Posts Tagged 'Style'

October 17, 2012

Tips and Tricks - jQuery Select2 Plugin

Web developers have the unique challenge of marrying coding logic and visual presentation to create an amazing user experience. Trying to find a balance between those two is pretty difficult, and it's easy to follow one or the other down the rabbit hole. What's a web developer to do?

I've always tried to go the "work smarter, not harder" route, and when it comes to balancing functionality and aesthetics, that usually means that I look around for plugins and open source projects that meet my needs. In the process of sprucing up an form, I came across jQuery Select2, and it quickly became one of my favorite plugins for form formatting. With minimal scripting and little modification, you get some pretty phenomenal results.

We've all encountered drop-down selection menus on web forms, and they usually look like this:

Option Select

Those basic drop-downs meet a developer's need for functionality, but they aren't winning any beauty pageants. Beyond the pure aesthetic concerns, when a menu contains dozens (or hundreds) of selectable options, it becomes a little unwieldy. That's why I was so excited to find Select2.

With Select2, you can turn the old, plain, boring-looking select boxes into beautiful, graceful and more-than-functional select widgets:

Pretty Option Select

Not only is the overall presentation of the data improved, Select2 also includes an auto-complete box. A user can narrow down the results quickly ad easily, and if you've got some of those endlessly scrolling select boxes of country names or currencies, your users will absolutely notice the change (and love you for it).

What's even sexier than the form facelift is that you can add the plugin to your form in a matter of minutes.

After we download Select2 and upload it to our box, we add our the jQuery library and scripts to the <head> of our document:

<script src="jquery.js" type="text/javascript"></script> 
<script src="select2.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

For the gorgeous styling, we'll also add Select2's included style sheet:

<link href="select2.css" rel="stylesheet"/>

Before we close our <head> tag, we invoke the Select2 function:

$(document).ready(function() { $("#selectPretty").select2(); });

At this point, Select2 is locked and load, and we just have to add the #selectPretty ID to the select element we want to improve:

<select id="selectPretty">
<option value="Option1">Option 1</option>
<option value="Option2">Option 2</option>
<option value="Option3">Option 3</option>
<option value="Option4">Option 4</option>

Notice: the selectPretty ID is what we defined when we invoked the Select2 function in our <head> tag.

With miniscule coding effort, we've made huge improvements to the presentation of our usually-boring select menu. It's so easy to implement that even the most black-and-white coding-minded web developers can add some pizzazz to their next form without having to get wrapped up in styling!


May 23, 2012

Web Development - JavaScript - Creating a Sticky Menu

When designing websites, I like to focus on ease of use and accessibility for the end user. While creating your site to be friendly to screen readers and text-based browsers is a must, the accessibility I'm referring to is making it easy for your audience to navigate your site and perform certain common actions. By providing an easy interface for your users, you are immediately increasing your chances that they'll return for more of your site's goodness.

Thus far in our "Web Development" blog series, we've looked at JavaScript Optimization, HTML5 Custom Data Attributes, HTML5 Web Fonts and using CSS to style the Highlight Selection. In this post, we're going to create a "sticky" menu at the top of a page. As a user scrolls down, the menu will "stick" to the top and always be visible (think of Facebook's Timeline view), allowing the user quicker access to clicking common links. With some simple HTML, CSS and JavaScript, you can have a sticky menu in no time.

Let's start with our HTML. We're going to have a simple header, menu and content section that we'll throw in our <body> tag.

    <h1>My Header</h1>
<nav id="menu">
    <ul id="menu-list">
<div id="content">
    Some content

For brevity, I've shortened the content I show here, but the working example will have all the information. Now we can throw in some CSS to style our elements. The important part here is how the <nav> is styled.

nav#menu {
    background: #FFF;
    clear: both;
    margin: 40px 0 80px 0;
    width: 99.8%;
    z-index: 2;
ul#menu-list li {
    border: solid 1px blue;
    list-style-type: none;
    display: inline-block;
    margin: 0 -3px;
    padding: 4px 10px;
    width: auto;

We have set the menu's background to white (#FFF) and given it a z-index of 2 so that when the user scrolls, the menu will stay on top and not be see-through. We've also set the list items to be styled inline-block, but you can style your items however you desire.

