CSS

Cars with Broken Windshield Wipers

I was stopped at an intersection the other day. It was raining. The road on the other side sloped upwards, so I could see the stopped cars on the other side of the road kind of stadium-seating style. I could see all their windshield wipers going all at the same time, all out-of-sync with each other. Plus a few of them had seemingly kinda broken ones that flapped at awkward times and angles.

What does that have to do with web design and development? Nothing really, other than that I took the scene as inspiration to create something, and it ended up being an interesting hodgepodge of “tricks”.

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Print QR Codes For Easy URL References

Often regarded as an advertising eyesore, QR codes have their place in certain circumstances. One obvious example is providing an easily-scanned sigil on a printed Web page that enables the user to return to the live version without having to type the URL.

Web page printed with a self-referential QR code

To create the matching QR code, we’ll use Google’s Chart API, which has four required components:

  • The kind of chart information we want Google to deliver (qr, in our case);
  • The rendered size of the QR sigil, in pixels;
  • The URL to encode;
  • The form of character encoding to use.

We’d typically associate the URL with a heading element at the top of the page:

HTML

<header>
<h1>Lizabeth’s Salon</h1>
<h2>Providing Intellectual Stimulation Online Since 2001</h1>
</header>

To create the printed result, we’ll provide a margin on the right side of the h1 that is large enough for the heading, and then position a QR code in that area:

CSS

header h1 {
   margin-right: 200px;
   margin-bottom: 2rem;
   line-height: 1.5;
}

Because the QR code will be unique to each page, this would be added as an embedded style sheet:

CSS

@media print {
   header h1:after {
      content: url(https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=150x150&chl=http://yourdomain.com&choe=UTF-8);
      position: absolute;
      right: 0;
      top: 0;
   }
}

This approach has the downside of forcing the developer to enter a URL individually for each page into the API code. If your Web host is running PHP, you can provide the URL of the current page automatically:

CSS

@media print {
   h1:after {
      content: url(https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=150x150
&chl=http://<?=$_SERVER["SERVER_NAME"].$_SERVER["REQUEST_URI"];?>
&choe=UTF-8);
      position: absolute;
      right: 0;
      top: 0;
   }
}

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I totally forgot about print style sheets

Aaron Gustafson recently sent a tweet to Indiegogo in which he pointed out that their order details pages aren’t usable when printed.

A screenshot of a tweet by Aaron Gustafson saying "Dear @Indiegogo, please take a look at how your Order Details pages print. It really sucks right now.", along with a screenshot of the IndieGoGo page in question in print preview, with huge icons and various form elements littering the page, without any content to be seen.

When I saw this tweet it struck me, because I realized that it has been a long time since I have optimized a page for print or even spared a thought on checking.
Maybe it’s due to the constant resizing of our browsers and making sure that our sites work perfectly in all shapes and sizes or maybe it’s just because I rarely print web pages myself. Whatever it is, I totally forgot about print style sheets and that’s bad.

Optimizing web pages for print is important because we want our sites to be as accessible as possible, no matter the medium. We shouldn’t make assumptions about our users and their behavior. People still print web pages. Just think about articles or blog posts, recipes, contact information, and directions or real estate sites. Someone somewhere will eventually try to print one of the pages you made.

[See various tips and primer in link]

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Print style tips from Jeremy Keith

I really wanted to make sure that the print styles for Resilient Web Design were pretty good—or at least as good as they could be given the everlasting lack of support for many print properties in browsers.

Here’s the first thing I added:

CSS

@media print {
  @page {
    margin: 1in 0.5in 0.5in;
    orphans: 4;
    widows: 3;
  }
}

That sets the margins of printed pages in inches (I could’ve used centimetres but the numbers were nice and round in inches). The orphans: 4 declaration says that if there’s less than 4 lines on a page, shunt the text onto the next page. And widows: 3 declares that there shouldn’t be less than 3 lines left alone on a page (instead more lines will be carried over from the previous page).

I always get widows and orphans confused so I remind myself that orphans are left alone at the start; widows are left alone at the end.

I try to make sure that some elements don’t get their content split up over page breaks:

CSS

@media print {
  p, li, pre, figure, blockquote {
    page-break-inside: avoid;
  }
}

I don’t want headings appearing at the end of a page with no content after them:

CSS

@media print {
  h1,h2,h3,h4,h5 {
    page-break-after: avoid;
  }
}

But sections should always start with a fresh page:

CSS

@media print {
  section {
    page-break-before: always;
  }
}

There are a few other little tweaks to hide some content from printing, but that’s pretty much it. Using print preview in browsers showed some pretty decent formatting. In fact, I used the “Save as PDF” option to create the PDF versions of the book. The portrait version comes from Chrome’s preview. The landscape version comes from Firefox, which offers more options under “Layout”.

