Hi, I’m Sam

This is my blog. I also have a website thing.

Unjarring The Responsive Web

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Responsive web design is what all the cool kids are up to these days. Basically a "responsive" site uses CSS media queries to change the page based on certain parameters. (This article a good place to start if you're new to the topic.) Usually this is width. The designer can change the appearance of the page based on the width of the browser. This allows the same design to be used on iPhone, iPad, and the desktop with minimal work instead of three different designs.

Jarring Jerry

Most responsive sites are really jarring when they jump between media query sizes. Elements start jumping around and if you were reading something, your spot may or may not still be on the screen. I really wish people would take the time to improve this. It's not hard.

Here's a concrete example. Let's say you have a header on a website and want it to be smaller on mobile. This is easy with the following media query:

/* By default, the header has a 3em margin on the top and bottom */
body > header {
  margin: 3em auto;
}

/* For windows greater than 640px, use the following styles */
@media all and (min-width: 640px) {
  body > header {
    /* Use a 5em margin on the top and a 4em margin on the bottom */
    margin: 5em auto 4em;
  }
}

The comments in the code block explain each part. If you were to have this on a page and resized the window less than 640px, you would see the entire page jump up 2em. This is less jarring than a lot of stuff I've seen, but this is a simple example.

Simple solution: use a transition. Transitions are easy. Let's update our code from earlier:

body > header {
  /* Same margin code from the previous example */
  margin: 3em auto;

  /* Transition anytime the margin changes */
  -webkit-transition-property: margin;
  -moz-transition-property: margin;
  -ms-transition-property: margin;
  -o-transition-property: margin;
  transition-property: margin;

  /* Animate for 0.2 seconds */
  -webkit-transition-duration: 0.2s;
  -moz-transition-duration: 0.2s;
  -ms-transition-duration: 0.2s;
  -o-transition-duration: 0.2s;
  transition-duration: 0.2s
}

/* Exactly the same as before */
@media all and (min-width: 640px) {
  body > header {
    margin: 5em auto 4em;
  }
}

Easy! Now if you resize the window, the header will animate to it's new position instead of jumping. Try it right now. This is all taken from my blog's stylesheet.

One thing to note, all of those vendor prefixes are really annoying. I highly recommend using Compass. You can replace all of that with just two lines:

body > header {
  margin:3em auto;
  @include transition-property(margin);
  @include transition-duration(0.2s);
}

/* The media query is unchanged */

I'd love to see this technique used more. If you want to hide an element, instead of display: block and display: none, try using opacity and animating things in and out. (I realize this isn't always possible.) This makes responsive sites feel immensely more professional instead of hacky and jarring.

Of course the best thing to do when making a responsive site is avoid media queries as much as possible.