Lemieux Design

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5 Things I Learned in Web Design 2014

Posted on: December 22nd, 2014 by alemieux

Looking back on this year, I’ve learned some things for web design that’s made coding a bit easier if not more enjoyable. Some of these came about as a set of circumstances and others I just stumbled on. I hope you find some value in these too.



After wrestling with WordPress for so long, I started looking into some HTML frameworks for some boutique sites that I needed to build quickly. I heard about Bootstrap from a co-worker and she was using it for a the apps that her team was developing it. Once I started in, the full breadth of it was impressive and it took a while to get used to the grid system, but once I did, I saw the potential.

There are some really great things about Bootstrap that are baked in, like Buttons, forms, navigation, responsive images, and some great JavaScript components. I’ve used Bootstrap for a few sites now and beat up on it pretty good. It’s pretty stable / reliable and I really like the fact that there’s plenty of examples and good documentation on their site.

Media Queries

Media Queries

I must admit, that I was struggling with this one for a while. I understood the basic concept but its practical applications eluded me. I spoke to a friend about it and he simplified it for me. The trick is to start by creating all of your standard styles for mobile view first and then add media queries to support larger layouts. It made great sense and I still use that advice now.


JavaScript & JQuery

I used JQuery heavily in a game that I created for a conference at work. Selecting elements and manipulating them with JQuery is so easy and JQuery offers some really powerful libraries to get things done. I was able to quickly create a working prototype with JQuery and then take that into full development.

John Duckett’s JavaScript & JQuery book offered some more great insights into JQuery that made me appreciate the language more.

.net Magazine

.net magazine

While wandering around Barnes & Nobles, I stumbled on .net magazine and was instantly hooked. This web resource magazine is packed with insightful articles, tutorials and information on best web practices and tools. The subscription price tag is pretty hefty, but the content is great. The November issue on Responsive Web Design was particularly helpful.

They have a great section of the mag called Showcase, which showcases websites from all over that are pretty fantastic. There’s a brief background story behind how each were built and it’s very inspiring. I highly recommend it.



I’ve been using Firebug for a while now, but I really started using the Console and debug mode this year. It’s making development easy for me. Not only do I inspect other site’s code, but I inspect my own code and am able to troubleshoot style and code issues. I do like Chrome’s dev tools, but I’m so used to Firebug now. Firebug’s add-ons are great too.

So there you have it, 5 things that made my life easier this year. What tools and sources made your life easier this year?

RWD – Media Queries Introduction

Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by alemieux

Media Query Basics

No, I’m not going to start in on the history of the @media usage in HTML. I’d rather focus instead on the practical uses of the @media property as it relates to Responsive Web Design. But first, a practical tip.

In Luke Wroblewski’s now famous Mobile First approach, we start by designing a site with the smallest screen in mind first. What that really means is that you develop all of your content in such a way that will engage mobile users who, most likely, are on devices that are on slow networks and might not be able to support all the whiz-bang that a desktop browser might be able to handle.

There are some pretty staggering statistics of mobile phone usage in third world countries. Most internet activity is achieved over mobile networks with an array of devices that aren’t that sophisticated and can’t handle most modern website features.

There’s also an important movement to improve website performance for such devices and platforms as illustrated in Scott Jehl’s new book Responsible Responsive Design. Certain design trends offer huge, full-width imagery or video. Learning what’s served best on the mobile platform is trial and error, but the basic idea is the limit the use of heavy graphics, video, and JavaScript effects for smaller devices. More importantly, the content needs to be tailored for small screens so that what’s hierarchically most important is easy to find and is most useful.

With those limitations in mind, start by building the site in a mobile view. You can resize your browser to its smallest width possible. In Firefox, you can use the Responsive Design View and choose the 320 pixel width, which will be the smallest screen size. Load up your page and start coding.

One handy tip that I learned straight away was to include all of the essential styles outside of any media query. You’ll want to establish your font sizes, colors and navigation first, working towards what will work best on the small screen. I thought that I would only put those styles into a media query that targets small screens, but that’s not the Mobile First workflow.

Once you’ve established your base styles and things in the mobile view are looking good, you can now start to resize the browser or switch to a wider layout (possibly to target Tablets).

Max and Min Width

The key components to a media query are max-width and min-width. Let’s define what those mean:

max-width Anything less than the value you have after it.


@media screen and (max-width: 780px)

What this query is targeting is anything less than 780 pixels.

min-width Anything greater than the value you have after it.


