I attended the superb “The Web Is…” conference in Cardiff, Wales last week (30th/31st October 2014). These are my notes and thoughts following the event, allowing it all to sink in and marinate for a couple of weeks.

Day 1

The Web is knowledge

Presented by Chris Murphy (Twitter: @fehler)

Starting the day was a talk on how teaching can be used to great effect on the web. Starting with an emotional excerpt from the film The Dead Poets Society, two distinct teaching styles were examined and the emotional attachment to them for the pupils. In the clip, a new teacher has taken over a class from the character portrayed by the late Robin Williams. This new teacher is referred to as “Sir” by the class due to the text-book, non-emotional attachement to him or his teaching method. The character portrayed by Robin Williams teaches throughout the film in such a styles as to have the class emotionally attached to the teachings of poetry. The scene depicts his character entering the class room to pick up some of his things and the subsequent declaration of nearly the whole class one-by-one standing on their desks shouting “Oh Captain! My Captain!”, begging him not to leave. Such is the emotional attachment when people are educated to believe in something, believe in themselves.

Next up before the main body of the talk was the introduction of three books related to self-education, specifically being able to manage yourself and encourage self belief. These books are:

The actual talk itself is broken down into three facets of teaching.

Teaching To See

Chris talked about how three boxes, one depicted with a dot inside, one with a line, and one half shaded, when again shown with each of their inner elements expanded to fill its containing box, the viewer knows that the first is a dot, the second a line, the third a shading of part of the boxes area. Teaching others to see what they might not be able to at first glance is part of teaching.

Teaching To Understand

In essence, the power of ideas is greater than the ideas themselves. Known as the lollapalooza effect, building upown Charlie Munger’s Latticework of Mental Models, by apply multiple ideas, powerful results can be achieved. Put simply, 1 + 1 = 3.

Teaching To Believe

The final part of the talk from Chris saw him talk about the traditional model of “master teaches apprentice” being modernised to “master teaches apprentice and then apprentice and master both learn from each other”. Several traits need to be instilled into those around us:

Services like Patterns and General Assembly are the classrooms of the future. Universities are slow. In todays world, fleet of foot, acceptance of change and being responsive are paramount to education being a force for change.

The Web Is Constant Change

Presented by Nathan Ford (Twitter: @nathan_ford)

Nathan’s Halloween-themed talk was split into two distinct parts. The first being approach to dealing with constant change, and the second explaining the agile process he and his colleagues (of the former Mark Boulton Design) follow when working on projects.

Nathan starts by stating that the designer, developer and client should all be in the same space mentally and physically when working on projects. Involve the “champ” (the person who the represents the business, and usually the person who one would have conversed with up until the project begins) from the start of the project, and ensure that they are a part of the development process, being involved with every iteration or development cycle. With no suprises comes no blame. When projects encounter wicked problems, the following pointers should be observed:

Nathan then went on to explain the agile process he and his colleagues follow at Monotype.

Agile projects typically start at Sprint 0 rather than 1, with the Sprint 0 moniker denoting a determined period of time to gather information. Sprint 1 and those that follow are formal development iterations.

Sprints 1 and onwards should follow a cycle of “Research > Design > Build > Repeat”

Nathan then went into some pointers on the Responsive Web Design process:


Finally, learn to let go!

The Web is everywhere

Presented by Anna Debenham (Twitter: @maban)

Anna gave a smashing talk on the intricacies of games console internet connectivity and games console browser behaviour, pointing out the weirdness and subtleties evident from her extensive research on the matter. In a way, re-inforcing the responsive design ethos of making something that works everywhere, on any device, in any browser.

We cannot predict a future behaviour from a current experience that sucks

Performance is a user requirement, and can be considered the most important part of the user experience. Games consoles and so-called “smart” televisions have low memory to use when loading web sites. The key to making web sites work on these types of device is to make them adaptable. Mobile interfaces (large tap areas, optimised content, etc) tend to work better on televisions. A consideration should be made to the distance the user will be from the device to assist in producing a good user experience.

