in IE7/8. Take a look at the source code, and learn. Oh, and wish us well on our wedding :-)

Future of Web Design Sketchnotes – Day 2

Over the last few days I attended the Future of Web Design conference in central London. It was a great two days meeting some of my peers and heroes of web design. Here’s my notes from Day 2, featuring Ethan Marcotte, Femi Adesina, Josh Clark, Bruce Lawson, Martin Beeby (from #LWSIE the day before), Elliot Jay Stocks, Sarah B Nelson and once again, Josh Clark!

Sketchnotes for Day one can be found behind this link.

Thank you once again to everyone involved.

Future of Web Design Sketchnotes – Day 1

Over the last few days I attended the Future of Web Design conference in central London. It was a great two days meeting some of my peers and heroes of web design. Here’s my notes from day 1 including talks from Aaron Walters, Mike Kus, Rachel Andrew, Robin Christopherson, Daniel Rhatihgan, Sarah Parmenter, Dan Rubin, Matt Gifford and Aral Balkan.

Day 2 sketchnotes can be found behind this link.

Hardware, then UI, will drive mobile forward

It’s Mobile World Congress 2011 this week, and amongst the throngs of Honeycomb tablets, Nokia and Microsoft square dancing on the showroom floor, there are a few announcements that may not be hugely exciting to the general public, but that the tech community should be giggling with glee about.

I’m talking about this:

Kal-El benchmark, courtesy of Anandtech

Kal-El benchmark, courtesy of Anandtech

This is Nvidia announcing the Kal-El SoC (System on Chip), a 12-core Tegra 2 GPU mixed with a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU, all on one chip. Even better yet, this chip will be seen in tablet computers in 6 months time. That’s an incredibly aggressive timeline considering the brand new Tegra 2 chip is only 9 days old, and yet it’s performance has already been doubled.

The even bigger news that has slipped by, is that that’s not all.

Tegra 2 roadmap

Tegra 2 roadmap, courtesy of Anandtech

Notice the scale on the left hand side. Whilst the new chips are rising in a linear fashion, that’s a logarithmic scale, so every year, these chips will double in power. By 2014, we should have SoCs in mobile computers that are 4 times as fast as a Core i7 CPU and 25 times faster than a Core2 Duo. That’s an amazing amount of computational power in a chip the size of a peanut with a TDP of ~1W.

Modern UIs need this power
So what are we going to do with all this power? Whilst it’ll be like having an XBox 360 in your pocket, games aren’t the only thing that will use this power.

Just take a look at Microsoft’s Beauty of the Web demo site, showing off IE9′s hardware acceleration enabling it to make blizzards with HTML5 web technologies. That’s just the start of what we’ll be able to do with this power. Think how useful Honeycomb’s 3D Google maps will be, and think how it can be used to empower a mobile workforce, being able to take your entire desktop with you and have it work like your desktop pc. It will enable the mobile user to process huge data sets which previously would have been a server job, letting the workforce make complex decisions quickly and on the move.

Of course, don’t expect things to change overnight. The first things to happen will be “true” multi-tasking, then a proliferation of HD video including Skype. It’s taken years for web developers to embrace CSS3 functions, it’ll take another few years to truly embrace canvas, SVG and WebGL.

The future vision is coming
At CES 2009, Microsoft showed off a video for their Office of 2019 concept (below). The hardware announced today will drive this forward and enable developers to make these UIs of the future. I can’t wait to be part of this future

Images in this post are from