@media screen and (min-width: 1920px)

This targets anything greater than 1920 pixels.

It seems backwards, but this is the way that media queries work.

In Responsive Web Design, your HTML structure and CSS styles should be flexible enough that when the layout changes to accomodate different screen sizes, that the text reflows and images and videos scale. What it doesn’t account for is when layouts break. Say for example, you have a 4-column section on your site that has the bios of 4 different speakers for an event. Those columns are floated to the left and sit right next to each other in a desktop layout, but what should they do on a mobile screen? The floats should be removed so that the columns become stacked. That’s where you’ll need a media query.

Targeting and Breakpoints

The whole idea of using a Media Query is to change the layout at a certain point where it’s no longer viable on a certain device, as in the example above. When that happens, we define a breakpoint. This is your target and now you’ll need to write your media query. Following the example given, we may want to reduce the 4 columns long before we come down to a 320 pixel width. You might target anything under 480 pixels like this:

@media screen and (max-width: 480px) {
.bios { float: none; }

So, anything below 480 pixels and the floats are removed from the Bio section and those columns now get stacked.

See the Pen Media Query Example by Al Lemieux (@alemieux) on CodePen.

Using proportional units is best, so we can convert those pixels into ems:

480 / 16 = 30

So our media query now looks like this:

@media screen and (max-width: 30em) {
.bios { float: none; }

The exercise continues — resize the browser, find points that break your layout and then add breakpoints to adjust.

Base Font Size

One final consideration is base font size. We already talked about font sizes and line heights in this series. We’ve established that the base font size is 100% or 16px and the line height is 1. You can adjust the base font size up or down in your media queries. 16px body text and 36px headlines might be too large on a mobile device. You may have your base font size reduced in your body declaration to some percentage as it is comfortable to read on a small screen:

body { font-size: 70%; }

Then, in your media queries, you can increase that base font size for larger screens:

@media screen and (min-width: 80em) {
body { font-size: 90%;

@media screen and (min-width: 120em) {
body { font-size: 110%; }

I hope you’ve enjoyed this primer on media queries. We’ll get deeper into it next time, but this is a good foundation and is common practice these days. Be sure to check out the other articles in this series:

RWD – Vertical Rhythm Part 2

Posted on: December 15th, 2014 by alemieux

Last time, we looked at a method using the Golden Ratio to arrive at a vertical rhythm in our designs. This time, we’ll look at a few other methods for arriving at a vertical rhythm.

Typographic Scale

Another method utilizes a Typographic Scale. The Golden Ratio we used last week on modularscale.com, could’ve been replaced with a musical scale, like a Major or Minor third. Finding a scale, we need to use that value for the line height throughout. This consistent value then balances everything on the page.

In this example, our body text is set to 1.063em or 17px. In order to get a comfortable measure, the Line Height was set to 1.25 or 20px. Remember that the Line Height value can be unitless, which is a unique characteristic of this CSS property.

A formula to get to the Typographic Scale in this example, is to multiply the Font Size by the Line Height:

1.063 x 1.25 = 1.32875

We can then round this down to 1.3 and this becomes the Typographic Scale. This value then becomes the unit by which we space everything out on our page. This Typographic Scale can then be subdivided for smaller increments to add to margin or padding values:

3/4 Scale .975
1/2 Scale .65
1/4 Scale .325

Since 1.3 is the scale, we can revisit the Line Height value. In order to define the Line Height with the typographic scale, we divide the Line Height by the Typographic Scale, so 1.25 / 1.3 = 1.223, a slight difference from 1.25, but more accurate to the scale.

Using the scale, we can find the font size and line height of other elements on the page. For example, an H3 on the page needs to be larger than the body font size, but smaller than an H2. To find the font size, multiply the body font size by the scale:

1.063 x 1.3 = 1.382em

To get the line height of the H3, divide the font size with the scale:

1.382 / 1.3 = 0.94

Since this may be too tight, we can use the subdivisions we calculated before and add them to the line height. We could add a half value to the line height, which would be:

0.94 + .65 = 1.59

We still need to do the math to get the line height right, so divide the font size by the scale again to get the line height:

1.59 / 1.3 = 1.22307692

If this is too much space for you, you can try another calculation with another sub-value.

The important takeaway with this method is that once you find the typographic scale, you consistently use it for all of your font size, line height, margin, and padding values. Here’s an example of this method in use:

See the Pen yyYdbj by Al Lemieux (@alemieux) on CodePen.

