Who is Matt Laurence?

I'm the one on the left... mystery solved

Overview

The wizard of UX, DumbleMatt
I am the very model of a
strict Gestalt practitioner
As a widely experienced UX product design and research leader, I am a creative and strategic problem-solver, customer-focused and self-motivated. I have a proven track record of delivering successful products, fostering cross-functional collaboration, and managing multiple priorities and projects, living at the intersection of business, technology, and user behavior.

In addition to design, research, and strategy, I build teams, educate colleagues, forge connections, empower people, and start meaningful conversations to get results in an ever-changing technology landscape.

Along the way, I value a group of colleagues with whom I look forward to pushing some boundaries every day; to do good work for good causes; to learn new things early and often; and to play as much music as possible.

A few of my areas of strength and experience: User advocacy; communication; interaction design; information architecture; UX project and people management; cross-functional team collaboration; prototyping; usability research and testing, generative and evaluative; coaching and mentoring; significant experience with all the usual tools, and the ability to learn new ones quickly; design thinking; diplomacy and negotiation; visual design and art direction; media production, post-production and motion graphics; HTML/CSS/JS and assorted flavors thereof; a dose of appropriately-applied humor and whimsy.

My process and philosophy

And ideal process model with all the trimmins
Process.... where possible
Wherever I enter a project, alone or with a team, I try to follow a fairly common design process - because it works. In the first phase you understand the space, identify the users, and make sure you know what both users and the business are trying to accomplish; you want to define the right problem to solve.
Developers still seem to think this is our motto
NOT my actual UX motto
Next, you ideate, collaborate, prototype, test, and iterate until you are pretty sure you solving that problem the right way. Then you build it and get your beta in front of people, ready to test and repeat any of the phases as needed.

Like Agile, however, it is rarely as simple or straightforward as it sounds, and we need to deal with the realities within which we are working, and sometimes educate our own product teams. I see an important role of UX as being a constant reminder that:

  • Our users are going to have an experience with our product, whether or not we design for it
  • An experience is something people HAVE, not something that can be designed; we can only design circumstances to try and ensure that users have a good experience
  • Every member of a product team has responsibility for designing that experience
  • It is much better for everyone - and our bottom line - if we define things early around the user's needs
  • YOU are not your user!
This is why so much of UX is improvisation. From altering an ideal process to fit the realities of a specific team, to switching up methodologies on the fly (or inventing new ones), to actively listening during user discussions and varying from the script to gather the best insights... you need to think on your feet. And it is about 90% accurate to say "All answers in UX start with 'It depends.'

My journey to UX

The glory of the TRS-80 Model 1 Level 1 and Apple II
My first loves
From my first encounter with a TRS-80 at the age of 10, and subsequently buying my first computer (an Apple ][, 16k, tape drive, no plus, e, or c), I was in love with technology. As early as high school, I turned my budding writing skills towards articles about computers and software (and music - my other passion - once I discovered the sonorous logic of the synthesizer).
Covers of a few magazines in which I have been published
A few magazines in which
I have been published
My love of words and computers, combined with the personal joy I got from helping people understand complex technical concepts, drove me to pursue technical writing in college. The focus on technical interpretation directly laid the groundwork for my user experience career.

A selection of my print and packaging projects
Some ads and packaging
That same combination of writing and being a general computer geek with Mac and PC chops landed me my first job out of school, as both contributing and managing editor and designer at Mindcraft Publishing, home of the legendary Nibble Magazine.

A closeup on my test iPad from the Hyperactive days
My testing iPad
It also led directly to my next career leap into advertising and design. I worked for Mullen Advertising for several years throughout the 90s and over a 15 year period my work morphed from almost exclusively print and packaging to entirely digital. Over the next 14 years I worked both full time and freelance at a variety of in-house and dedicated agencies such as SIG, Digitas, Hill Holiday, One to One Interactive, and many others

Europe: cafe culture with random beautiful women
Ah, Europe!
But in the middle of all of that, I made good on a promise I’d made myself before college, to take some time and travel. I was actually several years into the workforce before I gave everything up, bought a backpack and a Eurail pass, and headed to Europe for several months, freelancing in Paris to pay some of the way. I went with little plan except to have experiences, meet up with several friends, and be a part of as much music as possible.

