10 reasons the image format SVG is rocking the internet
By Matt Lipman ✦ January 30, 2018
Imagine sending email by typing in MS Word and sending the message over as a screenshot. Seems silly, right? But for many web designers, artists, and bloggers, that’s been our situation when designing vector graphics. You could compose scalable icons, but would need to export them as raster images for websites. Many logos were originally created in Illustrator, but then designers crop them and save them as .JPGs and .PNGs for web destinations. Resizing and/or changing a color became an entire process that started with going back to the source file, which is the MS Word document in my email analogy. You would make the desired changes, output the series of images, and re-upload all those files to your server.
Thankfully, that’s all changed. While scalable vector graphics (SVG) were introduced in 2001, only recently has the image format displayed consistently on the web, leading me to the first reason why the SVG format is kicking data and taking names.
Why SVGs are made of dreams
1) SVGs are widely supported
2) SVGs are speedy
SVGs are generally small in file size, and thus download faster than raster images. Also, inline SVG code can be placed in HTML directly and cut down on server requests. You need millions of pixels to fill a screen with a digital photograph on common-sized monitors, while you can make colorful full-screen SVG backgrounds with a fraction of the file size.
3) SVGs scale perfectly
They’re scalable – it’s in the name. With responsive design becoming the new norm over the last ten years, websites need to consider various screen sizes. Graphics that scale automatically are a welcome tool on the web for this very reason. Raster graphics —think JPGs, PNGs, and GIFs— on the other hand, cannot scale bigger without becoming blurry. And even though you can shrink photos on websites decently, your browser is downloading an image at the bigger than necessary file-size.
4) SVGs are high resolution
They look great at any resolution, and that’s important as higher-resolution devices become more popular. Your computer lacks the fictional CSI software that can zoom into images beyond their resolution without pixelation or getting blurry. Raster photos are composed of colored squares within a grid, unlike SVGs which are calculated through math to fit the current screen resolution.
5) SVGs can be styled through CSS
CSS is the way to style websites, and it is more powerful than ever. You can even style raster images, though effects target the entire image and may not be very practical. Like, how many websites really need to display an inverted image or change the hue? Blurs, opacity, sepia, grayscale, and brightness may have a place, though it is more common for designers to style elements around image, such as a colorful image overlay. SVGs on the other hand are written in XML and that means you can target bits and pieces that make up the entire SVG. You can change the color of an icon or re-position the direction of an arrow within an icon. You could hide and show reusable vector stars as part of a rating system. You can place many of these properties on mouse hovers for easy animations, which brings us to the next point…
6) SVGs can be animated
Raster images can look impressive, but unless you delve into video or gifs that come with large file sizes, animating digital photos is limited. Unlike raster images, SVGs are made up of smaller parts that can be manipulated. Picture a simple smiley face. In the SVG format, there would likely be a yellow circle for the head, perhaps two black circles for eyes, along with a curved line for a mouth. You could target any of those shapes to animate, and could make an eye wink by simply decreasing its height.
A more practical use is animating company logos. Many years ago, you were limited in hover effects. If a website visitor hovered over a logo, perhaps using a transparent .png logo, you could animate the background changing color. Now, with SVG, you can spin the logo mark, while changing letter color in delayed succession, and increasing the logo’s overall size.
7) SVGs can be rearranged easily
When preparing images for the web, the dimensions are often determined by the destination. Sometimes one website will want your image as a square – like Instagram – while others require portrait or landscape orientations. With raster images, you may have to crop images in ways that hide certain elements. However, with vector graphics, you can simply re-position and re-size elements around varying dimensions.
If you download free stock photographs and free vector graphics, you can make color edits to match your company branding. With vector graphics, you can do it with the click of a button, but with raster images, you have to work to recolor section by section.
8) SVGs support transparency
Not all raster formats allow transparency, and those that do come with some drawbacks liked jagged edges with .GIF or hefty file-size with PNG. Transparency works well with SVGs, and is one of the main reasons I use SVGs for company logos on websites. It allows simple hover effects for the background of the logo. Transparency is a great way to break away from rectangular graphics and blocky websites. It is easy to see, transparency is great.