Base Unit

This method comes from using a baseline grid in print for vertical rhythm and again its central component is the line height. The first thing to do is find a comfortable font size and line measure. In finding the measure, you’ll need to find the proper line height value that offers enough space between lines – not too much and not too little.

Let’s say for example, that we come up with 22px for the line height and 18px is the font size. To utilize this method, we will need to use multiples of the line height value, so to find a better increment, we can use half of 22px which gives us 11px. If our font sizes and line heights are multiples of 11px, our base unit will work to give us the vertical rhythm we’re looking for. Here’s a sample style sheet with this method at work

body { font-size: 18px;
line-height: 22px;
h1 { font-size: 66px;
line-height: 66px;
margin-bottom: 22px;
h2 { font-size: 44px;
line-height: 44px;
margin-bottom: 22px;
p { margin: 22px 0; }

Of course all of this needs to be converted to ems to work and you know that formula already. In order to arrive at the appropriate line height though, we need to take the font size and divide it by the line height. In this case, since the values for font size and line height are identical, they’ll always equal to 1. Why do we do it this way? Our context has changed. We don’t divide by our base font size of 16px, we divide by the font size of the element we’re working on.

You can see an example of this method at work here:

See the Pen Typographic Scale by Al Lemieux (@alemieux) on CodePen.


This series on Typography has really opened my eyes to design and text treatments everywhere. I find that I’m looking at menus, posters, brochures, and websites with a more critical eye now. I can see where type works and where it doesn’t. I think the genius in these methods is in finding that consistency that works throughout a project that really holds well.

I want to thank Jeremy Osborn, Val Head, Tim Brown, Eric Meyer, and others for hashing out these topics and making them understandable and usable to all. I’m not done with this topic, but for time, we’ll start in on Media Queries.

RWD – Vertical Rhythm – Part 1

Posted on: December 8th, 2014 by alemieux 1 Comment

Last time, we talked about the Em unit as being flexible when the body is set to 100%. Now, we’ll turn our attention to vertical rhythm and the typographic scale.

“Don’t compose without a scale” – Robert Bringhurst1

Typographic Scale

I once attended a Photoshop seminar in Boston. A local photographer was going through what she termed a Mathematically solid way of correcting images. She touted the formula as the best way to correct images. She started in with the Histograms in the Levels dialog and showed how adjusting for the 3 separate channels produced better results. She talked about the Gamma levels and what to look for when making adjustments. The crowd was in rapt attention. As she finished up her final adjustment in the Blue channel, she finished off by doing something very unformulaic, something very unmathematical, she adjusted the midtone gamma level range to either lighten or darken the photo to taste, describing this last option as something that would be different for everyone and to trust your eye.

“It’s not about knowing all the gimmicks and photo tricks. If you haven’t got the eye, no program will give it to you.” — David Carson

It turns out that trusting your eye when it comes to Typography is a skill that once attained, will serve well in crafting type both for print and on the web.

“Anyone can use typefaces, some can choose good typefaces, but only a few master typography” – Information Architects

Line Length & Legibility

When the internet was in its infancy, text ran from one side of the viewport to the other. At that time, screen resolutions were pretty low, 800 x 600, but the text on some sites was difficult to read because of something we call a measure or the line length in typography. This is a comfortable distance that the eye travels across the text and is able to get to the next line to continue the story. A wider measure tires the eye as it has to read a longer distance and then attach to the next line. A short measure makes for quick reading, but too short and the text starts to hyphenate more quickly and presents other challenges.

The measure can be an arbitrary value and there are some guidelines out there, but in the end the measure is largely governed by the font that’s being used. A bolder font can hold up well with a wider measure, whereas an italic face or a thin serif needs a shorter measure. Robert Bringhurst, author of The Elements of Typographic Style has this advice on the measure:

“Anything from 45 to 75 characters is widely regarded as a satisfactory length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size. The 66-character line (counting both letters and spaces) is widely regarded as ideal. For multiple-column work, a better average is 40 to 50 characters.”2

He goes on to make suggestion for what the measure might be in shorter or wider situations, but he at least gives us a baseline. This is especially important in the context of Responsive design. Say for example, you have text on a page that looks great on a desktop at 1024 x 768, but then if you look at that same page at a higher resolution, say 1440 x 900, the measure will increase ruining the legibility. This is where max-width might come in handy:

section {
max-width: 45em;

On smaller devices, the measure may be fine, but now your text flow is more compact, invariably tighter. You might need to adjust for the smallest screen size in your media queries.

