Refresh Boston Wrap-Up

Last night I gave a talk entitled Usability: Getting it Right the First Time at Refresh Boston. I felt it went well. I got good feedback form people at the event and some online too. The space was amazing. My thanks to Kate from Microsoft Cambridge for being a wonderful host. My thanks also to Patrick Haney for inviting me to speak and organizing the event.


I need to start off with this mainly because I don’t want it to be overlooked. My main FAIL last night was forgetting to set context around the handouts I made available online. Let us remedy that now…

Both are meant as primers; documents to get you started assessing both what you need to design and did what you design work well. If you download these and decide, “Hey this will be handy,” remember these are not all-inclusive. You will likely find things that don’t apply to you, or things that seem missing. That’s okay.

Task Analysis. This document highlights a number of types of task analysis. I am using these by permission from my good friend Steve Fadden. He used it in a talk he gave at UPA a few years ago and I found it to be a good synopsis of the types of methods you can use to understand what your users need.

Each style of analysis has pros and cons, which are noted, and a decent description of what the method entails. It doesn’t give you a step by step process for carrying out each method, but like I said it’s a primer.

Heuristic Checklist. This is a list of items that should be used with a modicum of salt. They are rules of thumb that have worked for me in the realm of software development. Most of them can be applied to web applications and some can be applied to web sites. Take what applies to what you do and toss the rest. Add on to it if you need.

The Checklist can be used in two basic ways: solo and as a small group. Solo is just you going through an application and seeing to what extent each statement is true. A small group would proceed the same way, but typically would get together after each person has done it on their own to talk about the reasons behind the scores and typically to average or negotiate final scores and priorities.

If you have any questions about these documents or how to use them, please let me know.

The Talk

We estimated between 60 and 70 people came last night, which is great considering the weather wasn’t all that pleasant.

I tried to cover a lot in my hour and I think it went okay. If you attended, you can rate my talk. All constructive feedback is welcome. Seriously! I want to be more usable. :)

While the talk was titled Usability, I covered topics that typically get termed User Research, Business Analysis, Risk Analysis, Change Management, and oblique Simpsons references. While most people think of Usability Testing when they thing of Usability, I believe that most of the skills you learn to assess products or services can be applied to all of those other areas as well. It’s about figuring out What is trying to be done, then How to do it, then How Well that worked.

My motif was doing it right at the beginning will same you a lots of rework at the end. Which when written like that is a totally DUH statement. But I think it bears repeating, and repeating until eventually we all remember to do it on a regular basis.


Pro-tip #1: Always start by charming the audience…

Trying to Charm the Audience

It’s funny, but I did something I don’t normally do: as people were coming in and getting settled, I walked around and introduced myself to everyone, thanked them for coming, and gave them my card. Hopefully that made them feel welcome, but to be honest I did it for selfish reasons. I wanted to chill out and stop being so nervous!

I have Stage Fright. Always have. Even in my acting days. The good thing has always been that as soon as I begin my nervousness melts away (mostly). And last night was no exception. I used introducing myself to people as a way to begin before beginning. Plus it was a great way to make a connection with the audience even before that first slide went up.

Overall I think my talk was well structured, and I feel like my presentation style was professional but also “me.” I dropped one F-Bomb. And I’m okay with that. There were some things I flubbed. I had a couple of example stories I told that didn’t seem to come out as well during the talk as they did when I was practicing in my head earlier in the week.

I told the audience to ask questions as I talked. I like that. I get bored as a speaker just seeing eyeballs and only hearing my voice. But I need to remember that when answering a question there’s a difference between having an answer and having an opinion. I was asked a question about inserting Usability into the Agile (or the like) process. I don’t have a good answer for that, but I have an opinion. And I think that came across in my answer.

I liked that I remembered to pause as each new slide displayed. When there’s movement on a big screen the audience is not paying attention to you. I gave them a few seconds to take in the new slide and then started talking about it. Doing this also allowed me to collect my thoughts so it’s a double benefit really.

We broadcast the whole talk on Ustream. I wish I had been able to bring that aspect into the talk. If you watch online, please let me know how that worked so when we do it in the future we can make it better.

I made a mix tape for the talk which I played while people we settling. I liked the effect. It felt like a party with people mingling, eating food, and music playing in the background. I know this won’t work in every setting, but I think it worked well here.

What Did You Think

I really, really hope to get constructive feedback from everyone who attended. As an audience member you have a responsibility and opportunity to make speakers better by teling them what you liked and didn’t like. And I am totally open to that. So… comment here, send me an email, @ me on Twitter, rate me on SpeakerRate.


  1. Mike says:

    Matt – You did a great job last night! Thanks for your time and sharing some of your wisdom – Look forward to hearing you speak again.

    Mike Kivikoski

  2. Jeff L says:


    Biggest problem with the Ustream broadcast was the inability to see the slides – they were completely washed out. I think it was the angle that the camera was to the screen that caused it.

    Other than that, it was fine – could hear you fine, etc. Thanks for working with Patrick and making that stream happen for those of us that couldn’t make it. There were at least a consistent 5 or 6 ppl in the Ustream room at all times, with others coming and going throughout, up to a max of about 15 at one point.

  3. Everything was great last night, Matthew. Thanks again for agreeing to get up in front of all those people for an hour, I think they all really appreciated it and got at least something out of your presentation. I know I did!

    I’m hoping people get back to us about your talk, how they think you did, and where you could improve. Not only that, but how Refresh Boston can improve. This thing is growing quickly and I want to make sure we’re giving the attendees information they want and can use.

    And now I begin planning April’s meeting…

  4. Yoav Shapira says:

    Thanks for the good talk, Matt.

    I thought you did a good job explaining context for the handouts at the end, on the last slide. No need to beat yourself up over it.

  5. Matthew Oliphant says:

    Thanks all, I appreciate the feedback and am glad you enjoyed it.

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