Gavin Wray

What I've been doing in 2015 and 2016

I’ve been lax at blogging during the last two years. An update is long overdue. What have I been up to?

Work

In May 2015, the University of Warwick launched their new brand designed by Frank, Bright & Abel. I spent most of my time working with web editors, developers, academics and marketing staff to update departmental websites to reflect the new brand.

My role involved:

  • guiding departments through site redesign projects
  • implementing responsive page layouts using Bootstrap
  • refactoring custom page layouts and functionality to take advantage of modern web standards
  • migrating content
  • planning information architectures and restructures
  • testing, quality assurance and launches
  • providing dedicated support for queries on the CMS, layouts, responsive design, SEO, navigation, graphic design, copy and launches
  • summarising digital branding decisions into a practical description of the University’s website template

The last of Warwick’s many websites (more than 1,000) moved to the new brand in September 2016, bringing a busy summer to a close before the start of a new academic year. It’s been an enjoyable, interesting and demanding two years.

There were two particularly enjoyable parts for me personally.

With Bootstrap and Font Awesome rolled into the University’s template, I’ve been hand-coding designs again, creating responsive layouts with HTML, CSS and LESS. After several years in the WordPress domain, and shoehorning layouts into an inflexible CMS, it’s incredibly satisfying to make professional designs with clean, semantic markup. Doing so by hand, with a text editor and a browser, feels, um, ‘proper’. It’s a welcome return to a valuable craft. (I’m also lucky to be able to ask for help from a phenomenal in-house web team.)

Secondly, I now feel as if I know the University, and those who work there, better. It’s huge. A large town in reality. While the nature of the work was digital, I’ve formed stronger relationships with people. I have a better understanding of the pressures other people face.

Home

Lyndsey and I refurbished our house. For three months in 2015, we lived upstairs with two cats and a dog while builders extended the ground floor. Blimey, that was tough! The building work is done and the remaining decoration is down to us to finish.

Music

After two and half years playing guitar with Rhino and The Ranters, I bowed out at the end of 2015. That year was a blast with a real swell of support for the band. Highlights were performing at Lunar Festival, opening for The Twang and The Wonder Stuff in Wolverhampton, and recording on the Half Quixote EP.

Early in 2016, I challenged myself to learn digital recording and production. (My previous recording and production experience is all analogue: tube amps, microphones and tape!) I’ve started learning Logic Pro X, loops, software instruments and MIDI.

In parallel, I’m writing new music for an instrumental album tentatively titled Brinkmann Flag. It’s about a time- and space-jumping superhero with great hair, shoes and martial arts skills. When it’s time to release the album, the description will be much more serious and arty. I have eight tracks in the works. After sharing with close mates, I’m now finessing the writing and arrangements. Here’s an early version of Spaghetti Northern:

Volunteering

Honestly, I’ve been lazy in sharing my time and skills with others. I will change this in 2017. The shock of the Brexit referendum result has given me a much-needed kick up the proverbial.

2016 has been a terrible year for many people. Central government are making it worse through deliberate policy and ignorance. In my local neighbourhood and the city of Birmingham, the effects of the former coalition and current government’s austerity policies are in plain sight. Neighbourhood advice offices, children’s centres, social care provision, a police station open to the public, parking enforcement - these are either gone entirely or scaled back drastically.

Birmingham City Council was “forced to remove about £590 million from [its] budget as a direct result of unprecedented cuts in the amount of grant the Government has awarded Birmingham City Council. This equates to a 34 per cent reduction in grant since 2010.” They have also had to “reduce the number of staff working for the council by about 40 per cent.”

The vitriol of popular online culture and the mainstream press caused me to tune out, particularly from Twitter, in 2016. I’m genuinely fearful for democratic and liberal values at home and around the world.

Enough ranting! Time to go outside and do something useful. There are things I can do, even if they are small, to help others - and I will do stuff for Steph.

This year I’ve reconnected with the Kings Heath Residents’ Forum to help them with web content editing, WordPress maintenance and social media. I could, and want to, do more though.

Writing this post reminded me of the three company values of my former employer, Podnosh: “think; make a difference; give a fuck.” I needed a reminder. All three values stand up as good reasons to get better – at work, at home, in songwriting, in learning new technology, in volunteering, in talking with others and in helping my neighbourhood. Watch out 2017.

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