Making design easy, isn’t.
We include site templates with the Grawlix CMS that artists can style to suit their needs. But one set of code doesn’t fit every webcomic — and few artists want to spend time coding.
So when I started building new themes for version 2 of the Grawlix CMS, I also experimented with writing the most flexible code possible with the fewest tags necessary.
The flex files
My goals were straightforward:
The designs must adapt to a wide range of looks.
The code must be easy to read and edit.
The designs must adapt to different reading conditions.
- The code must be semantic and accessible.
Then I gave myself 15 days to develop a design that met those criteria.
Easy and powerful. Universal and unique. Compatible and on time. Yikes. To do all that in one theme, I started with a fundamental question.
What does a webcomic look like?
Most webcomics today fit a standard format. They have a banner image and site-wide links sit above the comic image itself. Below the image are social media and a blog post. Sometimes you’ll see comments. Occasionally ads fill the gaps. Don’t forget the Patreon or Hiveworks graphics. At the end is a copyright statement.
Back/next navigation (again)
It came together in three HTML5 files with variations to test myself against rigidity. I also created two CSS files: one for layout and sizes, and one for colors and typography.
Only later would I discover my mistake.
An uncertain start
At first, I didn’t have any art direction. Without an actual comic to design for, I was just inventing visuals.
That’s harder than it sounds. Inventing stuff and hoping it would magically apply to real webcomics doesn’t guarantee success.
So I started designing for a theme instead of worrying about hitting a particular note. Seemed to work. Along the way I made some technical decisions.
Tones: Our theme system uses one stylesheet for general layout upon which other “tone” CSS files embellish.
Semantics: I wanted to keep the code valid, making it easy for search engines and screen readers to understand.
CSS3: Studying analytics and popular webcomic sites, I decided that what used to be “bleeding edge” is now “acceptable.” Shadows, opacity, transparent PNGs, gradients, and round corners are both possible and practical for most readers.
Flexbox layout: This lets us arrange lots of HTML with less hassle and more common sense.
- BEM notation: Block-element-modifier lingo inspired me to keep names readable.
Those last two were the biggest question marks. Flexbox requires readers to use modern browsers, and I was still grasping the concepts behind BEM.
In part two I’ll tell you how it came together, stumbled, and finally worked it all out.
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