In beginning a practical exercise, you should have your fonts picked out for the body and headlines, subheads and whatever applications are needed. You may even have just one font with variations in weights and styles. When you have the type set, adjust the width of the container to find a comfortable measure. I’ve found that with 16px (100%) font size, a 32em – 34em (somewhere between 480 – 420 pixels) seems to be a good measure.

Line Height

The next thing we’ll need to do is find a good leading value, but on the web that’s more difficult than in print.3 The problem on the web is that there is no concept of a baseline and the CSS line-height property doesn’t behave like prints counterpart leading. Each line of text is placed roughly in the middle of the elements total height. This is contrary to the basic principle of a baseline grid: the bottom of every line of text falls on a vertical grid set in even increments all the way down the page.

This is relatively easy to accomplish in InDesign or QuarkXPress, where we can enforce text to adhere to the baseline grid. It’s a little harder to do on the web though. The 3 factors that we need to control are font size, line height and margins (although some argue that padding is a better control mechanism4).

Baseline Grid

InDesign (left) and Quark (right) allow you to snap the text to the baseline grid.

Line height is a key value to determine though and there are many schools of thought on how to achieve the appropriate balance. Assuming a 16px (100%) font size for our body text, most desktop publishing applications will enforce a general leading rule of 120%. That would give us a leading value of 19.2. That appears to be a healthy amount of space between lines, but you may prefer a tighter or looser leading depending on the font you’ve chosen.

Font Sizing With a Typographic Scale

We have our body text set, but what about our headlines, subheads or callouts? We certainly can put a lot of guesswork and trial and error into selecting appropriate font sizes for these, but we can also rely on a typographic scale. Musicians, architects and artists have similar systems that continue to work in delivering pleasing work that’s balanced and harmonious. Musicians have musical scales with specific characteristics that are tonally pleasing to the ear. A half step off and the dissonance is quite noticeable. Architects use proportion and physics to create spaces that are inviting and dynamic, otherwise we’d all be living and working in boxes. The typographic scale is just one of many modular scales that can mathematically relay specific intervals that are harmonious and pleasing to the eye.

One such modular scale is the Golden Section. The mathematical ratio is 1:1.618. If we take that and apply it to typography, we can come up with a range of values that give us possibilities to choose from for font sizes:

16 x 1.618 = 25.888
25.888 x 1.618 = 41.886
41.886 x 1.618 = 67.772

And so on. If we need smaller values, we can divide to get them:

16 / 1.618 = 9.88
9.88 / 1.618 = 6.11

If you want an easier way to create a system like this, use Tim Brown’s Modular Scale. Input a value and then choose a scale and then click Submit Query.


Finding a Typographic Scale with Modularscale.com

So we might apply styles to our headings in the following manner:

h1 { font-size: 67.772px;
line-height: 67.772px;
color: #DC3522;
h2 { font-size: 41.886px;
line-height: 41.886px;
color: #374140;
h3 { font-size: 1em;
line-height: 1.2;
text-transform: uppercase;
color: #7D7D7D;

The heading is dramatic and the subhead feels like the right size, just twice the size of the body text. These are pixel values, but they can be converted to ems. For the font size, we use the standard RWD formula: target / context = result. If our body text is 16px, we would divide by that.

67.772 / 16 = 4.23575
41.886 / 16 = 2.617875
25.888 / 16 = 1.618

What about the leading values? Because the context changes, we take the line height and divide it by the font size. In the case of our heading and subhead, the font size and line height are equal values and when you divide them, you’ll get 1. So our styles now look like this:

h1 { font-size: 4.23575em;
line-height: 1;
color: #DC3522;
h2 { font-size: 2.617875em;
line-height: 1;
color: #374140;
h3 { font-size: 1em;
line-height: 1.2;
text-transform: uppercase;
color: #7D7D7D;

If you inspect the h1 element in Chrome or Firefox, you’ll see that the computed style shows the pixel values that we previously input for the font size and line height. Here’s what we have so far:

See the Pen Typographic Scale Example by Al Lemieux (@alemieux) on CodePen.

