Intranet Design Realigned: Graphics Meets UI and UX

The 2Plus2 intranet design team explains how great employee intranets are made when graphic design, UI design, and UX design converge.

By Cathy Dew

You are about to embark on an exciting project to transform your workplace. Soon, every employee from the CEO to the guy who passes out parking passes on the back lot is going to have a shiny new employee intranet to connect them, inform them, and guide them through their day.

You’re scheduled to meet with the intranet design team and you want to make sure you understand who does what and why. For some reason every time you hear the term “designer” you either think of Tim Gunn encouraging the Project Runway cast to “make it work” or one of those mind-numbing HGTV DIY videos on kitchen cabinet construction (no link provided; you’re welcome).

Luckily, you’ve got this primer to fill in the missing pieces on intranet designers and what it is they actually do.

So let’s unravel the different types of skills your intranet design team will be bringing to the table.

Form as Messenger: The Role of Graphic Design

Back in the 20th Century, a graphic designer’s job was to manipulate a computer program to produce some sort of image-based messaging or mantra. The idea was to get someone to buy something, go somewhere, or at the very least feel some way

A typical graphic design project would be creating a company logo, something that reflects the organization’s style and message. A good logo encourages the company’s target audience to form positive and lasting associations with and to the company.

While the general goals of graphic design haven’t changed, the vehicles for messaging have expanded exponentially as new technologies — including Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (VR) — enter the marketplace.

Like all creative disciplines, graphic design continues to evolve as creatives continue to innovate. According to AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), graphic design, often referred to in today’s lexicon as communication design, involves:

… the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form it takes can be physical or virtual and can include images, words, or graphics. The experience can take place in an instant or over a long period of time. The work can happen at any scale, from the design of a single postage stamp to a national postal signage system. It can be intended for a small number of people, such as a one-off or limited-edition book or exhibition design, or can be seen by millions, as with the interlinked digital and physical content of an international news organization. It can also be for any purpose, whether commercial, educational, cultural, or political.

Message as Connector: The Role of User Interface Design (UI)

Where graphic design starts out one-directional (designer to audience), UI design takes the products and elements of graphic design and creates a two-directional vehicle for interaction between the messenger (the company) and the receiver (user).

The reason you can hop on your PC, smartphone or tablet and find what you want when you want it on your intranet is a graphic designer invited you in and then a UI designer allowed you to do what you wanted to do when you got there.

By embedding essential interactive technology elements into the graphic design, the UI designer made sure you were, for example, directed to an online form that you could fill out now or save online for later, and then send along to your intended recipient when you were ready. The UI designer made that bright shiny button clickable so your message got sent and let you navigate your way to different areas of the site using intuitive drop-down menus.

Remember the graphic designer’s logo? A UI designer took that logo and transformed it into a clickable entranceway to the site, merging form and messaging with function.

Connecting to the User: The Role of User Experience Design

If graphic design invites you into the site and UI design invites you to interact with the elements of the site, then user experience design (UX) invites you to come back to the site, again and again.

UX design puts the user front and center, using sophisticated tools and research methods to understand who their users are, what they need to become loyal users of the site, and how to keep them engaged before, during and after launch.

The UX designer is concerned with how the users perceive the site, how comfortable they are with the technology, and what can be done to make them want to return.

UX designers spend a lot of energy laying the groundwork for design. They may use tools such as creating user personas, journey mapping, wire framing, and usability testing before the site is launched. The goal of the UX designer is to get inside the users’ heads to understand the user experience from the actual user’s perspective. Understanding the user’s attitude as well as behavior plays a big role is how the UX designer fulfills this function.

Once the site is up and running, a UX designer’s job is to assess, test, refine and revise, all with an eye toward keeping the site user-friendly and functional. In essence, the UX designer wraps her arms around the entire design process, providing the foundation to inform initial graphic and UI design decisions, and then revisiting the results to suggest refinement and reformations where necessary.

Disappearing Distinctions: Form Becomes Function (it’s all very existential)

The lines drawn between design functions aren’t necessary as clear as they might appear from this primer.

In reality, the functions can overlap quite a bit, especially between graphic design and UI design and UX design and information architecture.

At 2Plus2 we combine deep expertise in all design functions to create holistic and seamless intranet design modalities, allowing form and function to come together in a product that meets the unique needs of each client organization.

Explore Your Intranet Design Project With Us

Of course every project begins with that first design team meeting. Now that you know the different hats that members of an intranet design team are going to be wearing, it is time to schedule your no-obligation initial discussion with the 2Plus2 intranet design team.

Give me a call at 510-652-7700 or contact us online. to schedule a free consultation today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.