Skip to content

10 reasons to use Theme-UI in your next Gatsby project

Eric Howey March 25, 2020

Combining Theme-UI with Gatsby has been a huge productivity win for me; design tokens, quick mobile styles, a robust component library and more. I am building every new project using Theme-UI and here are 10 reasons I think you should consider it too.

Consistent design system

At the heart of Theme-UI is a theme specification file which includes key-value pairs for CSS properties like line-height, font-family, color, etc. Where the theme specification really shines however is in higher level design abstractions like space which apply to any CSS property which defines a space such as padding, margin, grid-gap, etc. Space is defined as an array of values such as space: [0rem, 0.25rem, 0.5rem, 1rem, 2rem, 4rem]. You can then reference these values by their array index: margin: 0, padding: 3 is equivalent to margin: 0rem; padding: 1rem. This makes it easy to keep your design consistent, no more elements with one-off margins and paddings!

You can check out the theme specification file for this site on GitHub to see an example of a what a complete file looks like.

Great documentation

Theme-UI has excellent documentation. The getting started guide is clear. The organization is logical. The code examples are concise. Complex ideas are broken down into small bite-sized chunks. When you get stuck you can find the answers.

This is one of those small-but-big things that tells you how committed and purposeful the developers have been in the Theme-UI project.

Design tokens

Design tokens enable you to quickly swap colors, fonts, spacing and more across an entire website. This feature is becoming increasingly common in modern web development architecture and is deeply supported in Theme-UI. In Theme-UI design tokens are managed in a central theme specification file and altering design is one change in one file versus many changes in many files.

Here is an example with colors.

Theme specification file:

export default {
colors: {
primary: "blue", // Change me to "yellow"
secondary: "green", // Change me to "pink"
},

Example Component:

/** @jsx jsx */
import { jsx } from "theme-ui"
const ChangeColors = () => {
return (
<div
sx={{
height: "300px",
width: "300px",
backgroundColor: "primary",
padding: 4,
}}
>
<p
sx={{
color: "secondary",
}}
>
Go ahead and change those colors!
</p>
</div>
)
}
export default ChangeColors

Array syntax for media queries

Writing media queries in CSS has always been a bit awkward and longwinded for complex designs. Theme-UI offers an elegant and effective solution to this problem for most use cases and fallback support for traditional queries if you need it. Media queries the Theme-UI way you define a set of breakpoints in your theme specification file, such as `breakpoints: [“480px”, “768px”, “1024px”]. Then you use an array syntax directly in your component to define the styles between each breakpoint.

Here is an example with changing colors at different breakpoints:

/** @jsx jsx */
import { jsx } from "theme-ui"
const Breakpoints = () => {
return (
<p
sx={{
// 0 - 480px: Green
// 480px - 768px: Red
//768px - 1024px: Red
//1024px and up: Blue
color: ["green", "red", null, "blue"],
}}
>
That was some easy media queries!
</p>
)
}
export default Breakpoints

Styled component

Theme-UI works automagically with MD and MDX files - the styles defined in the theme specification are applied without any further setup needed. However you will likely need to access your styles outside of markdown in a component; enter the Styled component from Theme-UI. This provides a way to “hook” into your Theme-UI styles from anywhere in your application. The syntax is also easy to remember which is a bonus - for example <Styled.p> or <Styled.h3> or <Styled.ul>.

Here is an example applying it to a header:

/** @jsx jsx */
import { jsx, Styled } from "theme-ui"
const StyledFun = () => {
return <Styled.h1>Got my theme styles!</Styled.h1>
}
export default StyledFun

Variants

Variants provide a quick way to change element styles without having to shadow or replace an entire component. Imagine you want to change the color of your site title - variants allow you to do this without altering the original component. This enables a pathway for users to make simple design changes to without rewriting whole files.

Original component with a variant:

/** @jsx jsx */
import { jsx, Styled } from "theme-ui"
const SiteTitle = () => {
return (
<Styled.h1
sx={{
color: "red",
variant: "variants.siteTitle",
}}
>
My Awesome Site
</Styled.h1>
)
}
export default SiteTitle

Theme specification file:

export default {
// Other styles would be in this file as well
variants: {
siteTitle: {
color: "green", // Now it is green, not red
},
}

Dark mode API

Theme-UI makes creating a dark mode on your website straightforward and yet again includes excellent documentation on color modes. In short you define a dark color scheme in your theme file using the modes object and then access the useColorMode hook from Theme-UI to change state and toggle between light and dark modes on your site. You can set it to respect user preferences for dark mode and you can also define a name for the initial color mode - both of which are useful additions to the API.

Here is a simple example of a dark and light mode color scheme:

export default {
useColorSchemeMediaQuery: true,
initialColorModeName: "light",
colors: {
background: "white",
text: "black",
modes: {
dark: {
background: "black",
text: "white",
},
},
},
}

Theme presets

Theme-UI provides a number of theme presets which can be used as a base theme and customized to meet your design. For example if you like working with Tailwind there is a Tailwind preset you can use. These presets give you a starting point that you can leverage, versus creating something custom from scratch.

Here is an example of importing a theme preset:

import { tailwind } from "@theme-ui/preset-tailwind"
export default {
...tailwind, // Gives you the entire preset
colors: {
...tailwind.colors, // Gives you the tailwind color presets
background: "teal", // Overrides the default background
primary: "blue", // Overrides the default primary color
},
}

Component library

The authors of Theme-UI are building a custom component library that is preconfigured to accept Theme-UI design tokens and variants. At the time of writing they have 25 components and growing covering most common use cases. My favourite component is <Grid /> which provides a quick way to implement a grid layout with an intuitive API.

Here is an example of a grid layout using Theme-UI components:

<Grid gap={2} columns={[2, null, 4]}>
<Box bg="primary">Theme</Box>
<Box bg="secondary">UI</Box>
<Box bg="primary">Is</Box>
<Box bg="secondary">Awesome!</Box>
</Grid>

Syntax highlighting

Theme-UI makes implementing syntax (or code) highlighting on your site possible and as always they provide good documentation about implementing syntax highlighting. Similar to themes there are a number of different presets available including one that will match your syntax highlighting colors with colors from your theme!

No need for an example here - you have been looking at examples of while reading this post!

Wrapping up

Whatever your next Gatsby project - I hope this gives you some inspiration to try out Theme-UI in it. It is a tool I am consistently impressed with and a great developer experience. I would love to hear about what you build and what you like best about Theme-UI!

If you want to read a bit more about Theme-UI and Gatsby here are a few other helpful resources:

Happy coding!


Illustrations by Diana Valeanu
Design inspired by Gatsby-Absurd
© 2020 eric howey