New default WordPress theme: Fourteen Eleven

WordPress theme: Fourteen Eleven

WordPress theme: Fourteen Eleven

With the increase in mobile devices accessing the University website, I’ve spent a couple of hours this week working on a St Andrews themed responsive WordPress theme for our central WordPress multi site installation, WordPress @ St Andrews.

Imaginatively titled Fourteen Eleven this is a child theme of one of the default WordPress themes: Twenty Eleven.

This theme is clean, lightweight, and optimised for mobile use. It offers 12 St Andrews-themed headers, which can also be shown randomly if required. Or upload your own.

Twelve St Andrews themed headers. Or upload your own.

Twelve St Andrews themed headers. Or upload your own.

Next week’s task is to rebrand the Fourteen Thirteen (1413) theme as Fourteen Ten (1410) as it is actually a child of the default WordPress theme Twenty Ten, rather than Twenty Thirteen. This should help us keep track of which theme is a child of which.

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Using colour schemes to easily distinguish between live and test installations of WordPress

When the web team took on management of the University’s WordPress multi site installation we actually inherited two instances: live and test.

Working with two almost identical installations I discovered a sense of mild anxiety whenever I had both installations open side by side: which version was I currently working with? Was I just about to do something that could potentially break the live site?

I found the answer in admin colour schemes.

New feature blindness

Having used WordPress since version 0.7.1 in 2003 there are certain aspects that I take for granted and am more or less blind to. One is timezone. It was only when the clocks went forward in the spring that I discovered that there was an option to set the timezone as London, UK which automatically updates when the clocks change. Prior to that, for I don’t know how many versions of WordPress I had been using the default value of UTC+0 and had to manually change it every time the clocks went back or forward.

Admin colour schemes

Another feature that I realised that I was blind to was admin colour schemes. When I first started using WordPress in 2003 it had only one interface colour scheme, in later versions it went up to two, but I always stuck to the default.

It was literally only a couple of weeks ago (about six months after it was introduced) that I realised that as of WordPress 3.8 the software shipped with eight colour schemes:

There are eight admin colour schemes installed by default in WordPress 3.8+

There are eight admin colour schemes installed by default in WordPress 3.8+

As soon as I realised this I updated my user profile on our test installation and changed it from ‘default’ to ‘sunrise’.

This bright red interface (below, right) gives me immediate feedback that I am currently working in the test installation.

WordPress admin interfaces side by side: black on left is live; red on right is test

WordPress live installation (left); WordPress test installation (right)

I certainly recommend that if you are working with multiple installations of WordPress (not just live v test, perhaps but different locations or clients) and you are not already making use of admin colour schemes: do look into it.

New website for the Writing Room at St Andrews

A few weeks ago the web team had a visit from Jonathan Falla, a local award-winning author and course leader for both the Creative Writing Summer School and now The Writing Room at St Andrews. It was about the latter that he came to see us about.

The Writing Room at St Andrews is an online creative writing course that is part of the University’s Open Association programme which begins in October and runs through to March the following year. Jonathan wanted a new ‘brochure’ website to help promote the course.

Having listened to Jonathan’s requirements, and having sketched out a rough page structure Jonathan went off and wrote the text for the site. Ah! What a refreshing difference working with a professional writer: it was short, clear and submitted exactly when he said it would be.

The Writing Room at St Andrews

The Writing Room at St Andrews

We decided very early on that we’d use WordPress, using the Twenty Twelve responsive design because that’s the platform we use now for this kind of site, and Jonathan already has experience of using WordPress. It made sense as we just wanted to get the site up-and-running as soon as possible.

This has possibly been one of the fastest multi-page websites I’ve worked on, taking a little over four hours to complete, including image selection and editing. I’m pleased with how the site is looking, it’s been a fun short project to work on and I definitely, definitely recommend using a professional writer when requiring well-written copy… more of that please.

