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Design & Build a Grid Based Web Design with CSS

Im currently working on a new WordPress theme called grid, which lives up to its name with a clear
grid based design. Follow this step by step walkthrough of the design and build process, right from the
initial Photoshop concept, through to writing the HTML structure, styling up with CSS then adding
clever functionality with the jQuery library.

The grid concept is pretty minimal in its design, using a limited colour palette of light grey, dark grey
and a highlighting colour of red. The background of the design makes use of a subtle texture for a
tactile feel, but the main feature is the strict grid based layout. The design makes use of a 24px baseline
and 6 column grid, which becomes a design feature itself as it remains visible as part of the design.
View the demo
The design concept

The design of grid started in Photoshop. I always begin my website designs with a fairly large canvas
of around a 1680px wide, this helps me gauge how the site will look on a typical widescreen monitor.

The background of the canvas is filled with a light grey tone, then given a touch of texture using the
Photoshop Noise filter at just 3%.
A new 24x24px document is created, in which the repeating pattern for the baseline grid is created. Just
a single 1px line across the lower edge of the canvas is all it takes. This pattern is then defined as a
pattern.

The pattern is then filled across a new layer and set to Multiply to render the white area transparent.
The vertical grid lines are drawn manually, then duplicated and moved by hand. The cursor keys nudge
the lines by 1px, or by 10px while the Shift key is held. Gutters are measured at 21px, and the column
widths are 139px.
All the vertical lines are grouped together once six columns are created, then aligned centrally on the
document. The basic grid is now ready to be decorated with the actual page elements.

The logo comes first in the top left corner. A selection is made within the first column and filled with
red.
The grid logo is then placed inside the logo container, and aligned on the baseline grid.

Navigation elements are then placed on the same baseline, and aligned to the right of each of the five
remaining columns. Being links theyre given a red colouring.
Being a theme for a blog the content is made up of sample blog posts. The first post is laid out and
spread across columns two to six. Georgia is used for the post titles as a stark contrast against the
Helvetica body text. The body text itself is edited so the line height matches the height of the baseline
grid.

The first column is reserved for some meta information about the post, such as post date and category.
These are laid out in a lighter grey to give less prominence, but at a larger type size. The 24px line
height is maintained to keep the consistent leading across the design.
Read more buttons are styled up with a red background and serif Georgia text to give the links extra
prominence.

The design begins to take shape as two sample blog posts show the white space and structure across the
layout.
The lower portion of the design switches to a darker grey, giving a contrasting footer area. A large
selection is filled with a dark grey and given the same noise treatment as the background.

The footer area features a range of lists, these lists begin with two short lists of Categories and Social
links. Headers are set in Helvetica, while the links are treated with Georgia at double the line-height.
Links in the lower portion of the design are set in white to give contrast against the dark grey
background. The first two lists fit within a single columns, while the second two span across two
columns.

Now the design concept is complete, the individual images can be exported ready for the building
stage. This starts with the repeating background graphics, taking into account the gridlines so they are
recreated when the graphic repeats.
Being a lightweight design, the number of image files is pretty low. Two versions of the background are
exported, one with, and one without the grid. This will be developed as a feature at a later stage where
the user can toggle the grid lines on and off.

Creating the HTML structure

The next stage of the build is to write out the HTML structure. This begins with a typical webpage
layout with Doctype, head and body.
The top portion of the design is contained in a <div> with an ID of upper, this will be a hook for the
baseline grid pattern in the CSS stage. The logo and navigation list are written out as <h1> and <ul>
elements.

A <div> with an ID of main contains the main content, and each post is separated with individual
<div> elements. Inside each post the content is split into two <div> elements, so the post content
and post details can be floated side by side. Despite the details coming first in the design, they are
written second in the HTML to keep a logical order of information, these can be positioned correctly by
floating them with CSS. Post titles are laid out as <h2> headings, following on from the <h1> used in
the header. <p> elements with a class of btn are used to represent the read more buttons.
In the lower portion of the design, each panel is laid out in its own <div>, with <h3> elements
identifying the lists of anchor links.

