Tom Allison

Contact: tallisonATgmailDOTcom

Professional Networking Site Profiles:

Thesis of my most recent talk: On a project of any complexity you will always be using personas whether you realize it or not -- and, if you don't pay attention to nurturing "good personas", your project team's brains will be eaten by *Zombie Personas*.

This talk was originally presented at UXCamp Europe ( and the slides are up on slideshare (

Audio of the UXCamp talk is also available on our (still very beta) podcast: UX Café @ (other topics to munch on, there, as well -- though not enough, yet to give you a "top 10" filter ;)).

FINALLLY! I just interviewed with a company in Berlin which is hoping to bring on a UX designer (centered on the concept of Ethnology -- wow, they actually used that word!) to work with their Agile development team. The ice is thawing, maybe?

I also saw that Ward took part in a confab in S.F. to discuss UX in Agile. I've only found this one source on it, so far, but I'd sure like to see more.

Does all of this mean that there's a major swell moving in the direction I've been jumping up and down pointing to for the last few years? (It's been lonely way out east here in Berlin ;)). I hope so. At least if Ward is going to meet-ups on the theme, it'll get some more respect around here, right? ...right?

The simple version of Tom Allison's education/work/life history in reverse chronological order:

User Experience Researcher" and "Information Architect (I'd call myself a "User Experience Designer", but, in my current context - Germany - anything with the word "design" in the title is understood to mean "Graphic Design" -- and that isn't an area I specialize in). I'm currently a resident of Berlin, Germany and determined to learn the local language and culture deeply. I recently finished work on a project with a company that makes software to interface with a whole set of high-end musical recording and producing equipment for artists and dj's. My website redesign (UX analysis to coding) for the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative just went live in early October (2009). You can currently see the site before: and after: my work (this will be most impressive if you're attuned to IA issues and can test for accessibility). I married into German culture in 2004 and moved here 3 years ago. I'm making ends meet and looking for permanent work. Also, I'm keeping the flames of my professional life alive as a User Experience Designer and Information Architect by occasional gigs, here, and at a distance and by connecting to everyone in the local industry I can find to talk to (including semi-formal "talks" like the one I describe below). This latter activity has increased exponentially as my German has reached a level of fluency that allows me to start and maintain the conversation in the local tongue.

My favorite work since graduation was with Menlo Innovations ( for two years, before moving to Berlin in 2006. Everybody ought to be making software the Menlo way and at the same time working on improving the process (but that's redundant because that's what they're always doing - it's part of "the Menlo way").

I completed my Masters degree in Information Science with a specialization in Human-computer Interaction (HCI) at the University of Michigan's School of Information (SI) in 2004.

Before that I spent some serious time studying and doing research in Neuroscience in the mid to late '90's (resulting in a Masters degree and the discovery of a novel Zebrafish mutation).

I did my undergraduate work in Chemistry and Philosophy and spent a year in France studying history and law.

Along the way, I've done non-profit work with developmentally disabled adults and in-hospital psychiatric patient care as well as garnered some scientific honors: ISTR recipient and Published in Chemistry, NSF Fellow in Developmental Neurobiology and discoverer of the novel Zebra-fish mutant "curly-fry". I have also been active in labor politics in higher education and was a proud officer of the Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Michigan.

One of my last projects at SI was a report on using Wiki to support work (with the CooperativeWorkWorkGroup) for a class called "Computer Supported Cooperative Work". The subject of the project was Wiki in the Workplace. There may still be some traces of that project on this page.

MarkDilley and I worked together at GEO (the Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Michigan) and we talked a lot about using Wiki and what made it work. I believe Mark has gone on to pursue those interests somewhat ;).

Talk on how software ought to be built:

I recently (Tuesday, January 6th 2009) gave a talk, "The Human side of HCI", at Humboldt University's Insitute for Library and Information Science (IBI) on my experiences working as a "High-Tech Anthropologist" (R) in Menlo Innovations "Software Factory" (R):

The talk announcement is here:

And I've posted the slides, themselves, here:

The core idea of the talk was that most systems for producing software end up placing inordinate control in the hands of those who write the code (whether they like it, or not) and pushing them (with unreasonable project time-lines, ambiguous communication of end-user tasks and goals and arbitrary shifts in scope) toward technical and, at best, *mirror persona* concerns as opposed to the real end-user concerns and the sponsor's business goals. By creating another role (the "High-Tech Anthropology" team) that is tasked with representing the end user in the process - while explicitly avoiding direct involvement in questions of technical implementation - the folks at Menlo Innovations seem to have found a "balance of powers" that works well on all sides (users, business, project management, UI designers, and programmers). Is this a new member of the AgileProcesses or is it already well described elsewhere by some name other than "Menlo Software Factory"?