New website for the Andrew Marvell Society

Screenshot of Andrew Marvell Society website

While the majority of our work in the web team involves developing and maintaining the main University website, using our enterprise content management system TERMINALFOUR Site Manager we do occasionally get asked to develop sites for other areas of the University such as schools and research centres. It is one such request that I’ve been working on for the last couple of months.

Sometime during the last quarter of 2012 we were approached by Dr Matthew Augustine of the School of English to migrate the websites of the Andrew Marvell Society from their current location, hosted by St Edward’s University in Austin, Texas to a new, custom-built site hosted here in St Andrews.

WordPress

During initial discussions about both features and resources we decided to use our new installation of WordPress multisite. This is something that we’ve been keen to use for many years; a simple lack of resource to support it was, I think, the main hurdle to getting it installed.

While I’ve done quite a lot of work with WordPress as a standalone application, and as part of the hosted WordPress.com service this is the first time that I’ve had to develop for a multisite-enabled installation, and actually the first serious work I’ve done with WordPress for about five years (having been developing with it since version 0.7).

Theme development

Development, I am pleased to report, has been fairly straight forward. We decided to start with a pre-developed, responsive theme (GoodSpace by Goodlayers) and customise it to our requirements.

I selected this particular theme for a number of reasons:

  • Similar design
    It was very similar to the design that I’d loosely sketched out on paper with Dr Augustine. (He had wanted something that was comparable to the look and feel and tone of the Milton Society of American website; Marvell himself was a friend of John Milton.)
     
  • Page builder and shortcodes
    I was very impressed with the theme’s built-in page builder and shortcodes, which seemed to offer a simple way of creating complex page layouts. After all, once I hand it over I’m not going to be the person who is maintaining the site.
  • Speed
    This approach got us up-and-running much quicker than if I had needed to develop a new theme from scratch, even basing it on one of the default WordPress themes.

Having used premium themes before I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the documentation shipped with this theme. The theme also came with an example site XML file which I imported and then spent a day exploring to understand how the various built in plugins and features worked.

Agile development

I’m using an Agile-style iterative approach to development, with one week iterations (or sprints), regular meetings and demonstrations with Dr Augustine, and using Trello to plan and manage iterations. I’ve really enjoyed this approach.

Trello board showing columns of index cards

Planned sprints for the next three weeks.

One of the principles of the Agile manifesto is “responding to change over following a plan”. I had scoped out the project for the first four sprints, planning to implement a new feature at the end of each sprint (join up form, migrate the newsletter from another WordPress site, implement a bbPress forum, etc.).

I had planned to implement the join up form this week, but I got an email from Dr Augustine on Monday morning saying “my next priority is to get the old newsletter rolled over to the new site”.

Great! So, that’s my next priority now too. I swapped the order of two columns in Trello, renamed them sprints 2 and 3 accordingly and got to work researching custom post types.

That’s the story so far.

We launched the site last Tuesday, three days early, and as you may be able to see from the fuzzy image above we’ve still got things planned out for the next few weeks. In good Agile style, we wanted to get a working site up and running and then incrementally add to it. Which has also been a really satisfying and motivating way to work.

This is fun… I’m going back to work now.

Footnote

By the way, if you’re wondering who Andrew Marvell is, he was an English metaphysical poet and politician who lived between 1621 and 1678. You can read more about the life and work of Andrew Marvell on Wikipedia.

Also, this has been unexpectedly one of the hardest projects I’ve worked on in terms of spelling the person’s name right! His name is Andrew Marvell. I work in St Andrews where we have a halls of residence called Andrew Melville Hall. How many times have I written Andrews Melville?

A few highlights from IWMW 2010

A couple of weeks ago I attended my fourth Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2010), which this year took place at the University of Sheffield. (Twitter tag: #iwmw10)

The event provides an opportunity for those involved in institutional Web management (mostly universities and colleges) to hear about case studies, share best practices, find out about new, emerging technologies and develop professional networks (mostly around coffee, in the pub, or sitting around a table in Pizza Hut with a handful of Welsh blokes looking very damp and hungry … it’s a long story!).

