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Brittney Postma
Brittney Postma

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CSS Grid Basics and Responsive Web Design Preview

Responsive Layouts & Design

TLDR This post has codepens and interactive content that cannot be added on dev. For the best viewing experience, visit The Console Logs - Responsive Web Design or see the full workshop at ZTM Academy - Responsive Web Design Workshop.

Table of Contents

Hello, I'm Brittney Postma and I am happy to announce that I am joining the other amazing instructors at the ZTM Academy! I did a live workshop on Responsive Web Design that is available to all Academy students now! This article previews the workshop and gets you started on creating a beautiful and fluid web page.

"Every person, no matter what screen they are on, deserves a great user experience."

Basic Design Principles

What makes a good design? A good design should attract attention. Make it interesting and have a clear message that is present throughout the design. Have a consistent balance in margins and paddings to allow the eye to flow down the page. Then, when we break the rules (yes, there's a time to break the rules), it really makes a statement. There are 3 basic principles that I follow when creating responsive design. I start with the mobile design of the page, then create fluid grids and use relative units, and then add in media queries to adapt my layouts.

Mobile First Design

By starting with the mobile view of a website, we can see what is actually necessary for the design and clutter that needs to be cut out. The layout is usually simpler and allows us to visualize the content at a small scale. Mobile sites also tend to have more usability issues with touch inputs and swiping. By starting with the mobile view, we can address these issues before they become a problem.

Fluid Grids & Relative Units

Using modern CSS tools, we can create grids that flow as a screen gets larger. We take advantage of the powers of Flexbox and Grid to their full potential. Along with those, we use relative units throughout our design. Instead of basing everything on the inflexible pixel, we can use a range of units like vw, vh, rems, ems, ch, and percentages that create a fluid page that looks great on any device.

Media Queries

There are far too many screen sizes today to worry about creating a design for each screen. With mobile first design, media queries are only used to adapt the layouts. By using a breakpoint only when an element needs to be adapted, rather than the size of the users screen, we reduce the amount of media queries and create a more fluid page. I write all of my base css to style the mobile view of the page and then use a min-width: 768px and min-width: 1024px breakpoints to change the grids in certain elements. This means less code I have to write and a more beautiful page.

Flexbox vs Grid

A question that keeps getting asked is should I use Flexbox or Grid? The answer is both! We should stop thinking about them as if we are choosing between frameworks like bootstrap or tailwind. Think about the pattern you need for the layout and use them in conjunction with one another. Flexbox is a one-dimensional system, it works either in a column or a row but not both. They are content-first and work well when distributing space and aligning content. Grid is two-dimensional working in both rows and columns. It is layout-first and works well on large scale layouts that aren't linear. Grid also allows you to define areas and the relationship between them. You can even next a grid in a flex container or the other way around.

Which layout method do you use the most?

a. CSS Grid

b. Flexbox

c. Tables

d. Floats

Grid Basics

What happens when we put display: grid on an element? At first glance, it looks like nothing changed. Well, that's because it is shorthand for display: block grid. There is a lesser used rule, display: inline-grid that would create an inline grid that is only the width of the content inside of it. Just by using display: grid on an item makes it a grid container and we get access to all the other grid properties. Plus it makes all of the children grid items that become part of the grid layout. At this point, we just have an implicit grid. To create a layout, we would need to define some columns and rows. By using grid-template-rows and grid-template-columns we can explicitly define that layout of the grid we want. Anything that falls outside of that, is still going to follow that implicit grid. Check out the codepen below and uncomment some of the properties to see how the grid changes.

See the Pen CSS Grid Starter by bDesigned
(@bdesigned) on CodePen.


Gap allows us to define the spacing or gutters between the items. The gap property, previously grid-gap, was renamed since it was added to the Flexbox spec as well. It can be defined for both rows and columns with gap or used as row-gap and column-gap to differentiate between the two.