Anna advocates designing and developing to web standards, not browsers. Test for capabilities, not User Agent strings. Start from a solid base of core functionality.

Ask yourself the question: what really is mobile? Is it:

The answer is that we do not know! Can the XBOX One and Wii U be considered mobile devices? They both allow the user to move freely around the room. The Wii U has a controller with a screen in it, allowing “greater freedom”.

Anna has discovered that may users are using their games console browser to access the internet, and in fact this is embraced by Microsoft’s XBOX One, which allows a browser to be used whilst playing a game, and with Nintendo’s Wii U, which Nintendo are constantly looking to push a capable browser to their devices, clearly stating in their company vision the importance of getting this part of the user experience correct. Therefore as designers and developers of the web, we must ask ourselves the question “how will this work on a television?”

A practical example was given of Vimeo’s Couch Mode, whereby an optimised view for the television screen can be used, which removes all of the “clutter” of the Vimeo experience and also increase the size of tap targets and the like.

Assume every screen is a touch screen

Anna also pointed out the x-webkit-speech attribute for inputs - this is but a first step in allowing speech input, but we can use this today.


The Web is a great big playgorund

Presented by Seb Lee-Delisle (Twitter: @seb_ly)

Seb showed several projects that he has created (that mainly involve lasers) and how an internet of many interconnected things can create new and exciting experiences. He paid particular reference to the Sparkfun inventors kit and the Arduino Leonardo. Seb created a browser-based version of the classic Moonlander arcade game, showing how by tracking the routes taken by various folks, he could use the data to produce art.

Seb’s video-heavy talk was appended with some simple words of wisdom:

The Web is in the hands of the 97ers

Presented by Emma Mulqueeny (Twitter: @hubmum)

Emma gave a talk on how those born in 1997 or later, and who are now entering the workplace, see the internet connected world a lot differently than us of an older generation.

The 97ers grew up with social media - they simply do not know a world without it - and see identity as something not being a national insurance number or similar (what could be thought of as a “traditional identifier”), but rather a more complex thing containing several “facets”:

The story is the identifier, not the name or other obvious means of identifying someone or something.

97ers have community, and are able to build influence easily, for both good and bad. Growing up in a world of recession, terror and online access, 97ers are not as keen on large firms, tending to opt to work for themselves. 97ers do not chase money, going into business to solve a problem they have, not to pursue financial gain.

97ers encourage entrepreneurship and digital skills, do not mess with identity, and allow for introspection. They seek out thought leaders online. They see wi-fi as a basic human need.

Emma finished by encouraging us as professionals to embrace the 97er, becoming translators of the “dull stuff” that will help shape the 97er community conversation.

The Web Is All Consuming

Presented by Kier Whittaker (Twitter: @kierwhittaker)

Kier gave a motivating talk about how we can shed ourselves of imposter syndrome and motivate outselves once again.

I’m not good enough, but shouldn’t I be part of the party?

Kier highlighted the fact that every web professional has been through a “rite of passage” to get to where they are, and all have felt that they weren’t “good enough” to be doing what they are going at one stage or another. He highlighted this in Insites: The Book, which contains interviews with many web professionals, where they all explain what they went through to get to where they are today (also, see The Great Discontent).

In terms of the things we as professionals can do to motivate ourselves more in a world of new frameworks being released every day, newer “cool kids” coming to light with skills that far exceed what we could ever have hoped to do with an automated MEAN stack synchronised to continuously build and deploy every millisecond using artificial intelligence to automatically detect what caused a bug, fix that bug, close the issue on GitHub (and yes, I made all of that up), Kier gave the following pointers:

Presented by Phil Hawksworth (Twitter: @philhawksworth)

Phil of R/GA gave a funny and great discussion on the history of the humble link and several pointers that seemed to echo those from the other speakers of the conference.

The link is about sharing and collaboration. Being able to link to anything, from anywhere, is a fundamental building block of the internet that we take for granted. Using the “rel” attribute, with values of “author”, “prefetch” and “next” enhance the power of what the humble link can do.