9) SVGs are great for readability
How common are hero images? Hero images are those full-screen images (or videos) that welcome visitors on websites, especially on homepages. Often, text appears over the visual, and even though it’s usually large and bold, sometimes readability is sacrificed in the name of hip visuals. SVGs integrate into websites in a way that doesn’t force designers to place text over them. Photographs come with boundaries, whereas you can simply pull specific elements of imagery onto the webpage in a way that you can’t with photographs.
Regardless, for a fair comparison, let’s assume the imagery takes up the whole screen whether as a raster or vector graphic. In either case, there are certain visual choices that can help or hurt readability. You obviously shouldn’t put white text over very light imagery. You also shouldn’t place thin or intricate fonts over imagery that has varying jumps of high contrast, such as text over a bare tree. This last point is where SVG shines. Photography comes with fine details, noise, and uneven contrasts that are not ideal to overlay with text. SVGs, however, often use flat design and solid colors, which are more suitable behind text. With responsive design, text over images doesn’t always line-up consistently from device to device, so it is important that background visuals contain less noise.
10) SVGs stand out
In a world where seemingly everyone carries around a device that hosts TWO camera lenses, photographic imagery is widely used on amateur and professional websites alike. Everyone has access to free professional-grade photographs at their finger tips. There’s also Google images for those with no moral compass or fear of lawsuit. Photographs are more commonly used on websites than vector graphics, so if you’re after a more unique look, you can give your customers a visually memorable experience with custom SVGs tailored to your business.
There are reasons most logos are designed with vector editing software like Adobe Illustrator. Great logos distill a complex concept into an easily understandable visual mark. Vector graphics can send a visual message with precision – cutting the background noise and blurry interpretation that often comes with photography.
SVGs are scaleable, small in file-size, high definition, well-supported, and great for readability. They can also be customized, styled through CSS, animated, transparent, translucent or opaque, and the perfect way to standout from competition. SVGs are awesome, but not perfect. Unlike Franks Red Hot Sauce, you might not what to put that on everything. SVGs aren’t suitable in every situation. Because they’re not 100% compatible in email yet and they often have a highly illustrative style, SVGs may not be right for every brand’s website. That said, this visual format is an underutilized powerhouse that is finding its place across the internet. SVGs have won my heart. They will soon win your heart too.
In the days of dial-up modems, website visitors were rather patient waiting for content to load, but in spite of that patience, webpages were still abandoned. You don’t have to be an expert to know that five minutes is too long for an average website to load. Most readers, I hope, would also think the same for a webpage that takes one minute. So, what is a reasonable load time for a website? This article hopes to answer that, as well as to provide tips on how to achieve fast load times.
The Speed Trap
Common internet speeds have increased by a magnitude of 100,000%. That is not a typo. 56k modems equate to 56 Kbps or 0.056 Mbps. 50Mbps internet speed plans are common in the US. Verizon even claims to provide “peak download speeds approaching 50 Mbps” on their mobile 4G LTE network. Common speeds are now 1000 times faster then dial-up modems. I said common. Some US cities have upgraded to fiber-optic cables and are currently reaching speeds close to one gigabit per second or 1,000 Mbps. By my calculations, that is one bat out of hell or 1,785,714% faster than a 56k modem.
We are at a time where internet speeds are blazing fast, but they’re also wildly varying. Even users who are accustomed to fast speeds may search on the go while in a spot that doesn’t get good reception. All of a sudden this user is on slow internet. Not only do you have to prepare for users with slower internet, you’ll need to consider that mobile users may occasionally experience poor reception.
Make it snappy; why speed matters
Fewer people wait for slow loading webpages. It’s no secret that, as we already mentioned, a slow website will cause people to lose patience and abandon a website because it is taking too long to load. With the lightning fast internet speeds that can be expected today, Akamai And JupiterResearch determined that average online shoppers won’t wait over four seconds for a webpage to load. That means a good portion of shoppers are already leaving well before the four second mark.