Placement in grid at first glance can seem complicated, but let's break it down. There are two base properties for each axis, justify and align, then content places the container, and items places each grid item. The justify property is along the inline axis, or horizontal in grid. The align property is along the block axis, or vertical in grid. We can then combine justify-content and justify-items to place either the grid container or each item along the horizontal axis. Also, align-content and align-items can be used to place the container or each item along the vertical axis. Here's a list to visualize it.

  • justify-content - places the container along the inline axis, horizontal in grid. Options are start, end, center, stretch, or space-around.
  • justify-item - places each item/child along the inline axis, horizontal in grid. Options are start, end, center, or stretch.
  • align-content - places the container along the block axis, vertical in grid. Options are start, end, center, stretch, or space-around.
  • align-items - places each item/child along the block axis, vertical in grid. Options are start, end, center, or stretch.

If you want to place the container or items into the same place along both axes, the shortcut place-content or place-items can be used. For example, putting place-items: center on the grid will perfectly center each grid item and place-content: center would center the container based on the width and the height.


Along with placing the entire grid container or the items as a whole, each child or grid item can define where it should be placed in the grid with justify-self or align-self.

.grid {
  display: grid;
  gap: 1rem;

.grid-item {
  /* place at the end of the inline/horizontal axis */
  justify-self: end;
  /* place at the end of the block/vertical axis */
  align-self: end;
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There is also the ability to span a grid item across grid columns or rows.

.col12 {
  /* span across 12 columns */
  grid-column: span 12;
  /* span down 2 rows */
  grid-row: span 2;

.col6 {
  grid-column: span 6;

.col4 {
  grid-column: span 4;
  grid-row: span 2;

.col2 {
  grid-column: span 2;
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Explicit Grid

Everything we have talked about so far has fallen into the implicit grid, we never defined what we wanted our grid to look like. The properties that do this are grid-template-columns and grid-template-rows, or grid-template is the shortcut with rows / columns as the value. These are declared on the grid container and define what size of and how many columns and rows are wanted. Any unit can be used to define the size of each column and row. These create tracks, the space between two grid lines,

FR Unit

Grid also gives us access to another unit only useable in a grid container, the fr unit. The fr unit is short for fractional unit. Each fr unit defined is a fraction of the total size of the parent container. So if we had grid-template-columns: 1fr 2fr 1fr, the first column is 1/4, the middle column would be 2/4 (or 1/2 reduced), and the last column would be 1/4 of the size. The first and last column would be the same size and the middle column would be double the size of those.


There are functions that are only accessible in grid as well, the repeat() and minmax() functions are useable while defining the columns and rows. The repeat(quantity, size) function takes 2 arguments, the quantity and size for either grid columns or rows. The minmax(min-value, max-value) function also takes 2 arguments, but allows a minimum value and a maximum value to be defined for the columns and rows.

Fill vs Fit

Another concept used only in grid is auto-fill and auto-fit. These are used with the repeat() function and tell the grid algorithm to either automatically fill in more tracks or fit all the grid items across the container. This image shows what happens to the tracks between auto-fit and auto-fill.

tracks shown for auto-fit and auto-fill

In fact, all of these things can be combined and used together into what is commonly referred to as the "ram" function. That allows us to say either grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fill, minmax(min-size, max-size)) or grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fit, minmax(min-size, max-size)) depending on which layout method you want. This can be an extremely powerful function in making a layout responsive in one line of code. Here is a codepen showing auto-fill, auto-fit, and the ram function with auto-fit. Here is a codepen that shows the difference between ram with auto-fit and auto-fill.

See the Pen fit, fill, ram by bDesigned
(@bdesigned) on CodePen.


Thank you for reading, I really hope this helped clear up any confusion with grid basics. There is so much more that we dive into in the workshop, creating a full responsive website using these concepts. It is focused on teaching you how to deliver a fluid, consistent design using modern CSS tools and responsive web design best practices. By the end of the workshop, you will be able to make that happen!

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