Motifs as an empiric source for personas

This is the last post about our LibreOffice survey done with UserWeave and we sum up the main findings. Find out about the users of LibreOffice and how motifs can help you to create better personas.

If you are interested in more detailed background information, please have a look at the past postings.

This article was posted first on 2011-Oct-31 at (site closed now; previous postings not resurrected)
Related postings: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol.4)

Users want to contribute

It’s remarkable that a huge number of people (n=5419) answered our questions in about one week, with a really low drop-out (~75% completed the survey).

Usability is a major issue of modern applications. We believe that a user-centric development can help to create usable software, e.g. make easier and more enjoyable to create better results. For a user-centric development users need to willing to join us. The survey is the prove that LibreOffice users are willing to do so – so let’s start to make it possible for our users to efficiently and enjoyably participate in the future development.

Motifs: Describing users beyond Personas

One main purpose of this study was to investigate a more psychological approach to describe the typical LibreOffice users. Currently the most common method for doing so is called Persona. A Persona basically is an aggregation of typical user characteristics described in the form of a fictional user of a product that is used to unify the view of the development team on the user base.

As psychologists we were always dissatisfied about the lack of a scientific, psychological ground to this methodology. Therefore we adopted the psychological concept of ‚motifs‘ for our study.

The scientific grounding was developed by Norbert Bischof, known as Zurich Model of Social Motivation, and is based on ethology. It postulates three general systems: security, arousal, and autonomy. The latter again is divided into power, prestige, and achievement. The model describes  a regulatory loop that combines all motifs.

Motifs can be used to explain and predict human behavior, e.g. people with a higher motif on arousal will in the same situation more likely do something that excites them than those who have low arousal value.

In our study we found first hints that using motifs could be well suited for describing typical users in a user-centric design process.


Security is a more basic motif. We picked the question „I need familiar people around me“ to access it. Because it is more relevant for children we did not find a significant relation to our dependent variables or the use of LibreOffice.


Arousal deals with new situations, search for excitations, adrenalin. We asked the participants about their self-estimation on the statement „Unknown situations are very attractive to me“. The results combined with questions concerning the use of LibreOffice and software in general show that people that have a higher arousal:

  • utilize Impress and Calc excessively and
  • make use of the possibility of self individualization within the software.


The motive of Power was assessed by accordance with the statement „In a work team I like to take the lead“. The higher people scored on the power motif,

  • the higher was the self-estimated relevance of computers,
  • the higher was the self-estimated expertise,
  • more intensively all LibreOffice tools were utilized,
  • the higher was the interest to interact fast and graphical instead of precise and textual.


The question „I enjoy it, when other people pay special attention to me“ was used to assess the prestige motif. People with high values on this question need social integration (perhaps they would have more friends on social networks too) and avoid to make failures in contrast to such with high values in arousal. In particular high values correlate with:

  • preference of assistance and active support,
  • preference of graphical interactions,
  • praise of innovative designs (like ribbons),
  • higher utilization only of Impress.


Achievement, assessed as „It is important for me, to deliver good performances“, turned out to be highly relevant for almost all of the responders. Due to this extreme distribution with roof effects we cannot reveal a particular relation to LibreOffice or UI in general. We will have to rephrase this question for future surveys.


We believe in motifs as replacement of or extension to personas. Perhaps not all of the postulated motifs are relevant in context of UI design but if we can create standard users based on this approach the results would be valid and reproducible. In our next studies we will integrate a revised questionnaire for assessing motifs, usage preferences and the use of LibreOffice, so we can re-assure our findings.