Understanding Design

The varying viewports that our websites encounter on a daily basis continue to demand more from responsive design. Not only must we continue to tackle the issues of content choreography — the art of maintaining order and context throughout the chaotic ebb and flow of the Web browser — but we must also meet the expectations of users. They’re not sitting still.

With the likes of Firefox OS (Boot to Gecko), Chrome OS and now Ubuntu for phones — an OS that makes “Web apps” first-class citizens — delivering native app-like experiences on the Web may become a necessity if users begin to expect it. Many in our field have argued for a degree of separation between the Web and native platforms for both technical and philosophical reasons. They’re certainly wise to heed caution, but as consumer devices continue to blur the boundaries, it’s worth thinking about what we can learn from native app design.

In this article, I’ll be walking through a build demo that centers on two topics. The first is responsive design patterns that embrace the viewport and that improve content discoverability beyond the basic hyperlink; in this case, off-canvas navigation. The second is the complexities of implementing such ideas in an accessible and highly performant manner. These are two topics that I believe are at the heart of the Web’s future.
With that in mind, let’s get building.

All good things begin with a solid foundation of semantic HTML and widely supported CSS. In theory, this baseline should function as a usable experience for all browsers that visit our website. (It might also be the final experience in less-capable browsers.)
As a starting point, I’ll use a technique very similar to Aaron Gustafson’s “Smart Mobile Navigation Without Hacks.” It requires no JavaScript to function.

You could consider the HTML alone, with little to no styling, as being “breakpoint zero.” If it’s not logical at this stage, then accessibility will not improve. Media queries are based on a viewport width of 45em (that’s content-dependent). Above this breakpoint, the navigation is permanently visible. I prefer em units because they allow breakpoints to maintain a relationship with text size. Lyza Gardner explains in detail in her post “The EMs Have It: Proportional Media Queries FTW!” I’m using both min-width and max-width media queries to scope CSS. This adds a bit of complexity. Most people prefer a “mobile-first” build, using only progressively larger min-width queries. The downside with that technique is the amount of resetting required if an element has noticeably different visual states. Neither method is right or wrong.

The crux of this initial stage is the :target pseudo-class selector, utilized to show and hide the navigation. Only IE8 and lower lack support. However, this is a non-issue if you serve a semi-fluid desktop style sheet to old IEs. Jake Archibald, Nicolas Gallagher and Stuart Robson can tell you more.
As the demo takes shape, I’ll continue to introduce the main development principles. There’s a long way to go yet…

For some websites, the above may suffice — but not for us! We’re experimenting with off-canvas patterns and striving for that native experience. Because we cannot ignore older browsers, it’s now time to progressively enhance. I’m adding the class js-ready to the document element after the DOMContentLoaded event fires. The selector .js-ready is used as a hook to safely restyle the navigation off-canvas. If for whatever reason JavaScript doesn’t load, then the original functionality from demo 1 still exists.

To show and hide the navigation, I’m toggling a class of js-nav on the document element when the user clicks (or taps) the relevant buttons. This simply applies a style of left: 70% to the #inner-wrap element (#outer-wrap is used to hide any overflow and to avoid scrollbars).
This is a fairly basic enhancement, but importantly it remains usable before JavaScript is ready. It’s also notable that no inline styles are written with JavaScript; only classes are used to manage states.

Jumping between open and closed navigation states makes for a jarring user experience. Users need to understand — or even see — how an interface has changed. This is often the point where developers let the Web down. To be fair, building user interfaces is incredibly difficult. What I’m going to show below is far from perfect, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

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