Now we get to the fun part – the JavaScript. I've created a class using Mootools, but similar functionality could be achieved using your favorite JavaScript framework. Let's examine our initialize method (our constructor) in our Stickit class.

var Stickit = this.Stickit = new Class({
    initialize: function(item, options) {
        // 'item' is our nav#menu in this case
        this.item =;
        // The element we're scrolling will be the window
        this.scrollTarget = || document.window);
        // The 'anchor' is an empty element that will always keep the same location
        // when the user scrolls. This is needed because this.item will change and
        // we cannot rely on it for accurate calculations.
        this.anchor = new Element('div').inject(this.item, 'top');
        // The 'filler' is an empty element that we'll use as a space filler for when
        // the 'item' is being manipulated - this will prevent the content below from
        // jumping around when we scroll.
        this.filler = new Element('div').inject(this.item, 'after');
        // Set the styles of our 'filler' to match the styles of the 'item'
        // Initialize our scroll events – see the next code section for details

What we're doing here is grabbing our element to stick to the top – in this case, nav#menu – and initializing our other important elements. I'll review these in the next code section.

var Stickit = this.Stickit = new Class({
    initEvents: function() {
        var that = this,
            // Grab the position of the anchor to be used for comparison during vertical scroll
            anchorOffsetY = this.anchor.getPosition().y,
            // Grab our original styles of our 'item' so that we can reset them later
            originalStyles = this.item.getStyles('margin-top', 'position', 'top');
        // This is the function we'll provide as our scroll event handler
        var stickit = function(e) {
            // Determine if we have scrolled beyond our threshold - in this case, our
            // anchor which is located as the first element of our 'item'
            var targetScrollY = that.scrollTarget.getScroll().y,
                fixit = targetScrollY > anchorOffsetY;
            if (fixit &amp;&amp; that.cache != 'fixed') {
                // If we have scrolled beyond the threshold, fix the 'item' to the top
                // of the window with the following styles: margin-top, position and top
                    'margin-top': 0,
                    position: 'fixed',
                    top: 0
                // Show our (empty) filler so that the content below the 'item' does not
                // jump - this would otherwise be distracting to the user
                that.filler.setStyle('display', 'block');
                // Cache our value so that we only set the styles when we need to
                that.cache = 'fixed';
            else if (!fixit &amp;&amp; that.cache != 'default') {
                // We have not scrolled beyond the threshold.
                // Hide our filler
                that.filler.setStyle('display', 'none');
                // Reset the styles to our 'item'
                // Cache our values so we don't keep resetting the styles
                that.cache = 'default';
        // Add our scroll event to the target - the 'window' in this case
        this.scrollTarget.addEvent('scroll', stickit);
        // Fire our scroll event so that all the elements and styles are initialized

This method contains the meat of our functionality. The logic includes that we test how far the user has scrolled down on the page. If s/he scrolls past the threshold – in this case, the anchor which is located at the very top of the "stuck" item – then we set the menu to be fixed to the top of the page by setting the CSS values for margin-top, position and top. We also display a filler so that the content below the menu doesn't jump when we set the menu's position to fixed. When the user scrolls back to the top, the styles are reset to their original values and the filler is hidden.

To see a full working example, check out this fiddle. The Stickit class I created is flexible enough so that you can "stick" any element to the top of the page, and you can specify a different scrollTarget, which will allow you to scroll another element (besides the window) and allow the item to stick to the top of that element instead of the window. If you want to give that a try, you can specify different options in Stickit and modify your CSS as needed to get it working as you'd like.

