Make Your Intranet a Blockbuster Success with These 6 UX Tenants

Intranets are internal. Let’s just get that out there and let it sink in.

Intranets are internal.  Let’s just get that out there and let it sink in.  The executive team, the new college hires, the managers in between, they all use this corporate portal.  If you’re a User Experience (UX) developer designing Intranets, these people are your audience.  The site UX for any Intranet design is the first taste of the experiences to come from within the system.  Much like teaser movie trailers, the initial layout and home page is going to lure people in and have them make a snap judgment, “Yes, I’m seeing that movie opening day.”  “Yes, I know I can use this as a daily resource without much hassle.”  UX is the dangling carrot, the teaser trailer.  But behind the shiny, new exterior, there must also be validated worth.  And that, in a nutshell, is the challenge to good UX design for Intranets.

We’ve already established that UX is important.  And that Intranets are all about users.  If you keep those two tenants at the forefront of all your actions regarding Intranet implementation, you will most likely succeed.  The third tenant is to not make assumptions about users.  Assumptions won’t fly here- you need real data, real tests, with real users.  Making an assumption that ‘people do x’ when in fact they do ‘x+y’, or even just ‘z’, will trickle through all other user actions, magnifying the error deeper and deeper across the system.  And that error will turn into frustrated employees, users of the site who can’t find any of the information they need.  So please, for everyone’s benefit, do preliminary user testing to find out what people across the organization and across different business groups, have in common (and how they differ) when it comes to user expectations.

After you’ve tested user groups and are putting layouts into place, be technology-agnostic at this point. If you’re not already tied to an existing platform, allow yourself to focus on the needs of the organization without limits or impositions of technology.  What would you do if you could do anything?  Start with this ideal version and work from there.  If you are not in the position of choosing a provider, you can still use this process.  Start with your ideal approach and find out what your constraints are.  If something is too limited, what can be done to work around it?  It’s a best practice to aim high and at an ideal solution so you always know what you’re working toward, even if you can’t accomplish it in the short term.

If you’re updating an existing Intranet, you have the advantage of knowing what the existing problems are.  An upgrade should be solely focused on fixing those problems.  Everything else is secondary.  If you’re starting from scratch, you might not have this immediate luxury, but as time passes and testing/usership occurs, you will learn your weaknesses.  Your goal should always be to fix them, not gloss them over with a slightly different functionality you hope will work.  Find your problems.  Fix them.  It’s worth noting that this is not a ‘fix it and forget it’ situation; Intranets will need iterative changes, continual improvement.  Much like your workforce grows and advances, so must the Intranet.

Keep it simple.

…It’s tempting to leave it just to that.  Be wary of over-designing.  Don’t crowd menus.  Leave breadcrumbs.  Flat design is a trend that’s here to stay for that very reason.  If something is 5 clicks deep, is there a logical path to it?  Keep it simple.

Gaining the trust and acceptance of Intranet users is difficult and often a result of snap decisions from the first, brief interactions on a web site.  Let your UX be the blockbuster movie trailer that makes everyone buy advance tickets.  Do not be Battlefield Earth.