Colour is important to the power of the link, with Google running a test of 41 shades of blue, showing with analytical data which shade works best for them via conversion rates in their analytics.

The link is a basic building block of the web, and therefore of any web page. Progressively enhance on this piece of core functionality. Do not mess with what the link should do. Every device understands what a link is, what a link does.

The Web Is A Discussion

Presented by Andy Clarke (Twitter: @Malarkey)

Andy Clarke used his talk to record a “live” Unfinished Business podcast episode, that co-incided with Geek Mental Help Week. Rather than the typical single guest interview that regularly features, he held a “chat show” style of interview. Guests included Chris Murphy (Twitter: @fehler), Cole Henley (Twitter: @cole007), Relly Annet-Baker (Twitter: @RellyAB), and Clare Symons (Twitter: @Clare_Symons). All guests discussed their mental health issues and how they deal with them. There was also expert opinion to give a little balance to the discussion and to put the “text book” view on proceedings.

The key themes emerging from this talk were:

The accompanying website Geek Mental Help Week contains plenty of articles written by folks in the web industry who suffer from mental health problems, and share their own experiences on how they deal with them.

What Andy and guests did very well was to keep the discussion balanced with light-heartedness, making a sobering end to the day something the brain can digest.

Day 2

Creative Mornings Cardiff: Cross Over

Presented by David Hieatt (Twitter: @davidhieatt)

Friday morning started a little earlier to allow for a Creative Mornings Cardiff (Twitter: @CM_Cardiff) talk about “Cross Over”.

David talks about where we as creatives need to exist, in the nexus of skill, interests, and vision:

The talk then proceeded to describe where we as creatives feel most alive. A simple answer: in the intersection of trying hardest and taking the most risks. The risk of failure is huge, but the rewards are astounding. Dreams should scare you, being nigh-on impossible!

Purpose makes you strong. Excellence is not enough. We as creatives need to exist in the crossover of Geek and Luddite.

Do not focus on products. Be an ideas company that just happens to produce a product. The more you operate in the future the less competition you will have. Make information about behaviours more visible (this was accentuated by the Hiut Denim brand operated by David shipping their jeans with history tags so that they can have a life of their own).

David signed off with some fantastic pointers about how to embrace crossover to be a better creative:

The Web Is Like Water

Presented by Scott Jensen (Twitter: @scottjensen)

Scott Jensen of Google, gave a talk about how the web can flow everywhere, like water.

Scott gave some superb points on why the web needs to go where native, or apps, cannot:

Scott then went on to speak about the 3 types of applications:

Attendees were given a small Physical Web beacon to go away and hack with - I intend to write about this in a future post. More information on the physical web project can be found at

The Web Is Still Young

Presented by Benjamin Hollway (Twitter: @BenjaminHollway)

Ben, a 17 year-old developer from Brighton, gave his first ever talk at The Web Is…

He explained about some of the difficulties facing the younger generation, including:

Read his excellant article: Ageism

The Web Is Turning Difficulties In To Opportunities

Presented by Robin Christopherson (Twitter: @USA2DAY)

An inspiring talk with plenty of demonstration was given by Robin, a blind user of computers and devies such as the iPhone, utilising assistive technologies. I was blown away at the speed and effortlessness shown in how Robin goes about his computing tasks. Robin actually navigated his way through his phone and computer faster than anyone I know, which further accentuates the point that these days technology is providing opportunities to everyone.

Robin’s inspiring talk gave the following key takeaways:

The Web Is Too Slow

Presented by Andy Davies (Twitter: @AndyDavies)

Probably the most technical talk of the day, Andy gave a superb insight into a hot topic in the world of web development right now - one of performance.

Too many sites are too slow, and it is getting worse! Year-on-year the median page has slowed down by 23%, to a current 1.5 MB page weight. Andy states that we are not being deliberate enough about performance.

The web is for everyone, but only if we build it that way. Speed matters, especially for retailers. Speed generates revenue. We can measure speed using the Navigation Timing API. Whilst speed does matter, it needs to be pointed out that the further in to a web application process, such as purchasing something, we become more tolerant of performance (such as buying something from Amazon). Also, as humans we get suspicious if something is too fast (apparently comparison websites are too fast and have to delay the loading of the results slightly).

