anthony ramella

How I Designed and Coded This Blog

March 29, 2016 Reading time - 3 minutes

It has been well over a year that I’ve been using Jekyll as a static site generator for my blog and up until now, I’ve been downloading and modifying various themes. I decided to start with a fresh base install of Jekyll and roll my own theme using Sass to process my CSS.

Setting up Jekyll and Gulp

I wanted to use a task runner for my build, specifically Gulp.js to handle my Sass compiling and BrowserSync to auto refresh my changes on each save. I came across this Github repo which provided an excellent gulpfile with the default Jekyll build files. In order to get my build system up and running, I ran the following installations:

Jekyll - $ gem install jekyll
NodeJS - use the installer found here.
GulpJS - $ npm install -g gulp (mac users should use sudo)

I did have to run sudo npm install for each of the dependencies listed in the gulpfile. Once that was done, running a simple gulp command got my Jekyll build up and running with BrowserSync and Sass compiling.

Installing Bourbon and Neat

Now that I had my build system up and running, I started thinking about design and layout. All I knew was I wanted to keep both the design and code minimal. This meant no Bootstrap or Foundation. I remembered trying to use Bourbon and the Neat grid a while back but not understanding enough about the grid system and Sass to be able to properly implement it into my project. So I revisted Bourbon and Neat this time and was surprised with how quick and easy it is to use.

Installation is as simple as running a gem install:
$ gem install bourbon
Then loading Bourbon into the project with
$ bourbon install

Note: Installing Neat is exactly the same

$ gem install neat 
$ neat install

Inside my _scss folder, I created a file to store my mixins and another file to store my color and font variables. Inside my _main.scss, the Bourbon and Neat .scss files are included along with _variables.scss and _mixins.scss at the top of the stylesheet as such:

@import "bourbon/bourbon";
@import "neat/neat";
@import "variables";
@import "mixins";

Design & Layout

With everything setup in just a few minutes, I was able to start designing with ease. Having my Gulp build system running BrowserSync, trying out new fonts, colors and grid layouts with Neat was a breeze. It actually made the design part of the build very fun for me and trying out new ideas was a lot less tedious. Using the Neat grid changed the way I approach CSS. Things like nesting pseudo elements, using variables and defining breakpoints and media queries within a class seems to be the most logical way to write CSS.

Avoiding tons of nested divs with long lists of classes such as small-12 medium-10 large-6 columns kept my markup semantic and clean. The Neat grid makes it as simple as using @include span-columns(12); inside the class itself. For media breakpoints, just throw in @media screen and (max-width: 887px){...}.

Theming Made Easy with Sass

When I was downloading and modifying other Jekyll themes, I found that the things I wanted to change most were font and color variations. With that in mind, I designed this site so that the colors and fonts could easily be changed without having to replace every instance of that color/font in the document. I did this by making variables targeting each property that could be modified.

With my color and font variables in place, I can assign one variable for multiple classes on the page. For example, let’s say we declared $link_color: $red. By having the variable $link_color assigned as the color to multiple classes, changing the declared color variable will also change the color of every property where $link_color is assigned instead of having to do a find/replace all.

That’s all there is to it! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to tweet at me or comment below.