For some more print style suggestions, have a look at the article I totally forgot about print style sheets. There’s also tips and tricks for print style sheets on Smashing Magazine. That includes a clever little trick for generating QR codes that only appear when a document is printed.

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`font-display`, a CSS alternative to JavaScript font loading

The font-display property is landing in browsers, and this is a great introduction to using it:

If you don’t know which option to use, then go with swap. Not only does it provide an optimal balance between custom fonts and accessibility of content, it provides the same font loading behavior that we’ve relied on JavaScript for. If you have fonts on the page that you’d like to have load, but could ultimately do without, consider going with fallback or optional when using font-display.

Until it’s more widely supported, you can continue to use a JavaScript solution, but even then you can feature detect first:

Javascript

if ("fontDisplay" in document.body.style === false) {
  /* JavaScript font loading logic goes here. */
}

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Multi-line Padded Text with the CSS box-decoration-break Property

A zoomed in and skewed view of inline text wrapping to multiple lines, with a teal background colour set only against the lines of text, with gaps in between the lines.

I love stumbling upon CSS properties in time of great need. Recently, I was working on a personal project, and I wanted to have multi-line highlighted text. My requirements were pretty simple from a design point of view:

  1. Text should be highlighted, i.e. have a background colour
  2. Highlights should only cover areas where there is text
  3. Each line should have a little left and right padding so that the text isn’t flush against the highlight box

My desired HTML was something like this:

HTML

<span>Hello, this is a long string of text that spills onto many lines</span>

And the desired output something like this:

A screenshot of some inline text wrapping to new lines. The text has a background colour and horizontal padding, which is duplicated at the start and end of each line.

If I used it as is, the output would look something like this:

A screenshot of some inline text wrapping to new lines. The text has a background colour and horizontal padding, but only the start of the first line and the end of the last one has horizontal padding applied, while the rest sit flush with the left and right of the content box.

So, how can we solve this? Luckily, CSS has thrown us a piece of candy in the box-decoration-break property. Let’s take a look.

[…]

Here’s an excerpt from the MDN:

The box-decoration-break CSS property specifies how the background, padding, border, border-image, box-shadow, margin and clip of an element is applied when the box for the element is fragmented. Fragmentation occurs when an inline box wraps onto multiple lines…

Basically, this property is giving us a bit more granularity in how an inline element gets rendered. By default, it’s set to slice, which means that it treats the inline box as if it weren’t fragmented at all. I like to think of it like this. Imagine that we took that multi-line inline element, stretched it out onto one line, applied the styling, sliced it into pieces, then moved each piece back to a new line. The result would be that the properties mentioned above would act on the entire box of the element, rather than each of its parts.

However, there is a second option for us, and that is:

CSS

box-decoration-break: clone;

When we set the property to clone, we can imagine a similar scenario as above, except one important thing. This time, let’s imagine that all the styles get applied after the element gets fragmented and distributed on multiple lines. In other words, paddings, borders, etc would be applied to each fragment almost as if they were separate elements.

That’s pretty awesome, and with one simple property, we’ve unleashed a ton of possibilities! Here’s a CodePen link with various demos for you to play around with.

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In the detail: close button (or how to style a close button using a font for the icon)

There’s a × character in most common fonts which you should use instead of an x for close, but getting it to look right across devices requires an eye for the detail.

Here’s a screenshot of the simulator vs. the real device, with exactly the same CSS applied to create the effect. Notice that the vertical align is off?

A comparison between two screenshots of the development version of jsbin.com, one on Chrome on an Android device (with the close button "X" icon vertically mis-centred) and the desktop version of Chrome emulating a mobile device (with the close button "X" vertically centred).

It took me a while to work out what was different, but it’s the font. The font I’m using (if you’re on a Mac - as I was), is Helvetia Neue, but my Android doesn’t have that font, so it was falling back to the next default (possibly set as sans-serif, which could be Open Sans, or it could be something else). In this case, the different font had a slightly different letter height, so it caused (obviously) as slightly different result.

The pro tip: make sure to use a common font, probably Arial (IHMO ideally a font that doesn’t need to be downloaded) for button icons.

Yes, I know this is obvious if you’re using an icon font…but maybe not immediately obvious if you’re re-using system fonts.

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