After the four list panels, the three credits are laid out in a <ul>. Information is given in the anchors,
but the actual logos will be displayed using CSS. Finally a back to top link is placed in a <p> element.
This back to top link targets the #header, but will later be enhanced with jQuery so the page scrolls
automatically, but its important to maintain the functionality using a plain old same-page anchor for
those without Javascript enabled.

Styling the design with CSS

With the HTML strucutre in place, the design can now be styled with CSS to match the original
Photoshop concept. The CSS starts with a reset to remove any browser defaults, then begins styling up
the page body. A global font style of Helvetica is set, followed by a line-height of 24px to match
the baseline grid. The baseline grid itself is added as a background-image to the body, whereas
the vertical gridlines are set as background images on the #upper div.

The <h1> is given specific dimensions and a red background to match the design. TheShow/Hide
Grid button in the header is styled accordingly with the small icon as a background image, but is set to
visibility:hidden;. Being a function that relies on Javascript, this button will be made visible
again using jQuery so users that dont have Javascript enabled wont see it. Navigation <li> elements
in the header are floated side by side and given specific widths and margins to match the size of the
grid columns and gutters.

Fonts are styled up in the #main section, with headers being set in Georgia, body text set in grey
Helvetica and buttons set with a red background. Each elements also has a 24px bottom margin to
bump the following content down an extra line on the baseline grid.

Each post <div> has 48px of bottom padding, this equates to two baselines as well as the 24px margin
on the paragraph elements, leaving three lines between each post. The content and details divs
are floated side by side, and their contents styled appropriately in accordance to the Photoshop concept.
The #lower and #footer sections of the design are given new background images to generate the
darker footer styling. Font styling for the footer is then reset, making headings a subtle grey colour and
links in a more legible white against the dark background.

The four links panels are all floated side by side and given left margin to space them according to the
grid gutter. The footer already has padding to take into consideration the first gutter, so the margin on
the first div is removed with the :first-child pseudo selector. Panels one and two are set at the
width of one column, while panels three and four span across two columns so are given a greater width,
as measured from the Photoshop document. The list of links in each panel is styled to match the
concept, with type set in Georgia at a doubled line-height.
The credits list items are floated and given the appropriate margin, as well as the sprite background
image. Each individual <li> is then given specific background-position settings to display the
correct logo. Finally the back to top link is floated over to the right, given the smaller font size and
treated with a background image to render the small arrow. A small 3px margin helps tweak the text
into place on the grid, ensuring the link is aligned by the text baseline, not the bottom of the icon.

Enhancing with jQuery

The design and webpage is now nearing completion, with the HTML and CSS page matching the
Photoshop concept exactly. Next up is the extra Javascript functionality. Three Javascript files are
reference in the HTML head, the jQuery library, the jQuery Cookie plugin and my own scripts.js file,
which will include all the handwritten code to activate everything.
The first function to be added is the auto-scrolling back to top link. This code states that when the
#back-top anchor is clicked, animate the body and html to the position zero. return false;
is in place to stop the original anchor from working, so the effect relies only on Javascript.

Next, the Show/Hide Grid button functionality is created. First, the button needs making visible after
the CSS was set to visibility:hidden; earlier. Then the toggle() function gives commands
for when the button is turned on and off, these include adding or removing the class nogrid to the
body and changing the text of the anchor.
In order for the effect to work, extra CSS styling needs to be added to actually change how the page
looks when the page body has the nogrid class. This is where those alternative background images
come into play.

The effect works great, when the user clicks the Show/Hide Grid button, the grid is toggled on and
off, but once the page is refreshed, or a new page is visited the grid comes back. In order to save the
setting the jQuery Cookie plugin needs setting. $.cookie("grid", "hidden"); creates a new
cookie named grid with the value of hidden when the button is clicked. A couple of lines of jQuery
then check if the cookie is present, and if so the addClass() and .html() functions are repeated.
Now whenever the user visits the effect will be in the same state as they left it.