Turbulence

The theme of the event this year was ‘The Web in turbulent times‘ and as you might expect the message at times wasn’t entirely encouraging, particularly when one plenary speaker invited us to look around the hall and told us that a lot of us won’t have our current jobs this time next year. Cue nervous laughter.

I’m fairly confident that the magical St Andrews bubble that we inhabit in this small corner of Fife will hold out, particularly since we’re currently advertising for a new post: Website Migration Project Officer, but I certainly wouldn’t want to become complacent and I welcome anything that can help us to become more efficient and effective.

Mobile and Agile

It was encouraging throughout the conference to see both mobile Web and Agile practices popping up in a few plenary (keynote) presentations, as well as in workshops and barCamps.

The mobile Web is something that is clearly going to grow and grow, and it was both encouraging and inspirational to see how universities are addressing it.  It was equally encouraging to hear the debate between device-specific apps (e.g. iPhone apps) vs open-standards (e.g. HTML5-based apps). I don’t have an iPhone, and love my Opera Mobile browser on my Windows Mobile-based device, so no guesses on which side of the debate I sit on.

HTML5

One of the presentations that I was most eagerly looking forward to was HTML5 (and friends) from Patrick A. Lauke from Opera and he didn’t disappoint; you can view his slides here …

… except that I could have listened to him for another 45 minutes. And probably the 45 minutes after that too. HTML5 is one technology that I’m really looking forward to exploring more of this year.

Agile project management

When I signed up for the conference I chose to attend a workshop entitled “A little project management can save a lot of fan cleaning … or (Agile) project management for the Web” because we’ve begun to employ Agile methods in our project management and developments and I wanted to hear more about what an experienced Web team is doing.

The workshop abstract promised:

  • Common misapprehensions about project management.
  • Nightmare situations when dev work goes pear shaped.
  • How project management can save your sorry ass.
  • The ‘light’ project management approach.
  • Is agile a better model for the fast paced work of the Web?
  • Are agile and traditional project management complimentary or mutually exclusive?
  • Sexy web based tools to avoid the dreaded MS Project.
  • 100% death by PowerPoint free, guaranteed!

Unfortunately, the workshop also appeared to be largely Agile-free.  I was disappointed to discover when I turned up that about 50% of the workshop was looking at PRINCE2 project management, which follows a more ‘waterfall’ project management approach, rather than Agile.

I got the feeling that the person who was presenting the Agile aspect of the workshop had been thrown in at the last minute (which I guess fits in with the Agile Manifesto: “We … welcome changing requirements, even late in the development”!) but I’m not sure that it really did Agile, and SCRUM in particular, justice, unfortunately, and didn’t go into the depth that I was either hoping for or the abstract suggested that it might.  Unfortunately, the workshop didn’t do as it said on the tin.

WordPress

The other workshop that I attended, WordPress beyond blogging, was really encouraging.

There can be a tendency in some sectors to dismiss WordPress as not robust because it runs on PHP and MySQL (rather than, say, Java and Oracle database), but it was great to hear how WordPress is being used in other institutions (and for some pretty key services) and gave me a courage to return to St Andrews and explore how we might be able to use it in a number of projects that we’re working on.  Besides, there are currently 11.4 million blogs hosted on WordPress.com which is running their own software, so I guess they must be doing something right.

What I bought back

From most other IWMW conferences I’ve returned with something practical to try out: in previous years it’s been microformats, RSS auto-discovery, OpenSearch, etc.  but there wasn’t so much of that this time.  Maybe I just attended the wrong workshops and barCamps, but what I did bring back was:

  • A desire to start exploring HTML5 now.
  • Encouragement to blog more, and encourage the Web team to blog more (which is why we moved our 3 post WordPress blog from a self-hosted installation to WordPress.com!) Brian Kelly will be so proud of us!
  • Keep exploring Agile/SCRUM and build on the progress that we’ve already made.
  • Explore how we can use WordPress.

And of course, one of the most valuable aspects of IWMW was that I returned with existing friendships strengthened and new ones made.