I'm part of an external team hired to improve a software engineering company's intranet.

I have been tasked with developing a usable set of personas out of a pool of around 300 employees. The personas, along with heuristic evaluation and usability testing, will be one of the tools used to develop a design-decision making framework.

In order for the personas to be an effective tool I know I need to ask the right questions, the right way. Does anyone have some experience interviewing intranet users that they can share?


5 Answers 5


The less questions you ask, the better.
For personas development one should use interviews of the *ethnographic * kind (Google for it).
In these interviews the subject is encouraged to talk freely, unconstrained. This is the best way to detect their cravings and frustrations. On the other hand, a set of preset questions implies a frame in the interviewer's mind that suggests a pre-existing design.

It is practical to divide the session in two stages.
In the first stage you want the subject to expose her ideas.
The second stage should be about her experiences and feelings.
To start the first stage, and after you have built some confidence and set the background, you ask something generic like what do you think about ?.
To switch to the second stage the question should be in the vein of how do you feel about , do you have any prior experiences?.

  • Thank you, Juan. Just curious, did you emphasize "personas" to indicate that it should be plural in this case?
    – bernk
    Oct 22, 2012 at 19:27
  • 1
    @bernk - I emphasize the word because I'm a Spanish speaker, and "persona" is Spanish for "person". So, in order to identify the different meanings I write persona or personas. The use of the plural is because you usually develop more than one persona for a UI. Usually there is a primary persona and two or three secondary personas.
    – Juan Lanus
    Oct 22, 2012 at 20:25
  • I thought so, but thank you for taking the time to confirm. Thanks again for a great answer.
    – bernk
    Oct 22, 2012 at 20:26

Similar to: what question should be asked to make a persona

I had the same problem and didn't know what to ask users. After some research and thought, I came up with the following:


  • Use Primarily Open-Ended Questions
  • Ask Naïve Questions
  • Ask People to show You, not tell you, when possible
  • Ask for specific stories,especially about anything you can’t observe

Conceptual Areas of Questioning

  • People
  • Activity
  • Object
  • Environment
  • Interactions
  • Communication
  • Services
  • Pain Points
  • Solutions
  • Needs
  • Objectives

Overview Questions

  • Give us a little background on your job.
  • Why and how did you become a/an ______________
  • How long have you been working as a/an _____________
  • Why do you work for this company as opposed to another one?
  • Tell me a bit about your industry, and your role in it

Domain knowledge

  • What associations/networks do you belong to?
  • What skills are required to do your job?
  • How do you keep up to date / get information about your industry and profession?


  • What are you responsible for in your job?
  • How do you define progress/success in your job? How do you measure progress/success?

Attitudes & Motivations

  • What are the most enjoyable parts of your job? What do you value most?
  • Are there any external (extrinsic) or Internal (intrinsic) motivations to do a good job? (such as rewards, promotions, perks, etc…)


  • Describe a typical workday. What do you do when you first get into the office? What do you do next? 
  • How do you do [a certain task]?
  • How long does this task typically take?
  • Where would you start?
  • What would you do next?
  • Can you show me how you do that?
  • What activities take up most of your time?
  • What activities are most important to your success?
  • Out of the things you do during a typical day
  • Are there any company or industry mandated processes / tasks?
  • What processes have you developed on your own?
  • Have you learned to do your work better from peers / colleagues?


  • How is your office organized to help you accomplish your tasks / goals?
  • Show me how you utilize your office to accomplish your tasks / goals?

Pain Points

  • What are the most difficult / challenging / annoying / frustrating aspects of your job?
  • After a typical work day, what (if anything) is still on your mind as it pertains to work? (What issues keep you up at night?)

Tools & Technology

  • What traditional (analogue) tools do you use to accomplish tasks in your job?
  • What digital tools do you use to accomplish tasks in your job?
  • Where do any of your tools fall short? (What doesn’t it do (or do well) that you need it to do?)

Mental models

  • What kinds of people do well in your position? Why?
  • Compare Similar processes
  • A process, and how it may or may not have changed across time

Relationships & Organizational Structure

  • Besides clients/customers, who else do you interact with while doing your work?
  • Who do you report to? Who reports to you?
  • How often do you collaborate with others? How do you collaborate?

Projection / Dream Questions (“if it were magic”)

  • If we came back in X years to have this conversation again, what would be different? 
  • If you could build your ideal experience, what would it be like?

Wrap Up

  • Did we miss anything?
  • Is there anything you want to tell us? 
  • Is there anything you want to ask us?

To find out more about personas, and how to create them, check out http://slowmtn.tumblr.com


I am mainly with Juan Lanus on this but, wanted to make some slightly different points/download.

I think one to one interviews are best, and a semi formal interview is the best format. You need to realise you will always have the 'power' and part of your job is to allow the person to have control in the conversation. This is different to many other types of interview situations. This way they will be more likely to talk about things that make them feel stupid.

Behavioural interviewing techniques are really important, talk about what they have done in the past not what they may do, everyone has good intentions but rarely act on them. This will ensure that you get realistic data on their activity. Also open questions et al

Start the conversation about neutral subjects, most people will be guarded as they will not fully understand why you are doing what you are doing. Then slip into the more personal, starting with loves and hates is usually an 'easy' way in.

Find the thing they are passionate about, get them talking about, people love talking about the thing they love. Get them talking it does not have to be about work.

Listen to what they are saying and ask questions about what they are saying not what you have on your list. I have so often heard people miss an interesting bit of information because they are more focussed on the list of questions than the person.

Have a list of questions you can fall back on if you get stuck. Do as many as you can and always listen back to your recordings and work out where you could do better.

Remember you are not finding out about their use, you are finding out about them.


Since I don't have any previous experience with usability surveys of intranet sites I can't provide any specific information on that, however the popular belief is that the design goals should not differ between internal and consumer products when it comes to creating a good UX.

However, to find a variety of questions that you could use for your questionnaire I would suggest taking a look at the Usability and user experience surveys page on EduTech. There you'll find a range of example questions and templates of how to structure the survey in a way that it will suite your needs.

  • The EduTech links interested me...until I found that the most recent of all the survey examples listed there is from 2001--nearly TWELVE years ago. Many of the others are from the 80s-90s. UX design & development has a come a long way in just the last couple of years, let alone decades, so while there may be some useful questions, my guess is that newer and more relevant questions won't be there.
    – user21389
    Nov 12, 2012 at 15:09

Two ethnographic methods I recommend using together to generate personas are anecdote circles and archetype extraction.

In an anecdote circle, groups of people - eight is a good number - tell stories about their experiences. As one person talks, the other members of the group write down on post-its the attributes of the characters they perceive in the story as adjective-noun pairs (eg. "ineffectual manager", "loose cannon", etc.). Repeat while stories are forthcoming, then when the storytelling is finished, cluster the post-its in groups with similar characteristics. When the groups are finalised, give each one a name.

To extract archetypes identify the positive and negative traits of each cluster, write them on post-its and place them around the cluster. Next, remove the original items and titles, leaving only the attributes and shuffle them randomly. Then recluster the traits, with each cluster having a balance of positive and negative traits. Aim for 6-10 clusters and give each one a name. These are your archetypes or personas.

What's great about this method is that rather than being some "magic" process where the answer falls out at the end if you put the right data in, the archetypes emerge from the conversations of the real people in a specific context as they make sense of what they are hearing. You are using their contextual knowledge, so it is authentic and inclusive. You will also likely learn some things you were not expecting.

(You will need to register for basic access to the linked articles. As a member of the Cognitive Edge network I have been taught these methods and have used them, but I have no commercial interest in the organisation.)

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