Andy then goes on to describe the notion of a Performance Budget (something I’ve been shouting about at work for a while now). In short, a performance budget defines that: An event that matters to the visitor, happens within a certain time, under certain network conditions.

Being pragmatic about the loading of resources can have an effect on performance too. The Guardian divide their content up in to three categories: Content (core website content, nothing more), Enhancements (web fonts, etc), Leftovers (anything else not considered part of the core or enhanced experience).

Be open when you can - Etsy have a “performance bar” on their development site that shows if the current page is conforming to the performance budget that Etsy set themselves (their page performance “SLA” if you like). Andy points to a GitHub example of this.

Andy then describes some other useful resources in us developers being able to make the web faster:

Essentially, less content will mean less round trips, and therefore less loading time required.

I personally think anyone who deals with web performance should also read “How Browsers Work” on HTML5 Rocks

Andy’s final remarks:

The Web Is Our Responsibility

Presented by Sally Jenkinson (Twitter: @sjenkinson)

A fellow Colcestrian, Sally, gave a well-fitting talk on the web and responsibility.

The web is experiences

All of the “tribes” within the community need to work together

There is too much focus on what we do, not how we do it.

The web is evolving

Responsive Web Design - Size is not everything:

Attitudes are our responsibility. Question everything. The [ element]( was brought about because of the questions asked by RWD.

Choices we make should be beyond the project or job at hand. Web components are designed to be used with this mindset.


Be excellant to each other - see Dark Patterns for what NOT to do.

The Web Is Read/Write

Presented by Owen Gregory (Twitter: @fullcreammilkman)

As an editor of Five Simple Steps, Owen gave a talk that concentrated on content, and how the web is essentially reading and writing of content, shared and collaborated upon. He started by making reference to the Sir Tim Berners-Lee paper “Weaving the Web”, stating that the web development community in particular thrives on writing.

Owen went on to talk about how writing is difficult. We all learn, and there is always room for improvement. We will always get things wrong. That is inevitable, and part of being human. He says we should avoid the passive voice, and write in a conversational tone. A List Apart has good examples of this writing style. The Government Digital Service have design principles and a content style guide.

Owen gave a mention to the Frank Chimero talk “What screens want” and the Wilson Miner talk “When we build”, leading on to the notion of perennial design - that is, building digital products around systems that thrive and survive. The ePub3 standard is a prime example of this - an eBook standard built upon HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

As was the case with many other speakers, Owen gave the crowd a couple of key points to take away and think about:

The Web Is Taking Itself Too Seriously

Presented by Mr. Bingo (Twitter: @MR_BINGO)

Words cannot do this talk justice. A superb “lightener” before the keynote speech of the conference. There was lots of swearing and inappropriateness, but don’t let that put you off. Mr. Bingo is without a doubt one of the most charismatic speakers I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll be sure to link to a video or similar when I find a suitable link!

The Web Is For Everyone

Presented by Brad Frost (Twitter: @brad_frost)

Brad’s keynote talk was a philosophical look at what the web is, and how we as creatives can do our part to make it a better place.

The web is ubiquitous, for everyone. Collaboration is possible, and easy.

When developing for the web, be open by default. Design in the open. Develop in the open.

When asking about who we are, we answer as humans who have experiences unique to them.

Brad’s final points pretty much sum up what all of us need to be doing, and doing more:

Thoughts on the event

I personally have come away from The Web Is with a renewed fondness for what I do as a professional working in the industry. I aim to share more, and work harder, concentrating on the enablement of what my work facilitates. From the wonderful setting of the Sherman Theatre, in beautiful Cardiff, I want to add my thanks to what I’m sure is a deluge to Craig and Amy for putting the event on. With Handheld 2013 and The Web Is this year, I’ll be sure to return if another event is scheduled for next year.

I love what I do for a living. We as a community need to take ownership of what we do - we are in control of our own destiny.