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Why volunteering at FOWD was better than being a guest

by Jennifer McMillen


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Some amazing talks

Being in the relatively early stages of my career I had never been to a conference. The senior designers in our team were familiar with the key events and always quick off the mark to take the one spot as company representative. Understandably so too. These seasoned colleagues are much better at choosing the best nuggets of information for the company to use and redistributing the knowledge back through the office. This didn’t stop me wanting to go!

So one day in March when an email appeared calling for volunteers for Future of Web Design 2014 I jumped at the chance. I’ll admit after managing to find my first job during the recession my pestering skills were well refined, so two weeks and a few emails later I had a slot on the volunteering team.

Now don’t get me wrong there were some downsides to volunteering. One being the 5:30am start to ensure I got from my friend’s house in Greenwich to The Brewery near The Barbican by 7:30am; a bus ride, 3 tubes and a walk away. I wouldn’t recommend it. It also restricted the talks I could attend. I listened to a number of presentations but there were maybe two occasions where I missed a topic that would have been highly relevant for me. I’ll receive videos so I can still catch-up on the key speakers that I missed so it isn’t too much of an issue.

The positives on the other hand, made for a very memorable experience. Despite the commute I’d recommend it to everyone. Here’s why:

Behind the scenes access

Events management isn’t my forte…I am quickly discovering this by planning my wedding…but it was a pleasure to watch the professionals at work. Seeing how the event was conducted, how social media was used, and the general ethos of an events company was really interesting to learn about and could help in future events we may run as a company.

Meeting the speakers

Whilst working on the reception desk I was able to meet a few of the speakers and hear all about them from the staff. This was a great opportunity to network if a) I was a bit more confident and b) I wasn’t running on very little sleep. The fact is that this was an amazing chance to get to know some big names in the web design circuit. I met Jon Setzen from Media Temple, Razvan Caliman from Adobe and admittedly my favourite speaker, Sarah Parmenter, who bravely spoke about the process of setting up a Blow Dry Bar to a room filled with around 80% men.

Putting names to faces

It is your job to speak to people as a volunteer, along with other responsibilities obviously, but this is actually a great way to network and not feel pressurised. When it came to the conference party on the first night I recognised most people and felt more comfortable chatting to them.


This may just apply to me but if I was going down as a guest I could pretty much guarantee I would have stuck by my co-worker’s side the whole time and we would have kept to ourselves. By volunteering I was jumping from guests, to fellow volunteers, to staff, to speakers. I met a load of great people including photographers, sound engineers, fellow designers and they were all just from the pool of volunteers!


I always love a free T-shirt, which you can see me wearing above, but don’t forget that these events aren’t cheap, and understandably so with the amount of work that goes into them. Working at an event to earn your ticket is a great chance to see something that many companies couldn’t afford to pay for, and also shows your initiative and consideration to your employer.


I would highly recommend volunteering to any other designer, especially anyone who is still early in their career. I learnt more than I ever thought I would (more on this from Jason in his next blog post), met some great people who I had plenty in common with, and had a great experience being push into unknown territory. My name will definitely be down for the next one.

One piece of advice if you’re considering volunteering though – get a hotel near the venue!!!

by Jennifer McMillen on 15/06/2014

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