Quo vadis, Dolphin? Motifs as replacement for persona.

We conducted a large study about strengths and weaknesses of file managers in may 2013. In this article we present the results regarding demographics of participants and in particular their motifs.


The question about the target group is of essential importance not only for marketing but also for development. Usability uses several approaches to describe the target group that go from lead users (one prototypical person) and stereotypes (abstract knowledge about typical users, e.g. ‘nerds’, ‘LOHAS’) to personas (a fictional character based on real data).

Undoubtedly, all methods support the development process by abstraction from a personal point of view and try to create a shared understanding of the user base. But it is questionable whether lead users represent the actual target group, if stereotypes are valid, and if facts about persona are really specific enough to guide the development in the right direction. As psychologists we were always dissatisfied about the lack of a scientific, psychologically grounded methodology. Therefore we work on adopting the psychological concept of Motifs to describe the user groups.

The theory known as Zurich Model of Social Motivation was developed by Norbert Bischof 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 to predict human behavior, e.g. people with a higher motif on arousal are more likely to do something exciting.


General demographics

Familiarity seems to be an important aspect for choosing a particular tool: Users of Krusader (that applies a rather old-school concept to file management) are 44.8 years of age in average (cf. The relation between the ISO 9241-110 and the rating of features). Also users of Konqueror with 38.7 years of age are older than those of its successor Dolphin with an average of  32.2 year of age users (figure 1).

Figure 1: Demographics of users’ age by file managers.

In respect to business and position, most users are employed in the field of IT (figure 2).

Percentage of users by business and position

Figure 2: Percentage of users by business and position. Cell values denote the relative percentage.

The operating system is segmented by the file manager (or rather vice versa), i.e. Microsoft Explorer is used by people also using Microsoft Windows, Nautilus and Thunar by users with a Linux / GTK environment, and Dolphin, Konqueror, and Krusader by KDE users (all with about 95%).


The average self rating on the different motif dimensions is shown in figure 3 and reveals no clear difference between file managers. For all file managers the motif achievement is rated highest and prestige lowest. Only Konqueror has noticeable lower values for arousal compared to other file managers.

Figure 3: Average rating of motifs by file managers.

Additionally, we do not get clear results when comparing the self rating on motifs with requirements, existing features, or usability rating. The results rather prove the phenomenon of acquiescence bias: people that agree to a higher degree on one scale report higher value on other scales as well. The difference between high and low ratings in most combinations of depending values and independent motifs is positive, except of Power vs. Individualization. But in general all differences are rather low and do not hold statistical evidence.


Pretty interesting is the choice of a file managers depending on the age of the user. In particular Krusader with the orthodox interaction concept of two panels attracts elderly persons (disregarding the fact that Dolphin can be configured similarly). But also Konqueror, the predecessor of Dolphin, is used by people that are older in average. Other demographic data does not reveal any surprising results: users are mostly employed in the IT department. Remarkable is that students prefer GTK based Linux (Nautilus and Thunar). Or, with a ‘slightly different interpretation’: it’s easier for KDE users to get an employment.

Concerning motifs we asked five questions:

  • Arousal: “Unknown situations are very attractive to me”
  • Prestige: “I enjoy it, when other people pay special attention to me”
  • Security: “I need familiar people around me”
  • Achievement: “It is important for me, to deliver good performances”
  • Power: “I like to take the lead when working in a team”

The deviation between motifs is similar to other studies that we conducted: achievement has the highest value followed by arousal and power. Lower values are reported on prestige and security. A typical result is that prestige correlates with the use of Libreoffice Impress. Unfortunately, the current data do not bare any clear differences between file managers in respect to motifs. Also the reported ratings on features, satisfaction, and usability scales do not contain a variation by motifs. If you trust in the method, the finding means that the users of Dolphin are a rather homogeneous group with common attitudes. The lack of an effect might also result from the fact that we were not able to attract sufficient attention from users of other file managers than Dolphin.


If you want to follow our analysis step-by-step you can download the raw data (QuoVadis Results.tar.gz) as well as R scripts (QuoVadis_R-Scripts3.tar).