There’s a wonderful site that you can use to explore vertical rhythm. At Typecast.com, you can copy and paste all of your text into an interface that lets you play with your body text, headlines, and any other element you put on the page. You can then view and even export all of the CSS so that you can use it in your own project. You can even get a style guide that is created as you develop the page. You can try typecast for free, but then there are monthly payment plans for full usage.

Another tool you can use to find vertical rhythm is at drewish.com. Not as elegant as modularscale, but you can get some basic guidance on setting body text, headings, and subheadings.

There are other methods for arriving at vertical rhythm, which we’ll take a look at next time. This method is pretty sound, but not very practical. As you’ll see, there’s quite a bit of math involved and one thing will persist: pixel values will need to be converted to ems. So break out and dust off that calculator.

About Codepen

Some of you may already know about Codepen, which I’ve been using for the past couple of posts. It’s a great playground where you can play with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in a browser environment and get instant feedback. Instead of flipping back and forth between an editor and a browser, you can do all of the work within one browser window. Sure, there are other playgrounds out there, but I just love the way things work in Codepen. You can check out some other experiments that I’m working at codepen here: http://codepen.io/alemieux/public/


  1. The Elements of Typographic Style. Robert Bringhurst. p. 26.
  2. Ibid. p. 45.
  3. Type on Screen: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Developers, and Students (Design Briefs), by Ellen Lupton – May 2014
  4. Scale & Rhythm. Ian Lamb. 2009. http://lamb.cc/typograph/

RWD – Typography: The Almighty Em

Posted on: December 1st, 2014 by alemieux 1 Comment

In Ethan Marcotte’s tome Responsive Web Design, he begins setting a simple typography example with the following explanation:

Finally, you’ve probably noticed that the font-size has been set to 100%. In doing so, we’ve simply set our base type size to the browser’s default, which in most cases is 16 pixels. We can then use ems to size text up or down from that relative baseline.

There’s not a lot of explanation about why the base font size is set in a percentage and why ems is the unit of choice. Published in 2011, the book may have come at a time where this was standard practice or just the way Ethan went about doing his thing. There was a pretty popular method of setting the base font size to 62.5%, which makes the base font size 10pt – a nice round number that can be mathematically managed better than 16pt. In order to explore Ethan’s method, we need to understand a few things about the baseline type set in percentages and why ems are better than other units of measure.

Units of Measure

You can specify type sizes in CSS with pixels, points, inches, ems, percents, and other units of measure. It would seem at first glance that when working in a web-related dimension, that using pixels as the primary unit makes the most sense. The reason why we don’t use pixels or points is because they are not scalable – meaning they can’t be resized in all browsers. In IE6 & 7, it was particularly a problem. Most modern browsers can scale pixel-based text, but there are problems with it on mobile devices. If the base font size changes, say from 100% to 120%, pixel-based font sizes will stay the same. Another reason we can’t use pixels is that pixel sizes “aren’t constant – or at least the display of them isn’t. 16px text on an iPhone can be ~60% the size of 16px text on a Macbook.”1

Why not use percentages as the choice unit of measure? Ems and Percents are essentially the same, but scale differently depending on what the base font size is set to. Em-based font sizes tend to become exaggerated when resizing in IE6 & 7 when the base font is not set to percentages. When we define font sizes in percentages, it is a percentage of the body font size. So 150% is 150 percent of the font size, whereas 1.5em is 1.5 times larger.2

About That Em

Em Units Are Scaled

An Em unit is defined as the point size or classically, the size of an uppercase M in any font or slightly larger. Robert Bringhurst, author of the Elements of Typographic Style defines an Em as such:

[t]he em is a sliding measure. One em is a distance equal to the type size. In 6 point type, an em is 6 points; in 12 point type an em is 12 points and in 60 point type an em is 60 points. Thus a one em space is proportionately the same in any size.3

Perhaps that helps us to visualize the Em unit a little better, but it’s the flexibility of Ems. Setting up our baseline font size as 100% and then setting all other elements in Em-based font sizes makes that text relative. If you have all of your type set in pixels, changing the base font size doesn’t cascade and makes the rest of the text relatively update. If you set your text in Ems however, and change the base font size, you don’t have to touch your Em-based font sizes because they are relatively affected by that change.4

In Media Queries, this is pretty powerful. Instead of making individual changes, you can simply change the body font size and be done with it. The scaling that Ems employ allow for quick global changes.

