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webbureaucrat

from legacy to functional and very little in between.

Designers and front-end folks! How do you name colors?

In my back-end life, naming values that get reused is important to maintaining clean code, but somehow I keep turning my CSS variables into spaghetti. I've tried three basic strategies, none of which seem to work quite right for me.

Naming by Usage

:root
{
--color-h1-background: #cecec0;
--color-h1-text: #405199;
--color-main-text: #666258;
...
}

There are a couple of problems with this one. One is: it doesn't really lend itself to reusage of colors. If I want to use --color-main-text for, say, the navigation menu background, I would have to

  1. .nav { background-color: var(--color-main-text); }
    This is bad because it means --color-main-text is misleadingly named. My future self would try to change the color of text and end up also changing the nav menu.

  2. Define another variable with the same value. I think there's some value in this because if all my variables are defined together at the top, I can clearly see each place where a certain color is used. The downside is it means if I need to make a thematic change that changed every instance of that color, I'd have to manually change the value of each variable.

Name by color

I'm tempted to name my color variables by naming the actual color. In other words, I could name a --color-brown and a --color-teal for the particular brown and blue that go with my theme.

I like this because it's probably the most readable solution--I can look at --color-brown anywhere in my stylesheet and clearly call to mind the exact shade of brown I'm using.

The problem is that if I ever needed to make a significant change in my theme, let's say from a brown-based theme to a navy one, I'd have to find and replace the variable name everyplace it was used.

Abstract Naming

My favorite way of naming is the most abstract--that is, naming colors based on their role within the theme by designating one color as a primary color and then defining accents and highlights and so forth in relation to that theme.

The problem is that I too quickly run out of these kinds of names (possibly relating to the simple fact that I don't know jack about this subject and am just making it up as I go). So far I've come up with:

:root
{
--color-primary: ...
--color-highlight: ...
--color-lowlight: ...
--color-negative-space: ...
--color-accent: ...
}

I like this because it seems the most open to change. I could entirely switch themes just by changing these values, and all the variable names would still make sense.

The problem is it quickly devolves as I continue to add colors, including shades of each of these, and I end up being pushed into one of the other strategies.

Feel free to give me a hand!

Do you have a naming scheme you really like? Are there more abstract color names I should know? Am I just thinking too hard about this?

How do you plan for changes within your color scheme?

@ me with your help if you can!

I write to learn, so I welcome your constructive criticism. Report issues on GitLab.

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