New and future CSS features you should be aware of

5 min read
Watb Team
Code on a screen

Development and implementation of CSS features seems to be happening at an incredible rate right now. Actually, I’m starting to find it tricky to keep tabs with all the new features coming in, how to use them and how they will benefit me as a product designer and front-end developer. Here I’ve picked out a few that I think are very interesting. Some can be used now, whereas others lack wide support so use of them should be very carefully considered.

Clip-Path


Clip-path in CSS works much the same as a clipping mask in Photoshop – it allows you to define a region of an element that is not displayed. In CSS, we can defined our region either by specifying a URL to an inline or external SVG, or by using a shape method. The shape method works by specifying either Circle, Ellipse, Polygon or Inset and then a set of co-ordinates.

Clip-path is a game changer because it allows us to use images that are shaped – without resorting to crude PNGs. We can also use clip-path to crop images differently on different screen sizes – in combination with CSS Shapes (see below). You can see an example of this in the frame below.

Codepen

Clip-path has many uses and it allows us to achieve more magazine-style layouts for our web pages. Support is patchy however, with IE and Edge not supporting clip-path currently. You can find out more about clip-path here: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS/clip-path

will-change


For front-end developers, the ability to animate elements on the web page changed everything, allowing for a more dynamic experience that didn’t depend upon crude JavaScript. That said, CSS animations are by default not hardware-accelerated, so sometimes the performance of your animations is not optimal. You might notice flickering, shuddering or even artefacts.

Previously, we forced browsers to use the GPU to animate our elements using the translateZ hack. This would trick the browser into using hardware-acceleration, but it was always and will always be a hack. The method increases RAM usage and on mobiles in particular the performance trade offs, particularly on an animation heavy page, can be significant.

It’s this issue that brought about will-change. Will-change allows us to inform the browser, in advance, that an element is likely to change in a particular way and therefore the browser will utilise hardware-acceleration. We do this by specifying the CSS properties we’ll be changing (or animating) as the value of will-change. For example, if we know we will be animating the transform property, we can write this rule:

will-change: transform;


The temptation at this point would be to use will-change on every element, but much like the translateZ hack use of will-change should be carefully considered. You can read more about will-change as well as the various caveats here: https://dev.opera.com/articles/css-will-change-property/

CSS Shapes


Whilst clip-path allows us to define a portion of an element not to be rendered, it won’t actually change how other content on the page flows around that element. CSS Shapes allow us to specify a shape for the element in much the same way – but this time, the shape changes how the content around the element flows.

For example, we may have text over laying a background image and on the image there are a series of circles and we want the text to wrap around these circles. Currently, we can’t do this, the text will always wrap around rectangles. But with CSS Shapes, we can, and it allows us to achieve the desired layout.

There are two properties within the spec, shape-outside and shape-inside. Currently, shape-outside has the better support. The property can take either a shape function as a value, or it can accept a URI to an image that has an area of alpha transparency that defines the shape required. For example:

shape-outside: polygon(50% 0%, 100% 100%, 0% 100%);

Or:

shape-outside: url(bear-shape.png) border-box;

CSS Shapes have quite patchy browser support with only webkit/blink browsers supporting the shape-outside property. That said, you could begin to use this property providing that you checked that in other browsers the layout you’re looking to achieve still works. You can find out more about CSS Shapes here: http://tympanus.net/codrops/css_reference/shape-outside/

Image-set


A new CSS image function, image set allows us to utilise responsive images in our CSS. You’re probably thinking we can already achieve this with break points, but whereas break points tell a browser it must use a particular image, with image set we are giving the browser a set of options from which to select the most appropriate image at the discretion of the browser. An example of the code is below:

background-image: image-set( "foo.png" 1x,
                            "foo-2x.png" 2x,
                            "foo-print.png" 600dpi );


Browser support is again patchy with only webkit/blink support, that said both iOS Safari, the Android browser and the Chrome mobile browser all support this function. This means that for most mobile users we can start utilising this technique now. As desktop browser support is more patchy, I would suggest confining your image-set declaration to within a mobile-only media query. For example:

@media screen and (max-width:768px){

background-image: image-set( "foo.png" 1x,
                            "foo-2x.png" 2x,
                            "foo-print.png" 600dpi );

}


Wrap Up


So – there we have several new CSS features that you should know about. Some you can start using now, others should be approached with caution. What these features show however, is how CSS is progressing at an extremely rapid rate. These are just a handful of new features, the actual number of new CSS features coming up is vast.

