Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is what gives the web its cozy looks. Writing plain HTML is a thing of a very distant past, and the language itself (CSS) has advanced so much in the recent years that it’s impossible to imagine what the web would look like without it. In the early days, much of webs styling could be achieved through HTML usage, while nowadays both HTML5 and CSS3 work closely together to achieve startling results in web design, application design, and in some cases even software design. It’s an evolving styling language.
The history of CSS3 in itself; is very fascinating, it’s one of those things that gives us an intelligible look inside the development of the structure of the web, we can see when things like Media Queries were first introduced, giving us a broader perspective to understand how long has responsive web design been around, and how much has been achieved in that time alone; advanced level features allow designers and developers to use CSS3 much like a functional programming language, these days CSS3 can be used to incorporate advanced features like filters directly onto your web pages.
Web designer communities such as CodePen have enabled for designers and creative artists to understand more the full capacity of CSS3 features, and each day hundreds of new and inspirational concepts are being added to the CodePen community for indulging, exploring, and reusing within others own projects; tune in the Radio Station (Podcast) to get a weekly update on all the best stuff happening in the world of style sheets. CSS takes time to master, yet its importance to great web design is undeniable.
If you want to learn more about professional CSS web design, take a moment to read how GitHub uses CSS to deliver a seamless browsing experience to hundreds of millions of developers and designers across the globe, and how Medium has managed to build a blogging platform that’s minimal, yet follows a concise style guide to ensure lasting nature.
What is a CSS framework anyway, right? Harry Roberts express his concern at Industry Conf 2014 and you can find the full talk (almost 60min) on Vimeo — an insightful peep at what CSS is doing for the web, and how frameworks come into play to shape the true meaning behind a framework. You can find the slides for this talk on SpeakerDeck. And without any further delay, let’s begin our digest of the best CSS3 frameworks available today.
Material Design is Google’s way of telling the software industry that beautiful change can be achieved not by investing a lot of time thinking and planning, but by applying scientifically proven concepts into a simple and concise web design concept.
Material design has been on the rise ever since Google made the specification available, and since its inception we have seen a number of frameworks and tutorials sprout from the ground to help designers/developers incorporate the full potential of material design in their projects; websites, apps, platforms, and software.
Material Framework is one of the few material design frameworks we will be exploring in this post, and it’s also one of the most easy to use. The beauty of Material Framework is that it only uses CSS so you only need to load up the actual CSS library and revert back to the documentation to learn how the syntax works and how to begin using material design elements within your web pages. Simple!
Leaf is another very flexible and minimal Google’s material design framework that’s being worked on by Kim Korte; a young developer from Sweden. Leaf also utilizes the CSS library approach and offers a variety of ways to integrate material design elements within your web design concepts and website pages. Browse the Components tab from within the navigation menu to learn more about Leaf’s capabilities.
The last material design framework (we are going to skip Material Design Lite and let you do the exploration all by yourself, since it’s more of a limited components library than a strict CSS framework) on our list today is going to be Essence; a lightweight CSS framework that uses the style guide from the official Material Design Spec and integrates it with the ever-poular ReactJS library.
Tap into the potential of Essence to quickly build fast, good looking and reliable web and mobile app user interfaces. Essence’s styles and components are fueled with easy to use syntax that will get you going with your next design within a few short learning lessons.
Bootstrap 3 (the current version, since Bootstrap 4 is also coming soon) is the world’s most popular and sought after front-end development framework for building and rapid prototyping websites, web design concepts, and mobile web designs.
While not strictly a CSS3 framework per se, Bootstrap does involve working with CSS3 on consistent basis, and the main attraction for the framework in the first places is the fact that it puts CSS3 to the test with modern design choices and possibilities. The CSS aspects of Bootstrap can be used to build grid systems, forms, buttons, to manage images, to utilize helpers, to work with responsive design, and many more sub-category possibilities that are required in modern web design.
Semantic has grown in immense popularity in the last couple of years, and it’s now common to see Semantic design approach being incorporated in other frameworks and tools that allow the utilization of third-party style guides. Semantic’s biggest attraction seems to be its variety of elements that can be built using Semantic — common Elements like dividers, buttons, loaders and more, but also Collections like forms and breadcrumbs, Views items like feeds and comment boxes, and sophisticated Modules ranging from popups, to dropdowns and sticky boxes.
