I’ve redesigned this blog 9 times since I launched it in 2012. The latest version is focused on simplicity, both visually and content-wise. I’ve dropped the portfolio, the music section, the colophon, the “small talk”, and the filter labels. And I’ve divided my posts by season (I’ll explain why in another post).

The fact that I’ve been using Sketch for 2 weeks now has quite affected both my design process and the final result.

Images: SVG instead of Retina

Sketch makes it very easy to export assets. It can automatically trim transparent pixels, provide a Retina version, and export all slices at once.

I actually started going the “Retina” road, by exporting @2x versions of each image and implementing the retina.js script. But color profile and pixel-rendering issues led me to choose SVGs instead.

SVGs are:

  • lighter: it’s just code
  • infinitally scalable: they keep their sharpness at any size
  • reliable: no color rendering issues
  • imperishable: I don’t have to export them again if I want to change their display size

Logos

For example, my logo is really simple: a circle with some overlapping rectangles.

JT logo
Scaled at 150*150px

It’s the perfect opportunity to try out SVG instead of PNG, especially considering Sketch makes it just as easy to export in that format.

Other images used in this design overhaul include client (Microsoft, Sony…) and technology (HTML 5, jQuery…) logos, for which a SVG version was easy to find (I’d like to thank Wikipedia for providing most of them).

Fonts and Icons

Considering that fonts are made of Bézier curves, they are infinitally scalable as well. They’re usually the only elements of a webpage that keep their sharpness when increasing the browser’s zoom.

Icon fonts combine the benefits of vector assets and CSS font properties, especially size and color.

Being concerned about loading efficiency, I built my own icon font with the very useful Fontello.

Custom icon font with Fontello
Custom icon font built with Fontello

CSS rem: responsiveness with font-size

CSS 3 has introduced a new unit: rem (which stands for root em). Jonathan Snook wrote about it:

The em unit is relative to the font-size of the parent, which causes the compounding issue. The rem unit is relative to the root-or the html—element. That means that we can define a single font size on the html element and define all rem units to be a percentage of that.

I’ve used em for a long time, especially for margins and paddings. Spacing elements relatively to their font-size helps readibility and maintenance. I also use unit-less line-height values (like “1.5”) which are relative as well.

As Snook’s article explains, the problem with em is that it’s cascading. Having for example 1.5em on both <ul> and <li> will cause the latter to be 36px instead of 24px.

In the end, it’s hard to keep track of what the rendered font-size actually is.

rem for height / width / margin / padding

em can be used for CSS box properties as well, but considering its unreliability, rem is a better option.

How it works is:

  • You define a font-size value on the root element html
  • You refer to this value when defining height, width, margin and padding
  • You can then modify the root value and resize your whole layout instantly

So instead of having width: 960px you would write width: 60rem, or margin-top: 2rem instead of margin-top: 32px.

Elastic grid system

I came up with a simple grid system where each column would be 3rem and each gutter 2rem, resulting in a 58rem container width.

It’s called “Elastic” because it’s relative to the font-size (the term apparently comes from Dreamweaver).

Media queries

My default rem value is set to 20px. Considering my body full width is 58rem, it equals to 1160px.

As a result, I added a responsive breakpoint where I only redefine my rem value:

@media (max-width: 1159px) {
  html{ font-size: 16px;}
}

And that’s all there is to it. All heights, widths, margins, paddings, font sizes, and especially SVG images (whose heights are set in rem as well) adjust themselves to this new value. It’s basically like setting your browser’s zoom at 80%.

For this responsive breakpoint, I went from about 25 lines of code to only 1.

Mobile layout

I only have a second breakpoint at 929px which basically triggers a mobile-friendly layout. Although less relevant, rem values still come into play.

The main benefit here comes from the SVGs, who render very sharply on my phone. And I don’t have to worry about Retina and non-Retina screens.

As for all versions of my blog, the code is available in my GitHub repository.