Elegant UX in React with Material-UI

Published on June 17, 2018

Patrick Moriarty

Elegant UX in React with Material-UI

Material Design is Google’s design language for the web centered around cards, grid-based layouts, and responsive animations. With Material-UI, a compact, customizable, and beautiful collection of components and utilities for React, putting the Material Design spec to use in your React app is a breeze.

This post will cover the setup, usage, and theming of Material-UI with its custom approach to styling components with CSS-in-JS. This post covers Material-UI v1.x.


Use npm or yarn to install @material-ui/core.

$ yarn add @material-ui/core

# or, using npm:
$ npm install @material-ui/core

After installation, material-ui is available for import:

import Button from '@material-ui/core/Button';
import Card from '@material-ui/core/Card';


As the Material Design spec was created with Roboto and Material Icons in mind, you might want to include them in your design. In this example, we’ll load them both from Google Fonts.

index.html (partial)
<link rel="stylesheet"
<link rel="stylesheet"


The Material-UI library is composed of React components for layout, forms, navigation, and miscellaneous widgets. Let’s go over some of them here.


The simplest of these components is the Button, imported from @material-ui/core/Button, which produces a nifty ripple effect when clicked. Like the native HTML <button>, Buttons may contain text, icons, or any other React nodes. In the following example, the icons are imported from @material-ui/core/Icon.

Material UI buttons

<Button variant="outlined" color="primary" onClick={}>
  Find me

Notable props for the Button component include:

  • variant: The visual style of the component, either contained, outlined, fab, or empty for the default link-style.
  • color: One of primary, secondary, or default, which is the same color as if it’s left empty. We’ll cover the customization of these colors later.
  • mini: If the variant is set to fab (floating action button), then the size of the button is reduced.

All of the styles in the picture above were achieved using only these three props! The Button component also supports common props like className, aria-label, disabled, and href.


Material UI text fields

  label="Basic TextField" />
  placeholder="Placeholder here"
  label="Basic TextField" />

The TextField, imported from @material-ui/core/TextField, behaves like your standard React input component and supports the following props (among others):

  • label: The animated label above the text input. When the component is focused, it moves above the input like the second example in the above screenshot.
  • placeholder: The gray text placeholder inside of the input.
  • InputProps: Props to pass to the contained Input component.

Below is an example of using the InputProps prop to pass props to the Input component:

<TextField label="Length"
    endAdornment: <InputAdornment position="end">in.</InputAdornment>,

As you can see, the inner Input component can take a startAdornment and endAdornment: Cosmetic nodes at the left and right of the input such as icons or labels.

The adornments take an <InputAdornment> element as a prop. The above example is a text input with an in. cosmetic adornment on the right side.


Material-UI uses a JavaScript-based approach to theming its components called CSS-in-JS. With this approach, CSS classnames are generated using JavaScript objects. If you’ve ever used React’s style prop, these objects might look familiar to you.

const styles = theme => ({
  container: {
    backgroundColor: 'blue',
    color: 'red',
    width: '75%',
    height: 5 * theme.spacing.unit

In this example, styles is a function that takes the theme as a parameter and returns a style object named container. Camel-cased CSS keys are assigned to string or numeric values, and the theme has customizable spacing.

Using generated classes

To pass the styles object to our component, we use the withStyles function to return a higher-order component that passes our classnames as a prop called classes.

const MyComponent = (props) => {
  const classes = props.classes;
  return (
    <div className={classes.container}>
      // stuff

export default withStyles(styles)(MyComponent);

Creating a custom theme

To create a custom theme, use the createMuiTheme function and pass its return value to an MuiThemeProvider element at the root of your App.

import { createMuiTheme, MuiThemeProvider } from '@material-ui/core/styles';

const theme = createMuiTheme();

const App = props => (
  <MuiThemeProvider theme={theme}>
    // your app

Now all children of the MuiThemeProvider have a uniformly customizable style!

The createMuiTheme function usually takes an object to define the theme:

const theme = createMuiTheme({
  palette: {
    primary: '#e89eef',
    secondary: '#336b87'

All colors, including the primary and secondary colors we used earlier in the tutorial, are themeable. The full range of options can be found in the theming documentation.

Material-UI is a great way to add a polished look and feel to the controls of your React site with little effort. If you’d like to learn more about the project, you can visit the official documentation here, or learn about contributing here.

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About the authors
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Patrick Moriarty


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