My goal is to create some UX/JTBD personas and I am new to conducting user research interviews.

When asking participants what motivates them professionally, or what their professional goals are, a lot of them answer with "more money".

From what I've read, you are supposed to try and keep the questioning solution-agnostic, but it feels like I'm not getting to the deeper motivations/goals.

I have tried asking "why" again and they usually look at me like I'm crazy...and respond with something like "to live a more comfortable life."

Should I be framing the question in a different way? Any other suggestions?

5 Answers 5


I think there's something here to be said for not asking 'why' and trying to understand their true rationale deeper. In a workplace context their entire rationale possible is that, and knowing why won't help you to design better for them. What actually helps is starting to understand 'how' they think they can make more money.

Is it that they're a trader and want help choosing the best stocks? Is it that they're in a low level data entry role and want help reducing their mistakes, or showing off their successes to their manager? Is it that they're in sales and want to increase their sales volumes/amounts?

Often in the 'how' you'll also find additional motivations - such as wanting to leave the office on time every night, wanting to improve their skills at something, or prove themselves in their decision making / leadership skills. In a workplace setting those extra motivations are often more important to design for than their overall intrinsic motivations.

I know I'm going away from the key messaging of 'design 101 and knowing the person holistically' here but I've found more success this way.


Maybe you could start digging back into their history. When they decided to pursue the current profession, what went through their heads back then. Maybe there are some simply forgotten motivations as a result of the day-to-day hustle.

Also, it could be that you are interviewing the wrong users. For many, making more money is the ultimate goal. If you are targeting those with professional aspirations, then find more of them.


The technique, i.e., asking 'why' multiple times, is correct. However, the success of this interview technique depends on the question/interview design. The laddering technique is underpinned by the Means-end-chain theory, and this technique is the recommended interview method for understanding consumer motivations. This latest article (open access) provides an excellent step-by-guide on how to administer an online laddering interview (see page 6 in the paper and the web appendix), which is a convenient way to collect qualitative data from many respondents quickly. Two recommendations: 1) the laddering process should be explained to the respondents so that they are aware of the repetitive nature of the interview, and 2) the respondents should be adequately compensated for their time and effort in answering the laddering questions; that should reduce their unhappiness with the process.


You could create a user journey map and align your personas with it to come up with a more holistic picture of your users.

When this is done you will come across many question marks. From these, you could plan out upcoming user interviews to find answers and validate various points in your user journey.

Also during your user interviews ask warm up and open-ended questions that allow participants to share their mindset to better and understand their goals and motivations.

You might find this helpful for preparing your user interviews https://youtu.be/auQCdrRfYas


A good approach to find out about subject's real motivations is to use contextual laddering. During the interview, simply ask questions "why". Sometimes interviewees say some assumptions that they think are correct even without thinking too much about it, therefore, by answering on a "why" question the subject can reveal his/her true intentions/motivations/reasoning. You can ask few "whys" one after another, but as long as the subject is comfortable - it can also be rephrased to "what makes you think/act like that" etc.

Contextual laddering: https://www.allaboutux.org/contextual-laddering

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