My band yeP! performing live
A well mis-spent youth
As noted above, music is a huge factor in my life, which is why as soon as I returned I moved back to western MA and started a funky hippie jam band with several college friends. This entirely irresponsible and heart-driven move completely consumed most of my life for over five years. We played as many as 200 shows a year for a while, up and down the East coast and into Canada, with me on bass, vocals, writing songs, and doing a lot of the band's logistic and promotional work. I also continued building a career in design and web development both on the road and in between tours. With only two of us making an income, doing the business side of things, and financially supporting the effort, it became what they call in the biz “unsustainable.”
Secret Service, my next band
Secret Service rocks
downtown Gloucester
After the group broke up, I re-joined the full-time working world, diving head-first into some pretty intense design work along with hard-core Flash, AS, and HTML/CSS/JS coding at Weymouth design.

Titleist driver fitting microsite
Titleist driver fitting
microsite at Weymouth
Weymouth was also where I first encountered UX in the larger sense. Sure, we were an agency and pitched clients cool designs; but once they liked something, we went back and actually figured out requirements, users, workflows, wireframes, etc. This was a revelation, but it wasn't until several years and a couple of companies later that I really found myself learning how to define requirements with a BA; build personas; create use cases, workflows, proper wireframes, prototypes, card sorts, and well-formed interview questions; actually talk to customers, etc.
Drug identifaction page of the Addiction Severity Index
Inflexxion's ASI-MV
drug identification
And I loved it; for the first time I felt a sense of proper crafting, ownership, and a longer horizon than just the next awards show.

After several years there, I thought I hated UX and design, but after some soul-searching I realized that it was the dysfunctional life of grant-funded projects that had eaten my soul. So I enrolled in the Bentley MSHFID program to both reinvigorate my love of my chosen field and to fill in the gaps in a career grown entirely organizally. That helped launch me out of me old situation and into a world of proper product development at Akamai. At Akamai I've had the chance to expand almost all of my core skills in UX, and step further into real management and leadership, mangaing as many as five direct reports and being a part of the internal leadership training faculty.

And today...

The Akatoasts charter members
Chartering Akatoasts
Evolving into a product design manager and UX leader at Akamai has been deeply fulfilling. Along the way, I have been a founding member of the Akatoasts Toasmasters club to help build condfidence and presentation skills across the company (including in myself). I have been part of the club leadership for many years, and recently achieved the coveted Triple Crown, completing three Toastmasters awards in a single club year. All of these efforts combined have given me the confidence to dip my toes in the presentation waters at UXPA Boston, Enterprise UX, and Akamai’s Tech Summit, as well as leading Girls Who Code activities in the classroom.

ROCKamai performing at Tech Summit 2016
Faster Forward: ROCKamai!
I also founded the Akamai Jam Group, which has over the past six years gathered over 80 Boston-area members, has hosted jam sessions with visiting Akamaites from all over the world, and performed some fairly epic and fun-filled live events. We even did a few pandemic "distributed performances" for our annual Tech Summit conference, held remotely in 2020.

Apologies to Lin Manuel Miranda
Yes, I went there
Music still plays a very big role in my life, though these days more of my efforts include songs that focus on UX and data, among other more frivolous topics. Often these end up as videos, though I’ve also performed them live on occasion. I also started the Akamai Jam Group, which over the last six years has gathered over 80 members, and resulted in several live performances, with players from all over the globe including a few COVID “distributed performances” that I put together for virtual company events.

I live with 11 female creatures
A lot of managers
Finally, on a personal note, I am the token male in a household with 11 women (or at least females).