Building Ms. Estelle Marie

Written by Pete Corey on Nov 12, 2014.

I firmly believe that design and development are inseparable. One cannot be done without a thorough understanding of the other. As a developer, I feel that more experience with all kinds of design (visual, interaction, product, etc…) will only do good things for me. Because of this, I’ve spent the past few months trying to work out my design muscle. My most recent design-heavy project was to build a custom WordPress theme for the Ms. Estelle Marie beauty blog. Here’s a quick rundown:

Goals

For this project I was shooting for a very minimal aesthetic. I wanted the theme to be as unobtrusive and undistracting as possible to draw more of the user’s attention to the bright, colorful content. For this reason I went with a mostly achromatic color scheme with a single gold accent and generous amounts of whitespace.

Because the design of Ms. Estelle Marie is so minimal, much of the aesthetic value comes from the typeface selection. After going back and forth between different combinations, I landed on two typefaces: Playfair Display and Raleway. I felt that the heaviness of the Playfair Display contrasted nicely with the lightness of Raleway.

Base Wordpress Template

Before this project, I had zero exposure to WordPress development (although I’m no stranger to PHP). I figured that the best way to quickly get moving with the CMS was to start with a bare bones template. After sifting through a few options, I finally landed on the Underscores (_s) theme. Underscores offered everything I was looking for. Namely, not much at all! A clean Underscores install presented with me with a very minimal theme with next to no superfluous styling or content to get in my way. With the help of the WordPress Codex, I was able to quickly wrap my mind around things like the WordPress file structure, API functionality and the general WordPress way of doing things. I’d highly recommend Underscores to anyone looking for a bare bones starter theme.

Grunt

As with nearly all of my projects, my frontend workflow for this project relied heavily on Grunt. For this project, I was running WordPress out of /var/www, so the only tools I used were SASS and LiveReload. My Gruntfile was relatively thin:

module.exports = function(grunt) {
    grunt.initConfig({
        sass: {
            dist: {
                files: {
                    'style.css': 'scss/style.scss'
                }
            }
        },
        watch: {
            options: {
                livereload: true,
            },
            less: {
                files: ['scss/**/*.scss'],
                tasks: ['sass']
            }
        }
    });

    grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-sass');
    grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-watch');
};

In previous posts, I described creating scaling SVG text. I used a technique like this to manually create the Ms. Estelle Marie logo. My technique was fairly primitive. I created two text elements, styled them with a Google font and then resized and positioned them until I was happy with the results. Because the SVG element is using a viewBox to define its internal coordinate system, the logo can responsively resize to whatever size is needed.

Google Fonts

From a technicaly standpoint, I’m a huge fan of Google Fonts. Being one line of CSS away from using any font you want is incredibly convenient. However, I did run into issues on this project with flashes of unstyled content (FOUC). The SVG logo would render before the font was loaded, which caused a flash of ugly, misaligned text. As recommended by Google, I used the Web Font Loader to fix these problems. The Web Font Loader synchronously loads the fonts specified, so by placing the provided script tags before any of your content, the script will block rendering until all of the fonts have been loaded, preventing the FOUC!

Chrome LiveReload Extension and Remote Machines

Written by Pete Corey on Nov 5, 2014.

Last night I decided it would be a good idea to join the 21st century and incorporate LiveReload into my frontend workflow. Since I’m already using grunt-contrib-watch to watch my LESS/SASS files, I figured this would be a breeze. grunt-contrib-watch supports LiveReload out of the box! All that was needed was an options block inside of my watch config:

watch: {
    options: {
        livereload: true,
    },
    ...

This option spins up a LiveReload server on my dev machine running on port 35729 by default. In order to leverage LiveReload, your client must include the livereload.js script served by this service. This can be done by either manually adding a script tag to your project, or using the Chrome LiveReload extension. I quickly installed the extension, eagerly pressed the LiveReload button and… got an error!

Could not connect to LiveReload server. Please make sure that a compatible LiveReload server is running. (We recommend guard-livereload, until LiveReload 2 comes to your platform.)

Strange. My dev server was running on a VM on 192.168.0.12, so to verify that the LiveReload server was running I went to http://192.168.0.12:35729/ in the brower. As expected, I received a JSON response from grunt-contrib-watch’s tinylr server:

{
    "tinylr": "Welcome",
    "version": "0.0.5"
}

Very strange. Livereload was running on my dev machine, but the Chrome extension was unable to connect to it. As a sanity check, I decided to forgo connecting with the browser extension and manually added the livereload.js script tag to my project:

<script src=”http://192.168.0.12:35729/livereload.js”></script>

After reloading the page, I noticed that it was able to successfully pull down the livereload.js file and LiveReload changes were taking effect.

While this approach worked, I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to use the browser extension, not manually include the script in my project. I started digging into the plugin to find out what was going on.

The first thing I did was enable “Developer Mode” in the Chrome extensions window. That allowed me to install and enable the Chrome Apps & Extensions Developer Tool. I fired up the Extension Dev Tools, opened the LiveReload console and once again tried to connect to my dev server. The log messages made it clear what was going on:

Connecting to ws://127.0.0.1:35729/livereload...
Haven't received a handshake reply in time, disconnecting.
WebSocket connection to 'ws://127.0.0.1:35729/livereload' failed: WebSocket is closed before the connection is established.
Web socket error.
Web socket disconnected.

The LiveReload extension was attempting to connect to 127.0.0.1, not 192.168.0.1. A quick look through global.js shows that host is hardcoded to 127.0.0.1 in the initialize function.

After looking through the github issues for the LiveReload extension project, I found an unmerged pull request from 2013 by Greg Allen that fixed the issue. Bigwave in the comments had built a version of the extension with the fix and released on the app store as RemoteLiveReload. After installing this new extension, my LiveReload setup started working without a hitch. Thanks Greg and Bigwave!

CrossView Fun With CSS

Written by Pete Corey on Nov 2, 2014.

I while ago I stumbled across the CrossView subreddit. I thought the text CrossView images that contained hidden messages were especially cool. So, I decided to try to create one using simple HTML/CSS. The process was really simple. Check out the codepen below, or view it in fullscreen to better see the effect:

See the Pen Cross View Text Test by Pete Corey (@pcorey) on CodePen.

The effect is created by moving specific words on the left text up a couple pixels, and words on the right side down. The greater the offset, the greater emphasis they’re given when crossviewed. For this font and text size, I found that a 4px span worked well.

This could easily be built into a web-based tool to generate text crossview images. I may work on that in the future if there is any interest in that kind of thing.