Happy coding,


March 13, 2012

Web Development - CSS - Highlight Selection

I immediately fell in love with CSS when we were introduced in late 2000. The ability to style a whole site outside the HTML was a fantastic concept and probably my first true introduction to separation of style and content. Put your words over here, and put how you display those words over there. So simple! Since then I have always been an advocate of cascading style sheets. Today's tip will involve an effortless addition that will have your readers say, "Ooooh. That's a clever little change."

I find that when I read articles and blogs online, I not only read with my eyes, I scan the page with my mouse. Especially if it's a wordy article or not styled in smaller columns, I highlight the text by clicking and dragging to help me maintain my focus. Up until recently, whenever you selected text that way in your browser, your operating system would choose the color of the background highlight. For Windows, this is generally blue. For OS X, this is whatever you've set your preferences to (which is light blue by default).

For those of you that use a newer version of Webkit (Chrome or Safari) or Gecko (Firefox), the site designer can determine what color to highlight your selection of text, and CSS has made it easy.

/* Webkit */
::selection {
    background: #972F2C;
    color: #FFF;
/* Gecko/Mozilla */
::-moz-selection {
    background: #972F2C;
    color: #FFF;

As of today, Webkit browsers are the only ones that support ::selection without browser prefixing. Firefox requires the -moz- prefix. Here we have set the highlight background color to "SoftLayer Red" (#972F2C) and made the text color white (#FFF). It should be noted that earlier versions of Webkit and Gecko did not support anything but the background property. There is still limited support for which CSS properties are allowed during selection. You are unable to change font-style, font-size, text-decoration and many other properties, but we can hope support for most of the properties will be available in the future.

This is pretty cool so far, but we can take it one small step further. Just like other selectors, we can apply the ::selection selector to other elements and style each one differently.

h2::selection {
    background: #B72E33;
    color: #FFF;
p::selection {
    background: #ACEFB2;
div::selection {
    background: #E4DB80;
span::selection {
    background: #C780E4;
    color: #FFF;

This produces the following:

Highlighting Example

Surprise your readers and give them some highlight goodness.

Happy coding!


January 17, 2012

Web Development - HTML5 - Web Fonts

All but gone are the days of plain, static webpages flowered with horrible repeating neon backgrounds and covered with nauseating animated GIFs created by amateur designers that would make your mother cry and induce seizures in your grandpa. Needless to say, we have come a long way since Al Gore first "created the intarwebs" in the early '90's. For those of you born in this century, that's the 1990's ... Yes, the World Wide Web is still very new. Luckily for the seven billion people on this lovely planet, many advancements have been introduced into our web browsers that make our lives as designers and developers just a little bit more tolerable.

Welcome to the third installment in Web Development series. If you're just joining us, the first posts in the series covered JavaScript Optimization and HTML5 Custom Data Attributes ... If you haven't read those yet, take a few minutes to catch up and head back to this blog where we'll be looking at how custom web fonts can add a little spice to your already-fantastic website.

If you're like me, you've probably used the same three or four fonts on most sites you've designed in the past: Arial, Courier New, Trebuchet MS and Verdana. You know that pretty much all browsers will have support for these "core" fonts, so you never ventured beyond them because you wanted the experience to remain the same for everyone, no matter what browser a user was using to surf. If you were adventurous and wanted to throw in a little typographical deviation, you might have created a custom image of the text in whatever font Photoshop would allow, but those days are in the past (or at least they should be).

Why is using an image instead of plain text unfriendly?

  1. Lack of Flexibility - Creating an image is time-consuming. Even if you have really fast fingers and know your way around Photoshop, it will never be as fast as simply typing that text into your favorite editor. Also, you can't change the styles (font-size, color, text-decoration, etc.) of an image using CSS like you can with text.
  2. Lack of Accessibility – Not everyone is alike. Some of your readers or clients may have impairments that require screen readers or a really large font. Using an image – especially one that doesn't contain a good long description – prevents those users from getting the full experience. Also, some people use text-only browsers that don't display any images. Think about your whole audience!
  3. More to Download – Plain text doesn't require the same number of bytes as an image of that same text. By not having another image, you are saving on the amount of time it takes to load your page.

