About this Guest Post

Kevin Mears, Senior Designer at the University of South Wales and attendee at six IWMW events since 2009, has been invited to write a blog post about what IWMW has done for him over the years. Here are his thoughts.

What has IWMW done for me?

As the 20th anniversary of the first IWMW event comes around this year, I’ve been asked to share a few of my thoughts on what the event has meant for me. It was in my capacity as a Web Designer working at the then University of Glamorgan that I first became aware of the IWMW event in 2009.

I’d been to a few big web conferences – @media in 2005 and 2006, which looking back were almost a ‘Sex Pistols at the Roxy’ events with so many talented people who have since gone on to brighter and bigger things. The pioneer spirit of web design and development stood out in those conferences and the sense of an industry coalescing was tangible. However, as the industry started to mature and the business of web design became a more pressing concern so the nature of the big web conferences changed. There seemed to be more talks about dealing with clients, pitching products, and the mechanics of running successful web businesses alongside the web standards and hands-on development talks. There was still lots to learn from these explorations of crucial basic skills but the peculiar challenges of both an in-house role and educational institution culture were not talked about. After drifting away from those type of conferences I came across IWMW – I can’t remember who should get the credit for introducing me, but IWMW was and remains uniquely relevant for me.

Quite how I’d managed to stay ignorant of it for the previous 12 years I don’t know, but the experience of my first at the University of Essex was a wonderful realisation that here was a conference where I could speak to people experiencing similar problems with an understanding of university cultures. It began auspiciously with pre conference drinks in a lovely pub by the riverside and continued with two days of talks that reflected the range of people attending. I met design people, marketing people, project managers, database geeks, experienced old hands and fresh faced newbies – all with great tales of good things done, bad things endured and ideas about what to do next. I came away energised and enthused by the discovery of so many committed and clever people willing to share ideas and practices.

One of the great things about this conference is the acknowledgement of the context within web people (now digital I guess), work across the sector. Some years there’s a little more gloom against a backdrop of funding cuts or policy changes, others there’s cautious optimism that things are looking up. In both those cases, it has been really useful to learn about different approaches and responses to navigate a way through. It’s great that the teams and people that have managed to thrive and survive present their findings for the general good. If that sounds a little too utopian there’s also a healthy dose of scepticism, helped by the many years of experience usually present in the room, and of course there’s the perennial search for the one true CMS to make everyone feel at home.

On a personal note, it was at IWMW 2012 in Edinburgh that my own practice of sketch-noting talks really came on leaps and bounds. The scope and variety of the talks was an ideal proving ground for a practice that I continue and have found real value in. The social channels of communication and discussion around the talks made for wonderful encouragement, and I was very motivated to capture as much as possible in a format that works for me.

IWMW sketchnotes

I’ve since been back another 5 times and each time have met new people with new perspectives on what we do – particularly helpful when so many in this sector are at some stage of a review or restructure process. The first hand accounts of different stages of the process that people have been through is huge benefit to attendance. One of those long discussions about project management, structure and workflow that so excite us led to me visiting the web team in Bath who generously shared practices and ideas – made possible by the IWMW conference and community.

To paraphrase Monty Python “All right, but apart from the knowledge, information, education, wine, discussion, enthusiasm, contacts and community, what has the IWMW ever done for us?


Kevin MearsKevin Mears is a Senior Designer at the University of South Wales.  Kevin works as a part of a cross departmental team producing websites for a wide variety of stakeholders. He is especially interested in style guides, workflows and standards that drive better products. Kevin would be very happy to talk to anyone thinking of presenting how they work, especially new voices to this community.

IWMW events attended: IWMW 2009, IWMW 2010IWMW 2012, IWMW 2013, IWMW 2014 and IWMW 2015.