Sunday, 12 June 2016

Simple styled labels

TL;DR - Define the various styles (font, colour, etc) of labels using subclasses
The apps we develop have text in different styles. These styles are reused across the app, e.g. all titles will be in Helvetica Neue Bold size 16. To make things easier, your designer may provide you with a typography stylesheet that defines all the styles used in the which looks something like this (probably with a fair few more combinations):
#FFFFFF (white)#000000 (black)#008000 (green)
Helvetica Neue Bold 16Header1
Helvetica Neue Regular 16Header2_whiteHeader2_black
Helvetica Neue Regular 12Body
Diving into the code, I generally define the fonts I'm using in a UIFont extension (category in Objective-C). For example:
The possible fonts and colour could then be defined in UIFont and UIColor categories. For example, the UIFont extension will look something like this:
extension UIFont {
  static func helveticaNeueBold(fontSize fontSize: CGFloat) -> UIFont {
    return fontWithName("HelveticaNeue-Bold", fontSize: fontSize)
  //Other fonts...
  static private func fontWithName(fontName: String, fontSize: CGFloat) -> UIFont {
    guard let font = UIFont(name: fontName, size: fontSize) else {
      return UIFont.systemFontOfSize(fontSize)
    return font
Once I have convenience methods defined for my fonts and colours I create a struct for name-spacing purpose where I can collate all the available styles. For the case of Header1 in the previous stylesheet the code would be the following:
struct TextStyles {
  static func header1() -> [String: AnyObject] {
    return [
      NSFontAttributeName: UIFont.helveticaNeueBold(fontSize: 16),
      NSForegroundColorAttributeName: UIColor.blackColor()
  //Other styles....
In this way it's possible to define all the styles used in the app in a sort-of XML format with no real logic. This example is very simple and could certainly be improved to make it more type safe but this is beyond the scope of this post, check out TextAttributes to get an idea of what I mean.

Introducing StyledLabel

Once all the styles are defines it's time to use them in the app in a scalable and consistent way. For UILabels the approach I take is to create a base class named StyledLabel that would need to be subclassed for each separate style. This is a very simple class that is responsible for setting the correct style on the label's text.
class StyledLabel: UILabel {
  override init(frame: CGRect) {
    super.init(frame: frame)
  required init?(coder aDecoder: NSCoder) {
    super.init(coder: aDecoder)
  override var text: String? {
    didSet {
  private func styleText() {
    attributedText = NSAttributedString(string: text ?? "", attributes: attributes)
  // MARK: To be overridden by subclass
  var attributes: [String: AnyObject] {
    return [:]
StyledLabel can be subclassed to create a label for each of the styles on the stylesheet. For example, the Header1 style would be:
final class Header1Label: StyledLabel {
  override var attributes: [String: AnyObject] {
    return TextStyles.header1()
Now it's possible to use Header1Label in xibs, storyboards or in code without having to worry about them having the correct style. Additionally, if the design changes for the Header1 style it can be easily changed by only changing the header1 function in TextStyles.
Putting all together in a playground for a quick test:
import UIKit
import XCPlayground

let containerView = UIView(frame: CGRect(x: 0, y: 0, width: 100, height: 50))
containerView.backgroundColor = .whiteColor()
XCPlaygroundPage.currentPage.liveView = containerView

let header1Label = Header1Label(frame: CGRect(x: 0, y: 0, width: 100, height: 50))
header1Label.text = "Hello world!"
All in all this pattern has some great advantages:
  • - It's simple to use and understand
  • - The styles are defined clearly and in one place
  • - It's easy to update a style affecting all the app
  • - It can be used in a similar way for UITextFieldUIButton, etc