Other reasons to recognize the importance of website load time:
Google rankings – Website speed is a determining factor of which sites rank higher in Google’s search engine.
User experience – Even the users who last through a long load time will be frustrated right before they look at your content and brand.
Server stress – Huge resource-intensive tasks and files can consume your server’s bandwidth, which will slow everyone down more.
Long term effects – We’ve established that users struggling to connect to a website may leave, but the consequence over time is that less people will refer that website through links and word-of-mouth.
How to measure your website speed
You may ask yourself “how fast is my website?” Well, there are automated tests to help you determine exactly that. And best of all, they’re free.
There are many factors that determine your load time, from server speed to content file size. While we will look at some of those today, we’ll save a more in-depth look for another blog post. To catch the most common and addressable hindrances to achieving a fast website, we can call on some experts to analyze your website. In doing so, you’ll be graded on website speed performance, and before you know it, you will be well on your way to making speed improvements.
Input your website or specific webpage URL into the following three tools:
Keep in mind that reaching a grade of A+ on all three tools is likely a waste of time. That is not the ultimate goal. The goal is to make your website reasonably fast, without having to painstakingly address every issue. Focus, especially initially, on the low-effort issues with a high return in increased speed.
The biggest takeaways from the tests are your actual loading time, page size, and the number of requests. If your page is taking over 2 seconds to load, you should work to get that time down. If your page size is over 3MB, addressing file-size will likely result in a faster load time. I aim to keep webpages under 1MB, and even lower for mobile devices, which takes effort and strategic decisions. Lastly, requests are the files being “requested” from a server by the webpage. This includes scripts, images, fonts, and more. The less calls to the server, the faster a server can respond to the queue of requests. Keep this under 100 requests, and ideally much fewer than that.
Ways to improve website speed in a flash
Individuals are willing to wait varying times before ditching a loading webpage. Thus, it makes sense to ensure your website loads in the blink of an eye, or at least ASAP. After running your website through any of those three speed tests, you may have gotten some suggestions on how to go about speeding up your website. Here are great ways to implement speed optimization techniques:
Reduce use of bulky, unnecessary files
Full screen images can be beautiful, but the cost is hefty file size. Can you achieve a similar result with CSS, SVG (scalable vector graphics), or smaller images? In one fell swoop, some website owners can cut their load time in half, by avoiding the use of unnecessarily large content. In one case, an owner asked me for feedback, and I pointed out the video background that greeted his website visitors. While it was nice visually, that one file was 20MB, which is 17 times bigger than the entire Bump Set Creative homepage. The owner’s site took ages to completely load for a non-critical component of the website, without a fallback. Why didn’t the owner notice this? After the video loads the first time, it is stuck in your browser’s cache, which means the content is preloaded for future loads.
Split up content among multiple pages
Designing for the web changed when mobile devices were introduced. Simplifying navigation and scrolling both encouraged the rise of parallax design and one-page web design. These techniques lead to cramming everything on one webpage, which can create a dilemma for page file size. Lazy-load elements and other solutions try to negate the effect of compiling more content on single pages. Sometimes, however, the best solution is to require an extra click. For instance, Bump Set Creative originally had a contact form at the very bottom of the homepage as an attempt to encourage quote requests. At the same time, a small percentage of visitors used the form, while it utilizes the large 148 Kb reCAPTCHA API script and sends 17 server requests upon load. The trade-off of an extra click is warranted and it makes sense to limit the API call strictly to a contact page, because we get much better speed performance for the majority of users.
Display smaller images for small screens
Responsive design should not fixate strictly on resizing content to the current screen width. Mobile-friendly design should consider file size for displayed content as well. One trick I often use is displaying images as a background image. Then, with the magic of CSS a website can show different images at different screen sizes. This means, I will show a small image or no image by default, but will show a larger image when I detect a larger screen size. Remember that desktops more consistently have a better internet connection, so you want to be increasingly critical in your content choice for mobile browsers.