Semantic has something to offer to all level web designers, and it’s so easy to use within your already existing styles that you will be wondering why hadn’t you started using this framework earlier.
Foundation is one of the leading front-end frameworks on the planet right now. This ultra responsive frameworks provides rapid design solutions for those wishing to build websites, email templates, and web/mobile applications without having to invest all life’s savings into hiring professional developers. Foundation is easy to learn, and with the help of its extensive tutorials section there’s nothing stopping anyone from becoming a Foundation master over the course of a couple of weeks.
Check in with the documentation to learn more about the style guide, as well as the available components that fall under the categories of layouts, navigation, media, typography, controls, libraries, containers, plugins and SASS.
CSS designers are most definitely people with good taste, and it comes as no surprise that in order to make a good CSS framework, the creator himself has to understand that CSS designers want to have the freedom to create the kind of creatively flowing inspiration that constantly occupies their brain. Cascade offers semantic and non-semantic grid layouts, base templates, table designs, navigation elements, typography and lots, lots more. The universal approach allows designers/developers to create high-performance web pages for both old and new web browsers without having to worry about browser compatibility or other peculiarities.
Many have found Cascade so useful because of its modular approach to using specific features within your projects. Cascade allows you to choose only the most important components necessary for your projects, letting you minimize the size while also keep the productivity at the higher levels. It’s much like Bootstrap, just with a lot more control over the way your designs flow.
Baseguide is a minimal and lightweight CSS3 framework that’s built on top of SASS. It puts together the essential components of a web design into a tiny, yet solid library. All components are fully responsive and can be scaled to your own project requirements. Control your forms only with native CSS.
Siimple is a concise, flexible, beautiful, certainly minimal, front-end CSS framework that serves as the foundation for building FLAT and clean design web pages. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make a good website. The actual framework is built only with 250ish lines of code, and can be zipped down to 6KB in total size; very useful for those who perhaps are just starting out with web design and need a framework base upon which to experiment freely.
Responsive Cat is a CSS micro framework that utilizes Stylus as the foundation for building syntax. Fully responsive and compatible with all modern devices and browsers. The English version of the site is being reworked.
CSS in itself is not a big or heavy language, it can definitely take up quite a bit of space over time as we begin to write and style more of our functions and core concepts within our designs, but most of the CSS frameworks that we find today are usually tiny, minimal, and generally lightweight. Sculpt is also one of those lightweight frameworks, giving priority to mobile and responsive designs, Sculpt has been built specifically to serve mobile devices with the appropriate device screen sizes, while enabling customization through Media Queries.
Sculpt’s mission is to help developers, designers and the curious to better serve their mobile visitors through a simple framework that enables to rapidly build a functional concept of a mobile website. Even those visitors who will visit your site from outdated browsers will have some sort of ability to experience a mobile version of your website thanks to Sculpt’s vision and understanding of the number of people who still use these older versions.
Clean and semantic code are Sculpt’s aspirations, and when it comes to typography — Sculpt developers understand how important it can be to provide an experience that’s loud and clear; Sculpt’s included stylesheet is based on a 25 pixel typographic baseline. All headings, paragraphs and lists are designed around this baseline and so everything lines up nicely.
Turret is a rapid website developement framework that uses LESS for processing the modern CSS3 functions, but the framework itself normalizes all of the HTML to make developing with Turret fun and accessible. The main areas of focus are responsive web design, on concise design principles and standards to ensure high-quality choices, HTML5 semantic style use to focus on simplicity, as well as general semantic markup to help convert HTML5 semantic markup in functional designs without the need to feel frustrated.
Concise CSS’s a lightweight front-end design framework that gives its users access to a great deal of development features, without the extra fat. Concise is built based on Object-Oriented CSS principles and keeps semantics in mind to provide a small learning curve, and a high level of customization. The framework provides a simple development environment where there is no need for extra styles to be added, giving you more space to build, rather than to observe. A library of addons is available that can be used as additional components for your projects. Written using SASS — the leading world’s pre-processor.
Whenever an update is pushed, all you have to do is update just the most important core files, your already established styles remain untouched. Needless to say, this framework is very appealing because of the friendly staff that manages the project, as they’re offering free support for anyone who might need help with making the most of out Concise’s set of features.
