This is a terrific walkthrough from Andy showing how smart fundamentals in your CSS can give you a beautiful readable document without much work.
Designing a Utopian layout grid: Working with fluid responsive values in a static design tool. | Utopia
James describes his process for designing fluid grid layouts, which very much involves working with the grain of the web but against the grain of our design tools:
In 2022 our design tools are still based around fixed-size artboards, while we’re trying to design products which scale gracefully to suit any screen.
Do you like the ideas behind Utopia? Do you use Figma?
If the answer to both those questions is “yes”, then James has made a very handy Figma community file for you:
This work-in-progress is intended as a starting point for designers to start exploring the Utopia approach, thinking about type and space in fluid scales rather than device-based breakpoints.
This is kind of a Utopia lite: pop in your minimum and maximum font sizes along with a modular scale and it spits out some custom properties for
Give the browser some solid rules and hints, then let it make the right decisions for the people that visit it, based on their device, connection quality and capabilities. This is how they will get a genuinely great user experience, rather than a fragmented, broken one.
Some thoughts on CSS, media queries, and fluid type prompted by Utopia:
We say CSS is “declarative”, but the more and more I write breakpoints to accommodate all the different ways a design can change across the viewport spectrum, the more I feel like I’m writing imperative code. At what quantity does a set of declarative rules begin to look like imperative instructions?
In contrast, one of the principles of Utopia is to be declarative and “describe what is to be done rather than command how to do it”. This approach declares a set of rules such that you could pick any viewport width and, using a formula, derive what the type size and spacing would be at that size.
These days I tend to think of dystopias as being fashionable, perhaps lazy, maybe even complacent, because one pleasure of reading them is cozying into the feeling that however bad our present moment is, it’s nowhere near as bad as the ones these poor characters are suffering through.
Kim Stanley Robinson on dystopias and utopias.
The energy flows on this planet, and humanity’s current technological expertise, are together such that it’s physically possible for us to construct a worldwide civilization—meaning a political order—that provides adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, education, and health care for all eight billion humans, while also protecting the livelihood of all the remaining mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants, and other life-forms that we share and co-create this biosphere with. Obviously there are complications, but these are just complications. They are not physical limitations we can’t overcome. So, granting the complications and difficulties, the task at hand is to imagine ways forward to that better place.
An excellent explainer from Trys and James of their supersmart Utopia approach:
Utopia encourages the curation of a system small enough to be held in short-term memory, rather than one so sprawling it must be constantly referred to.
Sounds like some convergent thinking with the ideas behind Utopia.
I think that the idea that that any typographic attribute (including variable font parameters) can be a function (linear, exponential, stepped, Bezier, random, or otherwise) of any given input variable (user preference, screen dimensions, connection speed, time of day, display language, or whatever else) is an incredibly powerful one, and worth exploring as an aesthetic as well as a technical proposition.
Here’s a demo you can play with.
Recreating Wildlife Photographer of the Year online – part 1 – Introduction and technical approach – Blogs from the Natural History Museum
Now here’s the story from the team that made the website. It’s a great walkthrough of thoughtfully evaluating technologies to figure out the best approach.
I don’t understand what currying is, but Trys points out a really interesting thing about custom properties in CSS:
The value after the : in the CSS custom property does not have to be valid CSS.
That means you can use custom properties to store arbitrary strings of text, which can then be combined within a
calc() function, at which point they get evaluated.
Andy takes Utopia for a spin—it very much matches his approach.
This is the project that Trys and James have been working on at Clearleft. It’s a way of approaching modular scales in web typography that uses CSS locks and custom properties to fantastic effect.
Utopia is not a product, a plugin, or a framework. It’s a memorable/pretentious word we use to refer to a way of thinking about fluid responsive design.
Ted Chiang has new collection out‽ Why did nobody tell me‽
Okay, well, technically this is Joyce Carol Oates telling me. In any case …woo-hoo!!!
Between the utopian and dystopian, which vision of the future seems more likely to you? Which vision seems more true to how we currently live with technology, in the form of our smartphones and social media apps?