The talk (and this page) are not intended simply as advertisements for a single firm, however. I'm interested in figuring out what is going on at Menlo that worked so well and making connections from this one example to broader categories of software development practice.

A few annotated links related to my talk:

The basic premise of the "Menlo Software Factory" is that under most real-world project conditions, it's better when the end-user representatives (those trying to capture and distill motivations and intent in the context of use) and the system implementers (those responsible for supporting these tightly drawn stories in code) for a project are not just two modes of one mind (i.e., the developers model the users first, then code), but are actually *embodied separately* with each possessing *significant authority* ("you don't tell us how it ought to behave, we don't tell you how to make it behave" - something like that...).

HCI is HumanComputerInteraction

So wouldn't the Human side of this be at least half of it - if not most of it???

-- JeffGrigg

True, true. But this topic seems to be about representing HCI concerns in a development environment via having dedicated personnel roleplaying the end-user. Perhaps the opening question needs some work... you up to it, TomAllison?

Not "roleplaying" exactly. The High-tech Anthropology team gathers data on work practices and context, then produces artifacts (designs) and conducts activities that focus the team's efforts on producing software that is truly usable to the end user. Why is it so hard for there to be more than one agent on equal footing in these processes? I'm working on making this all clearer and in line with the intent of this wiki. -- TomAllison

As the Anon Coward who asked the question, I was just annoyed that a page titled humansideof... had an unexplained acronym, and that after a couple days HCI was still being assumed to be known by all.

Oh? Well, even I assumed it was known by all...

Hi, Tom -- although I've expressed some concerns over the intent of the SoftwareFactory? page, I have just watched the video you linked to above, and as far as I can see, they're just doing regular ol' XP. What I would be most interested in, however, is a software shop which employs both XP and GreatGameOfBusiness?. If you find one, and they have openings, let me know. :-)

Hi, back, with respect to the "Menlo Software Factory" idea being just an XP shop - the video was about the programming team - and, yeah, that is pretty straight-forward Agile/XP - the fundamental concept in the "factory" idea is, though, that the work is divided with distributed controls between the UI folks, the sponsor & PM and the programming team. There's no video that I know of that gives that over-view and I think it's that larger structure that makes it work so well for everybody. I hope to get some version of my presentation up, soon. I haven't worked for Menlo in years, so I'm not trying to sell *them* as much as I am a fan of their methodology and would like to make connections from it to the wider world.

-- TomAllison

Because it's a WalledGarden, you should probably aim to keep most of the stuff describing Menlo Innovations on just one page. Other pages may describe methodologies or patterns you see there in a manner independent of the Innovations group, so you shouldn't have two pages (HumanSideOfHci? + SoftwareFactory?) both lauding Menlo - it starts to sound like an advertisement. PeopleProjectsAndPatterns definitely has a space for mentioning the group, especially if they're doing something innovative with XP, but keep most pages focused on the methodologies rather than the group.

Thanks for this input, but I'm still having a hard time figuring out how I can post or inspire discussions about these topics that I believe are entirely on topic without getting them quickly deleted by some one who is convinced I'm breaking one rule of the community, or another. Any further specific advice would be very much appreciated.

How can I describe Menlo Innovations - where I do indeed think they have a novel set of XP practices worth the consideration of the wider community - without being seen as advertising? (I have no financial interest in the company whatsoever).

Describe what Menlo Innovations does in an objective, critical, and evaluative fashion. There's no need to mention Menlo Innovations by name.

[Just a suggestion: Try discussing the topic without posting links to the company, but rather discussing what you feel is novel about what they are doing that is different from normal XP, and being careful of what you use for page titles, and see if you can link it to an existing page(s) and topic(s) already on wiki. -- Seattle1]

For following changes, try NewRecentChanges.

A survey on Wikis: a survey on wikis


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