If you want to stay ahead of the curve, know your resources:

Development and implementation of CSS features seems to be happening at an incredible rate. Actually, I’m starting to find it tricky to keep tabs with all the new features coming in, how to use them and how they will benefit me as a product designer and front-end developer

Social Media Management Software

In order to promote your business and reach consumers that spend an entire 24 hours a week online, you need to make sure that you have a viable social media strategy in place.

By posting unique and interesting content on your social media platforms, and by actively engaging with followers, you can start to turn this into a funnel for generating leads.

In order to stay on top of your social media strategy, it’s important to have some form of social media management software to do some of the heavy lifting. Software such as this is imperative for scheduling, tracking and monitoring social media content.

At its best, social media management software can help you not only plan your content months in advance, but also remain reactive by letting you tune into ongoing news stories or trending topics.

Screenshot of Hootsuite's homepage

We recommend: Hootsuite

There are a whole bunch of social media management companies out there and all of them offer roughly the same sort of package but Hootsuite is the only one that offers an actually free service (as opposed to just a free trial period).

They do try to hide it on their website though so make sure you follow this link in order to get to the right page.

The free version of this software lets you:

  • Manage up to three social media profiles from a choice of channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn
  • Schedule up to 30 posts in advance at any point in time
  • Track follower growth, likes and comments
  • Integrate two RSS feeds in order to find and share compelling content
  • Access Hootsuite’s online help center and community forum

Of course, there’s also a number of paid-for packages that you can buy from Hootsuite that give you access to a great number of services including higher ad spend budgets, automated post scheduling and custom analytics.

But if you’re a small business looking to get started, the free version of the software should be comprehensive enough to allow you to get your social media strategy in motion.

Website Tracking Software

We’ve said before that the secret to a successful lead generation strategy is to keep analysing and refining your methods. Well, website tracking software is the best way to conduct this analysis.

By digging into the analytics of your visitors’ actions, you can start to gain a better picture of why people come to your site, what they want from it, what they dislike about it and how you can improve upon their experience next time.

There are a wide variety of services that can fall into the category of website tracking software, including heatmaps, funnels, user polls, surveys, visitor recordings and more.

Basically, any kind of software that collects data about the ways in which your visitors interact with your site can be considered website tracking software.

Screenshot of Hotjar's homepage

We recommend: Hotjar

Whereas there are a multitude of smaller software companies that focus in on just one website tracking service, Hotjar offers an array of useful tools.

Hotjar tools include:

  • Click, move, scroll, download and share heatmaps that can also be split by device type
  • Visitor recordings that allow you to replay sessions of real site visitors
  • Conversion funnels that identify on which page and at which step the most visitors are leaving your site
  • Form analysis that can help you to discover which fields take too long to fill, which are left blank and why your visitors abandon your form and page
  • A customizable widget that allows you to create pop-up feedback polls
  • Responsive surveys that can be distributed through web links and emails, or featured your site just before your visitors abandon the page in order to discover what their concerns are
  • The ability to recruit test users in order to get instant feedback on your site

Hotjar’s free service is able to collect data from 2000 page views a day and will give you access to up to 300 visitor recordings and 3 heatmaps, forms, funnels, polls and surveys. Unlimited users can be added to your account and Hotjar will also store your data for a full year.

While we’d normally recommend free services when possible, it’s probably worth paying for Hotjar’s Plus plan to begin with.

For just under £25 a month you can collect data from 10,000 page views a day and have unlimited services and reports. Plus there’s even a 15-day free trial for you to test out whether you like their software or not.

Remember

Lead generation doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavour.

What’s important is that you put real effort into all of your interactions with potential leads - whether that’s through educational and informative blog posts, social media interactions or even just a chat on the phone.

If you believe in your business’ ability to help its customers then all you have to do is let that shine through.

Ultimately, these tools are just there to help you meet potential leads on their level. The rest is up to you.

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