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CSS: Page Layouts introduces basic layout concepts, gives advice on how to create properly structured HTML based on prototypes and mockups, and goes into critical page layout skills such as floats and positioning. Author James Williamson shows how to combine these techniques to create fixed, fluid, and responsive layouts. Designers are also shown how to enhance their pages through the creative use of CSS techniques like multi-column text, opacity, and the background property. Exercise files are included with this course.
Because the planning stage of the design process is so critical to a site's success, I want to take a few movies to walk through my typical workflow. I want to start by illustrating the use of grids for planning layouts. Although I use a grid as the basis of all my layouts, fixed layouts lend themselves particularly well to grid-based designs. If you're already a graphic designer, I'm betting that you're pretty familiar designing around a grid; and if you are not, I think you'll soon see the advantages that grids give you when creating layouts. So I am going to be working with this file fixed_planning.ai, and here I am again, of course, in Illustrator.
Now, I have saved the finished version of this file in the Assets folder, which is a located directly in the exercise files folder, and if you want, you can open it up. And of course you are going to open up the finished version of what we are going to be doing here. Actually, what I would most encourage you to do is to just grab a scrap piece of paper, a scrapbook, some graph paper, or something like that, because if I was doing this on my own and not filming it for this particular lesson, that's exactly what I would be doing. I'd have my sketchbook opened up. I would have a piece of graph paper or something like that, and that's what I would be using to do this planning session that we are about to go over.
However, because I am filming it here as part of the title, I can't really show my sketchbook. It wouldn't film very well, and I'll be quite honest with you, nobody is going to be able to read my writing, so I am just going to use Illustrator. You do not have to do it with me, but if you're very comfortable in Illustrator or another layout program, feel free to use that instead. But I am a big fan of sketching these things out beforehand, actually. We are going to go through all these different steps that I use to plan layouts, and I just want to mention that even though we are planning a fixed layout, most of these steps are the same for whatever type of layout I am doing.
Some of them are specific to fixed layouts, because that's our focus this chapter, but really this workflow process is what I used for almost all of my layouts. The first thing that you do with a fixed layout is you define the target resolution. That's job number one. Now, monitor sizes are trending upward a little bit, but we need to target something that's pretty much the most likely resolution for your target audience. For the most part, the average monitor size out there is 1024. Now 1280 is certainly a resolution that's gained in popularity, and there are a lot of people out there using them, but so many people are still using 1024x768, that's the resolution size or the target resolution that I'm going to choose.
You don't want to make your layout exactly 1024, because you got the browser chrome, such as the scrollbars or toolbars. What if somebody is browsing with a window that's only half open? So my target resolution for this particular layout is going to be 960 pixels. That's what I am going to target. It's a little bit smaller than 1024, but it's not altogether going to look lost in a 1280-layout either. Now you may or may not have seen that 960 resolution. It's very, very popular with web sites, especially fixed sites, and there is a reason for that.
There is a method behind why some people choose this size. 960 is divisible by a lot of numbers. Just to give you an idea, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12 15, 16, 20, 24, 30, 32. You get the idea. It just keeps going. There are a lot of numbers that will divide into 960, and what that allows you to do is when you're creating a grid like we are going to be creating in just a moment, it allows you to create a grid that gives you a lot of flexible column creation. You can have 12 columns, 16 columns, 30 columns, 6 columns, however you want to do it, and still divide it by 960, so that is another reason why that is such a popular target resolution for layouts.
So what I am going to do is I am just going to go over here and grab a rectangle and I am just going to draw a box that is 960 pixels by 1200 pixels. I am just going to click OK. There's my box. And I am just going to move this so that it's on the artboard. All right! So that's sort of the predefined space, if you will, and I will line it up in just a moment when I get my grid, but that's more or less sort of the predefined space that I am going to be designing inside of as I begin to do my layout.
The next thing that I want to do is I want to define the base unit for my grid. As I mentioned before, all the layouts I do I design on a grid, and that really helps create very coherent compositions, so that everything sort of relate to each other and everything has a place to line up that is based on a similar unit of measurement. That base unit that you are going to use for your grid is going to very widely based on what you are trying to do. One of the things I would recommend doing is doing a number that your target resolution is divisible by. So that's one of the things that I would recommend doing.
The other thing is it should have some meaning for content within the page. Let me give you an example. If I was doing a photo gallery, for example, the thumbnail size might be a really good place to start when I am talking about defining a base unit for my grid, or something that's going to be divisible into my thumbnail sizes. An image, it could be really anything you want. Now the page that we are going to be sort of crafting over the course of this chapter is very text heavy, so basing a layout off of your default text unit is not a bad idea.
So what I am going to do is, my base unit for my grid in this case is going to be 16 pixels. That's the default font size for almost every browser out of the box. Now users can certainly change it, but you are never going to get to a situation where you craft a layout for people online that they can't change in some way through their browser, whether zooming up on it or changing the text size or telling images not to display. They have got all sorts of control over your layout. So what I am doing is I am basically establishing a baseline for my layout. The base unit for it is going to be 16 pixels.
I will say I'm a glutton for punishment here because most examples I see of the people that are doing tutorials like this, they will define a grid that's based off of ten pixels because the math is whole lot easier to do. But I want this to be a very real-world example, and I frequently create grids that are based off of 16 pixels, especially for layouts that are going to be very text heavy, because that's essentially the size of 1em. So later on, when I am writing my styles and I make something 1em, I know it corresponds to the layout grid that I am using. So there is a rationale behind picking a weird number like 16.
So I am going to go up and look at my Preferences here. I want to show you something about Illustrator. One of the nice things you can do is go ahead and define a grid, and I am going to put a gridline every 80 pixels, and I am going to subdivide that by 5. So of course, 16 goes in 80 5 times, is going to give me a gridline every 16 pixels, but more importantly, by putting a grid line at every 80 pixels, that's going to give me a total of 12 columns within my 960 pixels. So essentially, I am going to have 12 columns that I can use to arrange all the elements on my page in my layout.
Now, why 12 columns? It's kind of just an arbitrary number that I picked. I could do 16. I could do anything that's divisible by 960, but 12 gives me a nice sort of even number to work from. So I am going to click OK. I am going to turn on the visibility of my grid, and there is my grid. Now I am going to take this box that I created. I am going to sort of reposition that, so that it's lined up to the grid here, okay. So I am just going to save my file. Now, if you were sketching this out, obviously graph paper would come in really handy here, but you don't need to have that defined grid. You don't have to draw that grid on your page.
You know, I typically will just do a box, draw a little box on a piece of paper, and then just write little notes to myself inside, 16 pixels, and then I'll make sure that everything that I am doing is divisible by those numbers so that I come out with a layout that's still based off of this grid. So now we know which resolution we are targeting, we know what our base unit of our grid is going to be, and we know how many columns we are going to be using within our grid, and that's 12 columns. So next up, we are going to need to finalize our layout planning by defining column spacing and then calculating our element dimensions, and we are going to do that in our next movie.
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