Mathematical Operations

I never paid attention in Math class. In fact, some of the best doodling I ever did was in that class, much to my chagrin. To be perfectly honest, the first time I went through Responsive Web Design, I didn’t fully get the calculations and struggled with understanding why I had to use Ems. Of course, I – like many others – were using pixels for everything. If we can’t use pixel values for responsive design and Ems are a better unit, how do we use them? A handy dandy formula:

target ÷ context = result5

The target is the size of text that you want to use. The context (although it can change) is the base font size, which for our purposes is 1em or 16px. If all of our body text is 100%, which is 1em, which is 16px, what if we want text that is smaller or larger than that? Let’s start with a headline for example. If I have a 24px headline in my design I need to convert that to ems. So, I use the formula above and come up with the following:

24px ÷ 16px = 1.5em

Let’s say that I have some copyright text in the footer that needs to be 10px. Again, using the formula, we get:

10px ÷ 16px = 0.625em

See the Pen Calculating Font Sizes with Ems by alemieux3 (@alemieux3) on CodePen.

Other Considerations

The Rem unit is said to be more reliable than Em, but since Marcotte and others specifically advocate it, I’m sticking with that unit of measure for now. One thing about base font size is that the default 16px browser font size is not a given. Anyone can change their browser preferences and set the font size to anything they want. If they have a hard time seeing, for example, they might set the font to something a lot larger. The ability to zoom text or the viewport in most modern browsers will also alter the look of your type and that’s just a bit of control that you have to give up. One other note is that most web design templates have this system built into it already, like Twitter Bootstrap and others, so if you’re using one of those systems, it’s already built in.

Next time, we’ll look into setting a baseline grid and creating a vertical rhythm.


  1. The Goldilocks Approach to Responsive Web Design. Front design agency. http://goldilocksapproach.com/demo/
  2. Font Sizes in Responsive Design: px vs. pt vs. em vs. percent? Eclipse Web Media. https://www.eclipsewebmedia.com/font-sizes-in-responsive-design/
  3. The Elements of Typographic Style As Applied to the Web: 2.1.1 Define the word space to suit the size and natural letterfit of the font. http://webtypography.net/2.1.1
  4. Why Ems? CSS Tricks. Chris Coyier November 8, 2012. http://css-tricks.com/why-ems/
  5. Fluid Grids. Ethan Marcotte. A List Apart. March, 2009. http://alistapart.com/article/fluidgrids

RWD – Browser Tools for Responsive Design

Posted on: November 26th, 2014 by alemieux 1 Comment

Last time, we looked at the HTML5 Shiv for older versions of Internet Explorer. Next up, we’ll take a look at some of the browser tools that you have at your disposal when working responsive.


Google Chrome’s Developer tools are a fantastic repertoire of debugging aids that are essential for any web workflow. Chrome also comes in another form called Canary, which is intended for developers and has all of the latest features Webkit.

To Open the Developer Tools, go to View > Developer > Developer Tools. Immediately, you will see the HTML and CSS source in the Elements tab. You can inspect any element in the DOM by hovering over them first to see what’s highlighted, and then by clicking on them. All of the computed styles for the selected element will appear in the Styles tab. You can see the cascade and how styles are overridden as you move downward. If you want to temporarily disable a style, you can uncheck it. If you wanted to experiment with a given style, you can change the values in the style properties that are displayed. You can also enter new property / value pairs on elements. If a color is present, you can click on the color to get a nice color picker and change the value. None of these changes affect the page you’re working on, it’s literally a playground to check your work. If you switch over to the Console tab, you’ll be able to see any errors that might happen during a page load or on JavaScript events. You can use the Console to test variables and write some simple scripts to test.

The Responsive portion of the Dev Tools is some very nice emulation tools. Click on the rectangular shape near the magnifying glass in the top of the Developer Tools Window, this is supposed to look like a cell phone. Now you’ve enable Device Emulation mode.

Device Emulation

On the left is a handy pixel ruler. On the far right is a page scale indicator. By default, it’s set at 1.0. You can click the plus (+) or minus (-) buttons to change the scale or hold shift and drag on the page. At the top, in the orange section, you can select which device you want to test and change the orientation. The device pixel ratio is shown as 1 for some devices and for retina displays and HD screens, it’s shown as a higher value. The iPhone 5, for example, is shown as 2.

In the blue Network section, you can also emulate network throttling and latency. Refresh your page to see the desired effect. Unless you’re testing specifically for interactions that might be affected by network throttling, you should have this set to No throttling, which is the default.

