Speaking Your Intranet Language: An Information Architect Talks Taxonomy

A 2Plus2 information architect explains how leveraging the art and science of taxonomy can turn your employee intranet into an efficiency-enhancing tool.

By Cathy Dew

Take an audit of your email inbox. How many of these can you count?

  • Email conversations with multiple parties that seem to never end on topics that everyone seems to want or need to weigh in on
  • Drafts of presentations and white papers and client communications in duplicate and triplicate and quadruplicate with so many tracked changes that you’ve long ago stopped trying to follow the original author’s text at all
  • Messages with “must read” articles attached that you’ve never opened or bothered to read
  • Notices of meetings that have been scheduled, then rescheduled, then rescheduled again

Annoying stuff, right?

Now take a look at your Internet browsing activity and your bookmarks.

  • How many times have you searched for the same information?
  • Or searched for and saved information only to forget where you saved it?
  • Or, worse yet, ended up using information in a client memo or a report to your boss that you were not 100 percent sure was up-to-date and accurate (but used anyway because you had run out of time and search ideas)?

Scary stuff, right?

If you or your employees are experiencing any of the issues outlined above, you are all wasting valuable time and money by spinning your wheels occupying yourselves with inefficient and redundant tasks.

Even worse, if employees can’t find what they need when they need it, the company is in danger of relying on bad information to make big decisions and of providing clients with potentially erroneous advice.


Enter the Employee Intranet Information Portal

A well-designed employee intranet can help your company resolve or avoid most of these information issues.

A great employee intranet will save time and money by curbing those never-ending email conversations and reducing redundant draft-sharing exercises. An employee intranet worth its salt will offer alternative methods for sharing work product and collaborating, while also serving as a primary tool for reliable information searches and retrieval. The right employee intranet will increase performance efficiency, bolster work product reliability and, importantly, avoid the information disasters that come from:

  • Relying on flat-out wrong or outdated information,
  • Trying to make decisions when you are working with missing or incomplete information
  • Becoming overwhelmed and paralyzed because you have gathered too much information

The Art and Science of Taxonomy

So how will this seemingly magical intranet manage to solve all your information gathering and dissemination issues?

Through the art and science of taxonomy. Or, more specifically, by putting the employee front and center and incorporating user-centric taxonomies into your employee intranet.

Like much of the language of information architecture, taxonomy sounds complicated and technical. But taxonomy is actually a fairly simple concept, no smoke and mirrors needed.

Taxonomies are used to organize information all around us every day. Simply stated, taxonomy is the collection of terms describing a subject that have a hierarchical arrangement. Think fifth grade science and learning about kingdom, phylum, class, etc., or the way library books (yes, I mean three dimensional, paper-filled, bound books) are classified using the Dewey Decimal system. Or how you shop for shoes online by sorting by style, color, and cost (just kidding about that last one… nobody cares how much cute shoes cost, right?).

In intranet design, it is the intranet information architect’s job to create the right taxonomies for your specific employee intranet. She takes this information and organizes it into a structure so your employees are able to locate and use the information they need easily and efficiently.

The taxonomy the information architect creates begins with her gaining a thorough understanding of the language of the users.

Learning the Language of Users

The taxonomy the information architect creates for your employee intranet begins with learning as much as possible about your industry, how your company operates, and how your employee intranet users communicate with one another.

The information architect must learn the language of the users. By researching the relevant industry’s terms of art, understanding the culture of the company, and listening to the employees use of vernacular, the information architect can begin to put herself in the place of the users and how they posit queries when they conduct information searches.

Pattern recognition is extremely important during this language-based query analysis. The information architect looks for technical terms and jargon, noun and verb used in queries, common acronyms and the length of typical queries.

Understanding (and Compensating For) Technical Proficiency

Not all users in a company will have the same technical proficiency. Even though they operate in the same industry, different departments might focus on different aspects of the company or industry.

The information architect cannot assume all employees accessing the intranet will use the same terms of art in the same way. That is why creating multiple personas during the journey mapping stages of intranet development is so important. Testing taxonomies within queries while taking on the role of these differing personas will help the designers create a searchable tool that will be valuable to everyone in the company.

Designing to Meet User Goals

Understanding how users will interact with the intranet is also crucial to good employee intranet design. Back in 2002, former AltaVista Researcher and current Google Distinguished Scientist Andrei Broder identified the three main goal-based query types people use when searching for information:

  • Navigational Queries, where users search to reach a specific portal or area of a website
  • Informational Queries, where users search for specific information within a certain web page or document
  • Transactional Queries, where users search in order to accomplish or perform a specific task

During the course of her investigation into the best use of taxonomies, your information architect will address each of these types of queries that apply to your intranet users so she anticipates use and designs for enhanced user experience.

2Plus2 Information Architects Design With User Experience in Mind

At 2Plus2, our information architects work closely with our intranet design team to create company employee intranets that speak the language of your industry and your user base.

To meet with our design team to discuss creating an intranet that puts employees first, reach out to us online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 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.