Icon Button CSS Styling Guide

Originally posted May 12, 2020 on DEV Written by Stephanie Eckles

This is the tenth post in a series examining modern CSS solutions to problems I've been solving over the last 13+ years of being a frontend developer.

This guide will build on the previous episode "CSS Button Styling Guide" to explore the use case of icon buttons. We'll cover icon + text as well as icon-only buttons.


Note: With SVG now having excellent support, the preferred practice is to use it for icon systems vs. icon fonts. We will not dive into SVGs specifically, but we will assume SVG icons are in use.

Icon + Text Button#

First, let's do the easier extend from our current buttons, and drop an svg icon next to the text:

<a href="javascript:;" class="button">
<svg class="button__icon" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"
viewBox="0 0 32 32" aria-hidden="true" focusable="false">

<path d="M32 12.408l-11.056-1.607-4.944-10.018-4.944 10.018-11.056 1.607 8 7.798-1.889 11.011 9.889-5.199 9.889 5.199-1.889-11.011 8-7.798z"></path>
</svg>
Button Link
</a>

There are 3 key features about the SVG for the icon + text use case:

  1. Use of a new button__icon class
  2. The viewBox value is tight to the icon boundaries, ideally a square for best results across the icon set even if the values have variance (ex. 24 vs. 32)
  3. For accessibility, we apply:

For more on accessibility of icon buttons: Read this excellent article by Sara Soueidan who is an expert on both accessibility and SVGs

Icon Styling for Icon + Text#

Due to display: inline-flex applied on the base .button, and no width attribute on the SVG, by default the icon is not yet visible.

So let's first add dimensions to our new .button__icon class, using the em unit to keep it relative to the font-size in use:

.button__icon {
// You may wish to have your icons appear larger
// or smaller in relation to the text
width: 0.9em;
height: 0.9em;
}

button icon with dimensions

According to the spec default, SVG parts including path have a fill of black. To adjust this, we will use the special keyword currentColor which will extend the button's applied text color to the SVG:

.button__icon {
// ...existing styles
fill: currentColor;
}

button icon with currentColor as fill

The last thing to adjust is to add a bit of spacing between the icon and button text, which we will again apply using the em unit:

.button__icon {
// ...existing styles
margin-right: 0.5em;
}

button icon with spacing applied

We need to add one utility class to allow the icon to be placed after the text, or at the "end" of the button (for right-to-left languages). We zero out the existing margin, and flip it to the left:

.button__icon {
// ... existing styles

&--end {
margin-right: 0;
margin-left: 0.5em;
}
}
<a href="javascript:;" class="button">
Button Link
<svg class="button__icon button__icon--end" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"
viewBox="0 0 32 32" aria-hidden="true" focusable="false">

<path d="M32 12.408l-11.056-1.607-4.944-10.018-4.944 10.018-11.056 1.607 8 7.798-1.889 11.011 9.889-5.199 9.889 5.199-1.889-11.011 8-7.798z"></path>
</svg>
</a>

icon placed at the end of the button

Icon-Only Buttons#

We're going to make the assumption that we want both regular buttons (with or without icons) in addition to icon-only buttons. This is important because we will reuse the .button class in addition to a new class so that we don't have to redefine the resets and base visual styles. The overrides are minimal.

<a href="javascript:;" class="button icon-button" aria-label="Icon-only Button">
<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 0 32 32"
aria-hidden="true" class="icon-button__icon" aria-hidden="true" focusable="false">

<path d="M32 12.408l-11.056-1.607-4.944-10.018-4.944 10.018-11.056 1.607 8 7.798-1.889 11.011 9.889-5.199 9.889 5.199-1.889-11.011 8-7.798z"></path>
</svg>
</a>

Changes from the icon + text button:

  1. Addition of the icon-button class to the a
  2. Addition of aria-label="Icon-only Button" to provide an accessible text alternative since we have removed the visual text
  3. Swap of the class on the SVG to icon-button__icon

Important: the value of the aria-label should describe what the button does not what the icon is. For further reading and other ways to provide a text alternative, see Sara Soueidan's article

Here's what we get before adjustments - an empty-looking button because we're back to the no-width problem:

pre-styled icon button

First, let's create our new class. Due to the "C" in CSS, this rule needs to be placed after the .button rule:

.icon-button {
width: 2.5rem;
height: 2.5rem;
border-radius: 50%;
padding: 0.35em;

&__icon {
width: 100%;
height: 100%;
fill: currentColor;
}
}

We define a new width and height which is completely adjustable based on your design requirements, but it should equate to a square. This allows creation of a "circle" appearance when border-radius: 50% is applied.

Then, we add a touch of padding (again to your tastes/design requirements) to add some breathing room between the SVG icon and the button boundary.

Next, we define our icon-button__icon class. The difference here is that we want the width and height to match that of the container, so we set this to 100%. This allows extending to multiple size icon-only buttons by only redefining the font-size property on the .icon-button class.

Here's the progress:

icon-only button styles

It's not quite what we want, but we can fix it by adjusting the following properties within the .button class. We'll use the :not() selector to exclude the properties meant only for regular buttons:

.button {
// ...existing styles

// Find these styles and update, not duplicate:
&:not(.icon-button) {
padding: 0.25em 0.75em;
min-width: 10ch;
min-height: 44px;
}
}

Now we have what we're after:

completed icon-only button

Demo#

Includes use of the .button--small class created in the previous episode, as well as a "real button" to validate that styles work just as well for both elements:

By Stephanie Eckles (@5t3ph)

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