10 things I learnt at IWMW 2018

University of York, facing North to the Vanburgh Building

I had a fantastic time last week at the IWMW 2018 event. Web, digital and content professionals working in Higher Education met at the University of York to share stories and experiences around the theme of ‘Streamlining Digital’.

Below are 10 things I took away from this fabulous event.

1. Professional services are professional.

The term ‘professional services’ warrants respect. At IWMW, talented digital specialists gave fun, engaging, well-thought-out talks with some very stylish media. It’s a very different vibe from academic conferences, but just as credible.

Not every talk went into detail about digital – we also heard about issues such as mental health and project management. But this showed that digital specialists are versatile and can be both logical and creative at problem-solving.

Moreover, we don’t just sit and stagnate; we learn from each other too, and that’s why we deserve influence and respect from the broader HE community.

2. Content remains king. (Yay!)

Observing my former employer at times this year, I could have been forgiven for thinking ‘Content is dead, long live the empty notepad’. Social media has made some universities cower into shadowy risk-averse corners, determined to preserve their reputations as blandly and inoffensively as possible.

Then the University of Reading went viral for standing up for itself on Twitter, proving that sensible risks benefit the brand.

IWMW championed that ethos: the talks not only emphasised that inspirational and challenging content is possible, they also demonstrated how to get the collaborative and governance structures in place to make this happen. Great work, Cardiff!

3. Universities provide some excellent stories.

All universities provide great stories; or rather, stories we happen to think are great at the time. Someone got a job at KPMG in another country. Big whoop. Aren’t we great for careers? If you’re lucky, your alumni will get listed for honours or a Nobel Prize. But it’s still rather same-old, isn’t it? Who really stands out from the crowd?

The thing is, we’re often so cramped in our own spheres to really take notice of what everybody else is doing. But this video really captured the theatre when it was played. It reminds you of the real purpose at the end of it all.

4. Other people encounter stupid language too.

It always made me chuckle. I’ve studied at five universities, worked at another three, and I’d never encountered some of the language used so assuredly by the University of London.

It was fun to share the idea of ‘informational bias’ because the case study demonstrates how the internal language that filters its way into student-facing discourse is not really missed when it’s changed to something sensible. It’s just that content owners let this terminology become ‘established’. Once it’s out of their hands, there’s no way back for the jargonaut.

5. There’s a bloody cool term for interruptions.

I haven’t shut up about ‘invisible labour’ since I left the event! A smart and incisive talk from Gareth Edwards analysed the micro-tasks that interrupt standard working practice. It’s believed that invisible labour adds a further 166% to the time it would take to complete the same task uninterrupted.

Gareth reminds us that these interruptions are not damaging in themselves, but that it can be worth investigating the cause of them and attempting calculated measures to reduce them (unless, of course, the perpetrators are beyond help, in which case keep them at bay, for everyone’s sake!)

6. Journey mapping is amazing.

My only prior experience of journey mapping was confusing and frustrating. By contrast, the IWMW masterclass I attended was magnificent. I thoroughly enjoyed considering the steps taken by service users, then thinking about how specific teams or stakeholders can intervene.

A customer journey mapping exercise

Acting as the customer experience team for Disney (where money is no object) made it easy to discover the nature of the exercise – that the end experience should prompt a recommendation or a repeat journey. How do we make the experience fulfilling enough for students to apply for courses, and then to consider further study at the end? This is a great project tool to have in the box.

7. It’s ok not to be ok.

It was a great way to start the event. The opening talk by Alison Kerwin, which touched upon her hardship of coming to terms with motherhood, was brave and inspiring. The next day, Andrew Millar’s unnervingly memorable statement, ‘I remember the night I nearly died’, opened another brave, personal memoir of how this line of work can be overwhelming.

I’m a man of extremes: from juggling a PhD with full-time work to taking on a web redevelopment project, I’m fulfilled by being pushed to the limits. It’s not been great for my health. At some point we must consider the long-term consequences, and it’s great to have those lessons and experiences so thoughtfully expressed.

8. I’m still more of an introvert than I thought.

I do like being around people, but I’ve never been a great networker. It’s less often these days that I end up in situations which remind me of that, but I found myself quite shy during this event and appreciated being approached rather than doing the approaching.

Funnily enough, it draws me back to ‘fun fact’ time and a blog I wrote on Knightmare, recognising how introversion may have been one of the effects of growing up with a show like that. I seem to just assume that becoming settled as an HE professional would automatically make that change, but no (or, at least, not yet).

9. I have a lot of work to do as a presenter.

I made bloody hard work of this presentation – largely because I needed a script. I was the only person who did. Some didn’t even use notes. I found that remarkable, and quite awe-inspiring. Even if it’s not the same vein as an academic talk, it takes guts to stand in front of a crowd of peers and educate/entertain with very few cues.

I’m not inexperienced as a presenter, but it has been a while, and this was notably different to anything I’ve done before. I’m pleased with how it went, but I’m looking forward to presenting more and improving next time.

10. I have many bigger challenges yet to encounter.

The London website project felt large and difficult, but only because there were so few of us to work on it. IWMW showed me how small a project this was compared to some of the other case studies. I also realise that I had far more autonomy to act than I appreciated at the time. In terms of remapping the information architecture and leading the rewriting effort, I didn’t encounter a great deal of opposition.

The challenges ahead at Greenwich include getting to grips with a much larger website and navigating a larger pool of voices to get my influence across. But that’s what I’m there to do. So, let’s review in 12 months’ time!

Missed the talks? Watch them here.

“Hands off – it’s ours!”

Day 1, 11 July 2018

Day 2, 12 July 2018

Day 3, 13 July 2018


A HUGE thanks to the organisers, Brian and Claire, and also to Kevin (@mearso), who produced some amazing sketches of the talks in progress. I’ve not sure whether my face bears wrinkles, fear, stress or relief. Any (or all) are possible!

IWMW18 Keith McDonald, Sketchnotes by Kevin Mears

3 thoughts on “10 things I learnt at IWMW 2018

  1. Thank you for extending an invitation to livestreamers. I enjoyed the novel experience of watching your presentation on one side of the screen and the live-tweets about it on the other.

    1. And thank you very much for watching along. Your support was most welcome, and the ‘spyglass’ tweet was genius! 🙂

      It did feel like a conference of novel experiences. I enjoyed the live-tweeting element during other talks and was surprised at how it enhanced the experience rather than detracting from it. The livestream was a different but fun experience. Even my parents saw parts of it, which was strangely fulfilling. I’m looking forward to next year’s event, whether as a spectator or participant.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.