Typing up

I’ve been making some tweaks to the CSS for the default skin here at adactio. If you only ever read via RSS then you won’t have noticed but I’ve been adjusting the vertical rhythm.

I also wanted to get some horizontal alignment: I wanted to make sure that the bottom of the first heading in the main column lined up with the baseline of the first heading in the sidebar.


My basic unit is 20 pixels: a font size of 12 pixels with a line height of 1.6667. Whatever sizes I made the headings, I wanted to be sure that they were multiples of this basic unit.

body {
 font: 12px/1.6666 Helvetica,Arial,Verdana,sans-serif;
body * {
 font-size: 1em;
* html body {
 font-size: 76%;

Because Internet Explorer refuses to resize text specified in pixels, I’m using the * html hack to give it a percentage value. Using any kind of hack—or filter—makes me feel slightly icky. Once I’ve established the base font size using pixels, percentages, or any other unit, I can use ems to scale up and down from here on out.

The level two heading in the main content takes up 40 pixels in total (twice the basic unit). The font size is 24 pixels, the top padding is 8 pixels and the bottom padding is also 8 pixels.

h2 {
 line-height: 1;
 font-size: 2em;
 padding-top: 0.3333em;
 padding-bottom: 0.3333em;

level 2 heading

So while the overall size is 40 pixels, the descent is at 32 pixels: 40 minus 8 (the bottom padding).

I wish I could accurately calculate the baseline but as far as I can tell, font-size is calculated from the ascender height to the descender height. In the absence of any reliable way to pinpoint the baseline, I’m going to have to work with where the descent begins instead.

Level three headings also take up 40 pixels in total but the space is apportioned differently. The font size is 18 pixels, the bottom padding is still 8 pixels but the top padding is 14 pixels.

h3 {
 font-size: 1.5em;
 padding-top: 0.7778em;
 padding-bottom: 0.4444em;

level 3 heading

The descent is still at 32 pixels: 18 plus 14.

The same pattern follows through for level four headings. The font size is 16 pixels, the top padding is 16 pixels and the bottom padding is 8 pixels. So the overall size is still 40 pixels (twice the base unit) and the descent remains at 32 pixels (16 plus 16).

h4 {
 font-size: 1.3333em;
 padding-top: 1em;
 padding-bottom: 0.5em;

So far, so good. With a little bit of addition, it isn’t too hard to ensure that everything slots nicely into the rhythm established by the base unit.

It gets a little trickier with the content in the sidebar. There, the basic unit has been scaled down to 15 pixels: a font size of 10 pixels with a line height of 1.5.

.box {
 font-size: 0.8333em;
 line-height: 1.5;

I wanted to make the bottom of the level three heading in the sidebar line up with the baseline of the level two heading in the main content, but I still wanted everything in the sidebar to follow its own vertical rhythm.

The font size of a level three heading in the sidebar is now scaled down to 15 pixels (18 pixels multiplied by 0.8333). I’ve changed the top padding to be 17 pixels and the bottom padding to 8 pixels.

.box h3 { padding-top: 1.1333em; padding-bottom: 0.5333em; }

level 3 heading in the sidebar

This gives me the descent at 32 pixels that I wanted. Unfortunately, the overall size of 40 pixels isn’t a multiple of the base unit of the sidebar (15 pixels).

Further down the page, there are so many factors influencing the positioning of all the elements that it’s almost impossible to guarantee any kind of horizontal alignment between both columns. Still, I was happy to get things lining up at least at the beginning of the page.

all the headings

You can peruse the style sheet if you like. You’ll see that I’ve also made some changes to the fonts I’m using. Gone are the headlines set in Verdana with body copy in Trebuchet MS. Instead, I’m using the oh-so-hip Lucida Grande for the body with some negative-spaced Helvetica for the headlines… the same kind of headline style I’ve been using in my presentation slides.

I really ought to tweak the vertical rhythms on all the other skins too but I’m not sure I can face all the maths just yet.

In the meantime I’ll be doing my homework by re-reading Richard’s classic 24 Ways article and Mark’s trials with incremental leading.

all the headings, animated

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