Now that we're on the same page about the downsides of the "old way" of doing things, let's look at some cool HTML5-powered methods for displaying custom fonts. Before we get started, we need to have some custom fonts to use. Google has a nice interface for downloading custom fonts (, and there are plenty of other sites that provide free and non-free fonts that can suit your taste/needs. You can pick and choose which ones you'd like to use (remembering to always follow copyright guidelines), and once you've created and downloaded your collection of fonts, you'll need to setup your CSS to read them.

For simplicity, my file structure will be setup with the HTML and CSS files in the same root directory. I will have a fonts directory where I will keep all my custom fonts.


My fonts.html file will include the two CSS files in the head section. The order in which you include the CSS files does not matter.

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="fonts.css" />
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="styles.css" />

The fonts.css file will include the definitions for all of our custom fonts. The styles.css file will be our main CSS file for our website. Defining our custom fonts (in fonts.css) is really simple:

@font-face {
    font-family: 'MyCustomFont';
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.ttf') format('truetype');

It's almost too easy thanks to HTML5!

Let's break this down into its components to better understand what's going on here. The @font-face declaration will be ignored by older browsers that don't understand it, so this standards-compliant definition degrades nicely. The font-family descriptor is the name that you'll use to reference this font family in your other CSS file(s). The src descriptor contains the location of where your font is stored and the format of the font.

There are several things to note here. The quotes around MyCustomFont in the font-family descriptor are optional. If it were My Custom Font instead (in fonts.css and styles.css), it would still be successfully read. The quotes around the url portion are also optional. However, the quotes around the format portion are not optional. To keep things consistent, I have a habit of adding quotes around all of these items.

An alternative way to define the same font would be to leave off the format portion of the src descriptor. Browsers don't need the format portion if it's a standard font format (described below).

@font-face {
    font-family: 'MyCustomFont';
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.ttf');

Like standard url inclusions in other CSS definitions, the URL item is relative to the location of the definition file (fonts.css). The URL may also be an absolute location or point to a different website altogether. If using the Google web fonts site mentioned earlier (or similar site), you may simply point the URL to the location suggested instead of downloading the actual font.

If you've dealt with web fonts before, you may already be familiar with the multiple formats: WOFF (Web Open Font Format, .woff), TrueType (.ttf), OpenType (.ttf, .otf), Embedded Open Type (.eot) and SVG Font (.svg, .svgz). I won't go into great detail here about these, but if you're interested in learning more, Google and W3C are great resources.

It should be noted that all browsers are not alike (no shock there) and some may not render some font formats correctly or at all. You can get around this by including multiple src descriptors in your @font-face declaration to try and support all the browsers.

@font-face {
    font-family: 'MyCustomFont';
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.eot'); /* Old IE */
    src: url('fonts/MyCustomFont/MyCustomFont-Regular.ttf'); /* Cool browsers */

Now that we have our font definition setup, we have to include our new custom font in our styles.css. You've done this plenty of times:

h1, p {
    font-family: MyCustomFont, Arial;

There you go! For some reason if MyCustomFont is not understood, the browser will default to Arial. This degrades gracefully and is really simple to use. One thing to note is that even though your fonts.css file may define twenty custom fonts, only the fonts that are included and used in your styles.css file will be downloaded. This is very smart of the browser – it only downloads what it's going to use.

So now you have one more tool to add to your development box. As more users adopt newer, standards-compliant browsers, it's easier to give your site some spice without the headaches of creating unnecessary images. Go forth and impress your friends with your new web font knowledge!

Happy Coding!


P.S. As a bonus, you can check out the in-line style declaration in the source of this post to see how "Happy Coding!" is coded to use the Monofett font family.

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