You can get to the emulation options inside Chrome itself or inside the Developer Tools window.

Device Emulation Options

The range of devices and the ability to change the orientation is pretty impressive. Download Chrome and try the Dev Tools today if you haven’t already.


Mozilla’s Firefox is my default browser. One indispensable Add-on that I’ve been using for years is Chris Pedrick’s Developer Tools, which you can also get for Chrome. When you install this add-on, you can:

  • Get the HTML source code in a nice, readable format
  • Get all of the CSS from any page you’re looking at, which includes external CSS as well as relative files.
  • You can enable and disable JavaScript
  • You can view all of the image information, including background images
  • You can outline all Block Level elements
  • You can also validate your HTML and CSS

For the responsive side of things, there is a Resize option. Here, you can resize the browser window itself to any pre-defined settings or settings that you add. If you choose Resize > View Responsive Layouts, you’ll get Mobile and Tablet views of your page in both Portrait and Landscape.

Firefox Responsive Layout

Another great Add-on for Firefox, which is very similar to Chrome’s developer tools if Firebug. Firebug has a tabbed interface where you can inspect your HTML, CSS, Scripts, and network activity. In the HTML tab, you can inspect the DOM. Rolling over an element will highlight it in the browser. The Style sheet is visible in the related Style panel. Here you can disable properties by clicking near them. You can also see a color chip for any colors that are specified.


There are even Add-ons for Firebug, like YSlow, an Add-on that gives you performance data on web page load times and gives you advice on how to improve performance, which I’ve been using lately.

Although Firebug is pretty powerful, Firefox has its own set of developer tools. Steadily getting better, this suite of tools has all the things you’d come to expect with some additional features, one of them being a Responsive Design View.

Firefox Developer Tools

Click on the icon to the left of the Gear and you’ll be put into this view. There’s a list of preset sizes for Mobile and Tablet devices. You can change the orientation of the view with the arrow icon. Click the pointer finger icon to enable touch events, and you can take snapshots of each view.

Responsive Design View

I’ve been using this view over the past few weeks to test a responsive design and it’s been pretty reliable.

I should mention that Mozilla has just introduced Firefox Developer Edition. I just started playing around with this, but it has a really nice looking interface that’s easier on the eyes.

Firefox Developer Edition


Apple’s Safari has some built-in developer tools that have to be enabled. Go to Safari > Preferences and in the Advanced tab, choose Show Develop menu in menu bar. You may have to restart Safari afterwards.

Safari Preferences

Comparable to Chrome and Firefox, Safari has a web inspector in the Resources tab. You can also get to the CSS by enabling the Styles panel on the right. You can also inspect Layers (Absolutely positioned Divs) and HTML Node information. External resources can be inspected, like fonts, images, JavaScript and Stylesheet files. Clicking on these items on the left gives you a nice preview in the center panel.

Safari Dev Tools

Out of the box though, there are no responsive views. There is an extension called ResponsiveResize that you can download and install for Safari that will allow you to view common mobile and tablet sizes. You can also add your own custom sizes.

ResponsiveResize Safari Extension

Simply click on a size button and the browser will resize for that particular dimension.

Internet Explorer

There have been occasions where I had to view a page in IE because something wasn’t working right. “Does IE have developer tools?” I asked myself, and yes it does, though not as robust as the other’s mentioned here. Go to Tools > Developer Tools or F12 (In IE 8), and you’ll see an HTML inspector. The Style panel will show the styles of an element that you click on. There is no highlighting as you hover over elements, but if you click on the cursor icon at the top left of the panel, and move your mouse over the page, it will outline those elements.

Internet Explorer Dev Tools

At the top of this panel is a menu and under Tools, there’s a resize option. You can choose from some preset sizes and you can add your own custom sizes. This resizes the browser window. Although it’s not an elegant experience, at least there are some tools available. I haven’t explored these tools for IE9 or 10, so if you have and think they’re better, by all means, comment on this post and let us know.


Browser emulation is nothing like viewing your page on an actual device and this approach is not meant to be a replacement of that method. I, like many other people, don’t have a lot of time and resources to develop a device testing lab. With responsive design, one of the key things is to see how the pages flex and how elements on the page resize and shift as the scale is reduced or expanded. I like Firefox’s built-in Responsive Design View for this.

Hopefully, this will be helpful information for those getting started with RWD or anyone who’s doing web development in general. Next time, we’ll start getting into Responsive Typography and talk about the almight Em.