Optimize your files
After you determine the images and files that are necessary for your website, make sure they are optimized. Websites like tinyjpg.com can decrease file size, without damaging image quality noticeably, in many cases better than photoshop. I use SVG OMG for reducing SVG file size, which removes the unnecessary markup that Illustrator can add to SVG files and while keeping the code human readable.
Compress and minimize production-ready code
Coders are humans who need white-space to organize code into a readable format. Computers can read a blob of code just fine. Even more, use gzip or some form of compression, which serves to write code more efficiently by finding patterns and repetitions that can be described in a shorter way.
Eliminate render blocking elements
Faster than a speeding bullet
Final thoughts from a friend who knows a thing or two about speed: “meep meep.”
There are always trade-offs when it comes to website speed. You can get the speediest website by not using images and writing strictly plain HTML, but then you may end up with a website that doesn’t function, looks awful, and can be hard to manage. If you want to have a great website, then great content and functionality are a must. Making smart decisions will bring together the best of both worlds.
You have a website for a reason. You want visitors to get the information they need, often with the ultimate goal of converting into sales or making some other important actions.
Would you expect a visitor to call your business if you didn’t list your phone number? That’s what it’s like to a user who cannot access your website as intended. Even if the right information is present on your website, users can be discouraged from searching if there are obstacles in the way. Sometimes, from a visitors standpoint, it is easier to look elsewhere for similar or competing information.
You may have contemplated why you need a mobile website, here are the top ten reasons to ensure your website is mobile friendly:
10. Desktop features can fail on mobile
9. The user experience is very important
Even if all your website content works correctly on both desktop and mobile, your visitors experience will suffer if your website is not tailored to mobile devices. You are requiring them to zoom, read tiny text, scroll sporadically, and use an interface that might require pin-point precision or multiple attempts to click a desired button.
8. Load times are different
Mobile devices often connect to the internet on the go. They don’t always have the convenience of a home network that gets fast internet. Expecting your website to load quickly on a bad network connections is naive. Mobile design optimizes load time by shrinking file sizes, cutting unnecessary content and removing certain design elements or graphics.
7. Adults stay near their smartphone
91% of American adults keep their smartphone within arm’s reach. Smartphones are changing the way people interact with the world, and more and more people are gaining access to smartphones. Your business cannot simply ignore the fact that smartphones are highly integrated into people’s lives. (source: Morgan Stanley)
6. Mobile searches lead to action
9 of 10 mobile searches lead to action. More than half lead to sales. Mobile users are efficient with their time and ready to make a decision. When they are searching to find a restaurant, they are going to eat somewhere. When they are looking up a phone number, they already decided to call. They also buy products or tickets, look-up hours of operation, message businesses, and share or bookmark web content. (source)
5. Mobile users have specific goals
Mobile phones are called mobile for a reason, their users are usually on the go and often have one simple task. They might want your phone number, address, or hours. Catering your mobile site to address the most common on-the-go tasks can go a long way in satisfying the majority of those visits.
4. Mobile users have different expectations
Your desktop version might expect people to type paragraphs, or copy and paste text or other tasks which are overly complex or difficult on a mobile device. A mobile website can prepare for these situations by making a phone number clickable and so on.
3. Mobile devices are here to stay
Mobile devices are literally taking over the world. According to Pew Research Center, in October of 2014, “64% of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35% in the spring of 2011.” (source)
2. Mobile helps you stay competitive
If your competition has a mobile site and you don’t, you’re at a horrible disadvantage. If you have a mobile website, and some of your competition does not, you gain an edge and will likely gain some extra business.
1. Get more traffic though search engines
Google is favoring mobile-friendly websites on searches done on mobile devices. In Google’s own words (2/26/15): “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change … will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” (source)
What to do after deciding to be mobile-friendly
The decision is the first step, how to go about the conversion is the next step.
The two main routes to make a mobile-enabled website is through responsive design or a stand-alone mobile site. Bump Set Creative caters to small businesses who generally don’t have the time or resources to manage both a desktop and mobile website. Responsive websites take the same content, and change the layout to fit varying screen widths, making it ideal for a business to change all the content in one centralized place.