Designing your Intranet is More than Just About How it Looks
So you’ve got approval for an intranet and you may have even gone ahead and purchased our off-the-shelf Precurio solution. Now what? Now comes design. Intranet design is not just about what your intranet home page should look like but more importantly what features are most prominent, how would you organize the navigation facility and categorise content, employee mobility and so forth… there are endless considerations. Below we deal with the key questions you will need to understand before getting on with your intranet design.
- Build your Intranet based on your User’s Needs
This may seem obvious but there are a myriad of IT Managers who will get approval for their intranet and then go ahead and start designing without completely understanding what their users (company employees, clients, regional offices- everyone) do everyday. When we say completely, we mean it. You can’t just have a vague idea about what admin staff do or what information the sales department needs to have access to because they will likely be key users in the equation.
Here are some ideas for capturing your user needs:
- Start by asking: Ask for input from users in every department of your company. More than likely, those users will have a better idea of their individual needs than you do. Make sure to include the departments that will use the intranet most: the HR department, the communications department, and even the sales department. Consult with members of the team who will be accessing the intranet from places other than the office: what features will be most helpful when they’re on the go? Today, the best of the intranets already emphasise mobile optimization. Make sure to ask how much time employees spend out of the office working, on what devices might they need to access their files, and what tasks, in particular might they need to perform on say, a mobile device. These days, many employees work remotely so this will need to be a key consideration. Building your intranet for mobile devices first can be easier and cheaper than trying to build for desktops and then tailoring it for mobile devices.
- Get them engaged: The best way to get employees engaged in the process is to give them a reason to enjoy it. Tailor it to their experience by offering them apps, personalized pages and features they might enjoy. Offer an area for off-topic chatter like announcements of births, weddings etc or set up an internal bulletin board. Remember, even if engagement starts out looking more like these things rather than adding company documents and files, it is all for the same cause- enhancing employee engagement.
- Don’t forget to train your users so they can use it!
2. Information architecture & Navigation
The information architecture, or I.A., is basically how you organize and structure functions, features and, yes, shared information. Admittedly, this can be tricky because everyone will have different ideas but finding the consensus that makes sense to most people is key. If you can understand your users’ experiences, you can answer the fundamental question about intranet design and that is about information architecture and navigation.
‘Card sorting’ is a technique used for understanding how each person sorts information in their heads. ‘Card sorting’ exercises can help you understand how to structure and organize information navigation and architecture.
One simple card sorting exercise might be to ask your users to write different topics of information on individual cards and then ask them to group those cards into logical categories.
Over time, information availability might have been ‘siloed’ according to department or office. So try revisiting content groupings to simplify where different types of information live and how content is characterized, i.e. is it a form, a policy, a web resource, a video, an announcement, a discussion or an article, and what is it used for? Making sure that this metadata is captured, and content is characterized and tagged not only improves the user experience, it also enhances the search function, ownership and accountability.
3. Finding and Storing Information: pay attention to your search function!
An intranet’s search function is probably one of the hardest but most important feature to get right. If your users can’t find the information they need easily, they won’t use it.
- So no.1, make it obvious. Making quick search, employee search and advanced search options readily available on the homepage will score you megapoints in the user experience category.
- Keep what’s new front and center so that users can find out quickly what’s happening within the company and keep all employees up to date on company-wide information.
- We’ve been spoiled by google. All we do there is type what we need and voila. But ideally your internal search function should act similiarly in that content is tagged appropriately, users are able to perform advanced searches, put in filters and refiners and search by keyword in both the title and the content.
4. Designing your homepage/ brand/ colours
Your homepage is the first thing your employees see when they click onto the intranet, or in some cases when they open their browser. So it’s important to make it look appealing, engaging and neat. Keep it simple though. It’s tempting to try to put every feature on the homepage so you can impress your users. But inevitably, it will have a reverse effect where users will not go beyond the homepage because it looks too busy and confusing. An engaging homepage will leave users with a positive first impression of what the intranet can do for them and can often be the deciding factor of whether they choose to continue through the site or stop their journey short.
5. Help Connect Your Employees
Intranets are not just ideal for storing and managing information but they are there to facilitate easy communication as well without the cumbersome function of sending an email. If business communication is easy, it can free up time for other tasks and invariably increase overall productivity. Consider how your employees communicate now. Is there a lot of short emails being flounced around, or longer, more considered issues that draw in a number of users to the debate? Use this information to add features such as quick, live chat apps, blogs that everyone can comment on for longer, more topical issues and automated response buttons for simple communication such as approving a meeting or liking changes to a document.
Don’t forget to add some ‘social’ features that allow employees to come together and establish social connections such as adding birthdays, anniversaries and weddings in a widget or a featured employee profile. These are great ways to get employees engaged but don’t take up too much space or distraction from the main aim of your intranet.
6. Personalising your Intranet
Give your user the experience of familiarity and allow them to tailor colors, features and apps to reflect their own job function and priorities. This can be done in many ways, including enabling users to customize their own links or dashboards so that they have quick access to what they need. Each employee uses different information and may prefer different tools for quick access. This can vastly improve the user experience as well as encourage them to engage by allowing putting them in control.
Of course, internal branding is key to the look and feel of your intranet. So try to make your user intranet experience unique by using colors, fonts, media, and other style elements that can add to the overall feel. If you can show you care as much about how your intranet feels as you do your customer-facing website, employees will appreciate their experience much more.
7. Set yourself goals and tools to know if your intranet is working for its users. At regular intervals, you may want to do a follow up survey with employees to know if it is working for them, ask questions about how it can be improved, what it isn’t doing effectively and what works well. That way, you can be adding improvements as you go along and the pressure is not on you to have it exactly right when it launches. It can be, as much as your boss allows, a work in progress.
Precurio offers 24/7 support to its customers for any questions around design or functionality. But more importantly, Precurio is designed to be simple and intuitive making it easy to tailor to your needs and preferences in minutes.