Using Modular Scale to Achieve Consistent Design

One of the first things that I learned as a developer trying to improve my design skills is that spacing makes a huge difference for the visual design of a site. It seemed counterintuitive to me that we need to design our whitespace since it is the part of our page which actually does not have any content. However, I quickly found out that choosing a well thought out spacing scheme can drastically approve the appearance of the site, even we do nothing else.

For my new spacing scale, I wanted to try out Modular Scale. The website provides a calculator to choose different bases and ratios to come up with a spacing scale.

I intentionally chose 1.125rem (18px) for my font size because I believe that having a larger font size than average (the browser default is 1rem or 16px) improves the readability of the site. I wanted to use this value for my modular scale as well, so I set that as my base and tried out a few different ratios to see what values they would produce. After a few attempts, I settled on using the golden section for my ratio. The full scale can be seen here.

I was already using spacing variables in order to define the different spacings on my site. I like using variables with T-Shirt size labels so that I have a limited selection of spacing values that I can use. Using the new values that I generated from my modular scale, my spacing variables (which I define using CSS properties) now are defined as follows:

:root {
  --space-xxs: 0.266rem;
  --space-xs: 0.43rem;
  --space-sm: 0.695rem;
  --space-md: 1.125rem;
  --space-lg: 1.82rem;
  --space-xl: 2.945rem;
  --space-xxl: 4.765rem;

Since I was already using spacing variables, modifying the CSS properties meant that all of my whitespace was automatically using the new scale.

I also wanted to be intentional about choosing font-sizes for my design which also correspond to the same scale. This is the mistake which I made with the previous design which made it look… not quite as harmonious as I would desire.

My new font sizes are as follows:

:root {
  --font-size-sm: 0.695rem; // For small text, tags, etc.
  --font-size-md: 1.125rem; // Base font size
  --font-size-lg: 1.82rem;  // For headings
  --font-size-xl: 2.945rem; // For h1 tag

I really like the effect on large viewports with the really big headings, but I also found that on mobile the text was a bit too large for the viewport.

To modify this, I created variable font sizes which add vw units to a base size. For instance, for the --font-size-xl Variable that I want to use for my h1 tags, I can write the following CSS:

:root {
  --font-size-xl-grow: min(var(--font-size-lg) + 2vw,

Here the var(--font-size-lg) + 2vw calculation means that my font size will start out at my base --font-size-lg and add two vw units to that value. Since 2vw is smaller on mobile than on a desktop or tablet with a wider viewport, the resulting text is smaller on mobile and fits better within the viewport.

I wrapped this calculation in a CSS min function with my previous value var(--font-size-xl). This provides a clamp on the value, so that as soon as var(--font-size-lg) + 2vw is larger than var(--font-size-xl), the --font-size-xl will be used.

The min function is pretty widely supported, but I did add an extra rule in my CSS with a hardcoded value for browsers that don’t support it yet.

h1 {
  font-size: 2.945rem; /* Fallback for older browsers */
  font-size: var(--font-size-xl-grow);

I made a similar calculation for --font-size-md-grow and --font-size-lg-grow which I want to use for h2 and h3 tags as well.

The final variable spacings are as follows:

:root {
  --font-size-md-grow: min(var(--font-size-md) + 1vw,
  --font-size-lg-grow: min(var(--font-size-md) + 2vw,
  --font-size-xl-grow: min(var(--font-size-lg) + 2vw,

I think this strikes a pretty nice balance in having a variable font size, but one which still is based on the same spacing scale as the other values in the design. Feel free to take a look at my about page which I use as my personal design playground to see the effect.