User Experience and the Intranet

Date Posted: Monday, 29 September 2014 09:11
Posted By: Kerry Butters
Tags: intranet

In recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in user experience (UX, or usability) in web design. Whilst the field is nothing new, the plethora of new devices to hit the market has meant that it’s now more important than ever to give the user a good experience if you want your site to outdo the competition.

User Experience

However, have you ever considered that UX is equally important when it comes to designing an intranet? After all, the goals are similar – whilst you may not need anyone on the intranet to buy anything, you still want them to be engaged and that means giving the user what they want.

With that in mind, let’s have a look today at some basic principles for intranet UX design.

Why Consider UX?

A business system is rarely designed with the user at the forefront of the mind and so this creates an intranet which can be clunky and difficult to use. In turn, this frustrates the user and holds them back from carrying out their job efficiently.

An effective intranet UX should:

  • Give the user clear pointers on where they need to go for information
  • Include shared workspaces and resources
  • Be optimised for mobile
  • Include social elements (IM, forums/message boards)
  • Always include an effective search function
  • Have great navigation

UX is a discipline of its own and it’s worth an organisation calling in a consultant if the internal IT and design team doesn’t have the necessary skills. An outdated and awkward UX will mean that tasks often take workers longer so the biggest bonus will be in productivity and employee happiness. As we’ve mentioned before, an employee who is given the tools to improve will become a more fulfilled and thus, more productive one.

Getting Started with Intranet UX

When it comes to an intranet, planning is everything and with regards to UX, this should include a lot of conversation with the end user. It’s necessary to find out where the existing intranet is failing so in order to do this, interviews and surveys should be held so that the UX can be planned out effectively.

Since it’s the user you’re concentrating on, it can’t be emphasised enough how important it is to listen to them. Again, employee input is something that will always be appreciated and make workers feel more valued, which again leads to better performance at work.

Basic Principles of UX

Good UX should be kept as simple as possible and include a visual hierarchy so that users can quickly see how to get about. One of the most popular books in UX, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, was written some time ago back in 2002 (it’s also had a few revisions since) yet still holds true today. This is because, as the title suggests, the user that’s made to think too hard about what they have to do in order to find their way around the site will quickly become frustrated.

However, whilst a frustrated user can simply leave a website, this isn’t possible for the intranet user and so instead, the way they carry out their job suffers. With this in mind, and as Steve Krug points out, users should be able to:

“Get it’ – what it is and how to use it – without expending any effort thinking about it.”

He goes on to say that: “All kinds of things on a web page can make us stop and think unnecessarily” and that “these things are almost always somewhere on a continuum somewhere between ‘Obvious to everyone’ and ‘Truly obscure,’ and there are always tradeoffs involved.”

So when considering the UX design, you want to aim for the ‘Obvious to everyone’ as staff have differing levels of skill and experience when it comes to using both intranets and the web itself.

Navigation and Signals are Key to a Good Intranet Design

Steve Krug suggests that everyone should consider the following when it comes to UX so that users can see and take advantage of as much as possible:

  • Taking advantage of conventions – that is widely used design patterns – in order that the user can grasp what they need to do immediately
  • Creating effective visual hierarchies so that users understand where things are and what should be clicked
  • Breaking up pages into clearly defined areas makes scanning more effective and allows the user to take in information quickly
  • Make the clickable very obvious
  • Take out unnecessary distractions
  • Format content to support scanning as it’s a well-known fact that people rarely actually read a screen but scan it first to pick out salient information

Sometimes, design trends dictate how an intranet interface may look – a great example of this is flat design which came about thanks to the Windows 8 and iOS 7 interfaces. Now we see it everywhere but care must be taken to ensure that clickable areas are immediately obvious.

This is something that can be easily addressed with the use of strong colours. The modern intranet user is generally sophisticated enough to recognise clear signals when they’re presented. This and other potential issues surrounding the design choice should be made clear at the initial planning stage so that the design team don’t clash with the CEO or other executive who may perhaps want an interface that’s just one or two colours for branding.

Navigation should also include breadcrumbs, so that the user can clearly see where they’ve been and be presented with an easy choice to get back to where they want to go, such as the example below which can be presented as textual links above the content.

Home > knowledge base > company information > directors > (name of person)

This allows them to return to a previous page quickly and easily.

There’s an awful lot to think about when it comes to UX and the intranet. Getting together a persona often helps designers to think about how information should be presented to the user. However, excellent planning, good communication and beta testing should ensure that everything is covered by the time it’s ready to go live.

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