Dive deep within Blueprint — a CSS3 framework specifically designed to help you eliminate the extensive hours of development time necessary to build beautiful and responsive websites. It begins with an easy to use and customize grid platform to serve as the foundation for your web designs.
An in-built library of typography features will ensure all your fonts and font sizes are always in-alignment with the rest of your design. There’s a sleeve of scripts that can be used to custom-customize your designs, and no need to worry about design inflation — everything’s aimed at simplicity.
There are also two pre-built themes to choose from — Gradient and Flat, both of which provide solid examples of all the UIkit components coming together in a single page, and it’s a nice playground for learning more about this very useful CSS3 framework. Browse the showcase section to learn more about the kind of sites that can be built using only the foundation of UIkit’s components and modules; there’s some really impressive stuff to be found. UIkit also provides its users with a number of tutorials for a much more relaxed learning curve.
Sometimes all we really need is a reliable, responsive and modern grid template to get our project going, and this is what Modest Grid excels at — providing its users a very concise grid templating system that will work well on modern devices, and provide a great foundation to begin plugging away elements and components from other frameworks, some of which may not offer a grid layout system in the first place. The framework is under active development, so expect to see improvements as CSS itself progresses.
Schema uses a module based approach to provide a flexible front-end development experience that’s meant to help designers and developers to build sophisticated user interfaces from the very beginning of the project. Because of the minimal nature of the framework, it’s important to note that the framework is meant to be used in a way that most suits your own requirements, rather than using an external source of advice.
To better understand how Schema uses the latest CSS3 features to help developers build complex web pages — go straight to the documentation and read through the very easy to digest docs that will leave a better imprint of Schema’s possibilities.
Metro style web design has definitely attracted a number of supporters over the last couple of years. Metro UI focuses solely on the Windows Metro-Style configuration that will let you build fast-paced front-end projects using beautiful metro style features. Metro UI uses the specification of Microsoft’s own metro style to build components like grids, styles, layouts, and more. It comes packed with more than twenty components, over three hundred useful icons to choose from, and is built on top of LESS pre-processor.
While there is a ton of admiration for the project, such as frequent updates and a fairly big community behind it, the author asks for anyone who can spare some change to make a donation to ensure the future of the framework.
Responsive Grid System is the last grid-based framework in our list. With the Responsive Grid System you can easily grid responsive website templates that can be styled right away. To make the process that much more easy for you, you can also use the in-built Grid Generator feature on the website itself to create grids on the fly. There’s also a library of pre-built templates for several different occasions. Brought to you by Graham Miller.
YAML has managed to stick around for over a decade now, and still functions as one of the most prominent CSS frameworks for front-end developers across the globe. YAML (Yet Another Multicolumn Layout) is a modular CSS framework for truly flexible, accessible and responsive websites. YAML is focussed on device independent screen design and provides bulletproof modules for flexible layouts. This is a perfect starting point and the key to truly responsive design.
Features include an elastic grid system for building a stable foundation for each of your designs, a toolkit for managing and building interactive forms, has been built on top of the latest standards for the web, optimized for rapid HTML5 and CSS3 development. Built using SASS.
Choosing the Right CSS Framework for Your Next Project
CSS is an evolving language, and keeping up to date with the latest revelations can sometimes prove to be rather difficult. A framework helps to bridge the gap between having to write each and every single query yourself, and having a library to do it for you. CSS frameworks fall under many categories (as you saw in the post itself), such as typography, CSS reset, UI elements, global styles, and responsive grids. All of which can be used separately or combined for a rapid website building environment, or prototyping if you prefer.
CSS frameworks are also great at solving problems between cross-browser and cross-device compatibility; ensuring that your websites will look equally good (as well as function equally good) on any kind of device that’s trying to access it. Most if not all of today’s newly built CSS frameworks guarantee an inclusion of responsive design patterns for rapid development, and when it comes to developing within a team environment — CSS frameworks allow a number of developers to work on a project together, at a much quicker pace; which then allows to save up some development time, and ultimately save budget as well.
Building your own CSS framework is also a possibility, not only will that propel your learning experience with the language, you will have a much more clear idea how other frameworks are being built and structured.