Many variables define an ideal measure. For instance, the German language has longer words than English, which could very well result in a wider column. Yes, you read that correctly: you could have different grids based on the languages for international websites. Font, font size, contrast ratio with the background, leading, kerning, type of text, etc. — all of these could result in different lengths of line.
Most importantly, the insights and experience of the designer are a major influence on the measure. You might very well decide that a measure between 75 and 90 characters is ideal. But I am not a designer, and I’m not a typographer, so I’ll just stick to the theory that I find in the books I read. Talented people who know what they’re doing are, of course, invited to play with the theory.
Yes, I know that not all of these prefixes are necessary, but I prefer to use them all, always. The other option is to remember by heart which CSS feature is supported by which browser, with or without prefixes. If I understand the cascade correctly, this is perfectly harmless. And besides, it looks good. I can clearly see that cool stuff is going on in this part of my style sheet by the pattern that it generates.
So, this is it. Here we have a responsive website, based on font size and measure. The breakpoints are based on a logical unit, not on some random units like the screen sizes of devices that are in vogue right now. This scales — into the future and in the browsers of your users. Because everything is based on font size, it all responds to the preferences of the person visiting your website. The layout does not break when the font size of the browser is increased. On the contrary.
I created this simple international measure slider to give you an idea of how wide a measure can be. (Yes, I know, it’s weird.) This little tool looks only at language and font family, but you’ll see that these two variables alone can lead to some extreme results. Just compare German or Polish with English or, even better, German set in Verdana with English set in Georgia. The difference is huge: 10 German words set in Verdana can be 38.5 ems wide, while 10 English words set in Georgia are just 22 ems wide. Layout, for both print and screen, is one of the most important aspects of graphic design. Designs that extend across multiple pages or screens, whether containing large or small amounts of type, must be carefully controlled in a way that is enticing and is easy for all to access.
As an example, I’ll be using a simple blog post. It’s a structured but simple article, with some common semantic elements in it. These elements are not necessary to define the breakpoints, but I think they might help; typography can be a logical starting point. I’ve left out the header and logo — let’s concentrate on the content first.
I never paid attention in maths class before dropping out of high school a long time ago, so I’ll stick to a very simple grid that even I understand. Smarter people could probably use these same ideas for more complex grid systems. This article is about defining breakpoints; what you do with them is entirely up to you.
Sometimes, a single column is enough. Content-focused websites, such as blogs, could very well do with a one-column layout. But multiple columns on big screens are actually a good idea in many situations. You might want to show some navigation, or perhaps you’ve found some widgets that actually make sense.
As of today we’re pleased to announce Typeplate, a free-range and open-source typographic starter kit that will hopefully help you build beautiful, text-rich websites. The word on the street is that the Web Is 95% Typography, so as we hurtle towards the future, we think there’s still a lot we.