Improving Tufte CSS for Jekyll
Breaking down the improvements to both speed and performance made to my ET-Jekyll theme step-by-step.
After creating the ET-Jekyll theme almost two years ago, I finally got around to revamping the structure and improving a lot of minor performance issues.
I’ve always been a sucker for Edward Tufte’s incredibly simple, yet powerful design work used in his books and handout projects. So, in 2018 I released a Tufte CSS inspired Jekyll theme for the open source community. I called it ET-Jekyll (so original, I know). Tufte CSS was a great starting point for my Jekyll theme, but there were areas I thought could use some minor improvements.
Feel free to read all the details on the design here: ET-Jekyll theme details
Minor Fixes One Year Later
When I finally circled back to this project recently, I noticed some minor issues that could be improved right away with little to no effort. Let’s see the changes made at a glance:
- Sidenote, marginnote and figure element restyling (flexbox)
- Table styling fixes (right alignment issues)
- Switch MathJax over to SVG embeds (performance fixes)
- Simplify HTML skeleton of main pages, remove overkill classes
- Remove lazysizes.js to save on load times
- Fallback on font-display for font loading
- Inline all CSS for faster initial paint
- Minor link :hover coloring (accessibility)
- Add missing image link on example page
- Update details post structure
You can view all the updates in more detail here.
So what did this accomplish? Let’s break it down below.
First Contentful Paint & Input Delay
The new improvements have netted the theme a savings of 300ms on first paint and reduced the input delay by 150ms. Small wins - but wins nonetheless since every millisecond counts.
Fixing Render Blocking Items
The original theme reported a few items that were slowing down the initial render for the end-users:
These items were resolved by:
- Rendering all styling inline (therefore removing the extra HTTP request)
- Removing the lazysizes library altogether (browsers plan to support lazy loading natively in the future)
- The future plan is to integrate something like Cloudinary for out-of-the-box image processing
- Switch over MathJax to render equations as embedded SVGs (saves on bandwidth rendering an entire extra typeface)
Though it might not look like much, the updated theme receives a 4-point boost to its performance rating during a Lighthouse audit. Having a perfect score would be even better, but I can settle for 2-points under (for now).
This project could still use some more fine-tuning, but for now I’m fairly happy with the outcome. Even the smallest boost in performance and rendering time makes me feel like I accomplished something worthwhile.
Please don’t hesitate to suggest features or point out any issues you happen to stumble across if you plan to use ET-Jekyll. Thanks for reading!