The Power of Pretty: Why Good Visual Intranet Design Matters

2Plus2’s intranet design experts explain how good visual design increases your employee intranet’s credibility and usability.

By Cathy Dew

Like it or not, first impressions matter.

This is true in personal relationships, business relationships and yes, even in the type of relationship your employees will have with your company’s intranet.

And like it or not, the first impression your intranet is going to make is going to be based on how it looks.

I know. It’s unfair, this emphasis on pretty over practical. After all, you did your due diligence. You pinpointed personas, went wild over wireframes, produced impactful prototypes, and juggled multiple journey maps until you nailed the user interface aspects of your new intranet by creating a site that rates high on usability for even your most tech-challenged users.

You spent all that time on creating a kick-ass UI design to provide the best user experience possible for everyone concerned and now I’m telling you that form is as important as function.


The Importance of Visual Design

When it comes to creating employee intranets, there is a tendency to place so much focus on function that form somehow gets left out, or at least lost, in the design equation. It’s not that making your intranet visually appealing is more important than making it functionally fabulous, it’s just that the site’s aesthetics deserve some respect too.

It is well worth your while to invest at least a portion of your intranet design budget in making your site visually appealing. Here’s why:

  • Pretty sites get more traffic. An attractive site has a natural appeal to users. Yes, your staff will have to use your employee intranet no matter what, especially if they need it to find resources, share documents with colleagues, and send and receive vital information to perform their jobs. But wouldn’t it be great if they also hopped on the intranet because they like it? Because it provides a little eye candy? Because it has some elements of fun and maybe even whimsy?
  • Pretty sites are more credible. Great UX is not all findability and navigability. Adding some pizazz to your intranet design actually makes your site more credible. According to Stanford University, there is a strong correlation between a site’s visual design appeal and how credible it is to users. Forty-six percent of website visitors, in fact, report that a pleasing design is a factor supporting a site’s credibility.
  • Pretty sites allow for faster communication. Well-selected and strategically placed images not only appeal to a user visually, but they also enhance communication. Experts believe that visual elements of a site are processed in the brain much faster than text and increase the likelihood that information will be retained.

Visual Design vs. Graphic Design

People often use the terms “digital design” and “visual design” interchangeably.  But, to be more precise, visual design is actually a hybrid discipline that incorporates digital design.

Visual design has roots in both UI design and graphic design. True visual designers focus on the aesthetics of a site — strategically incorporating fonts, colors, images, space, layout, color and other elements  — while retaining the site’s primary focus on content and usability.

Visual designers know how to engage users with these visual elements, using them to build trust and interest in the site.

For example, visual design builds interest by:

  • Ensuring the intranet’s pages are visually balanced
  • Making sure that pages are readable and that the user’s eye is drawn to certain elements on the page
  • Inviting the user to take certain actions that will further the site’s appeal

Visual Design: Culture and Branding

The theme and style of your intranet’s visuals should accurately reflect your organization’s corporate identity and branding. Visual design should also take into account the emotional and cultural factors that could affect users’ perceptions.

Do you want to convey a laid-back anything goes vibe, or does your company lean more toward a traditional straight-laced businesslike culture? Are your users concentrated in a particular region of the US, or do you have a more diverse international workforce? Your choices in colors, layouts, and other design aspects will say a lot about your company, more than you might suppose.

For example, if you are designing an intranet in Gainesville, Florida, where the University of Florida  (Go Gators!) is located, you are probably not going to want to pepper your intranet site with photographs of bulldogs or choose a color palate that incorporates a lot of red and black, all symbols of UF’s arch-rivals, the University of Georgia.

Similarly, if your company has offices in China or Chinese employees or contractors that will be accessing the intranet, it’s a good idea to understand the impact a color choice to use black could have on these users’ feelings. In traditional Chinese color symbolism, black represents destruction, evil, cruelty, and sadness.

A seasoned intranet design team that incorporates visual design will combine the conventional wisdom and best practices of tried and true digital design principles — like proper use of whitespace  — while taking the company’s culture and the sensitivities of its employee users into account.

The Limits of Visual Design

While I’ve been touting the value and importance of visual design, it’s important to acknowledge that it is possible to place too much emphasis on the visual aspects of your intranet and actually end up impeding its functionality. If a visual designer is not careful, they could end up with the unanticipated consequence of actually degrading the user experience.

This happens when design and available resources are not in alignment. A good visual designer will be able to recognize the limitations of resources and how this can impact the use of certain visual design elements. Visual designers must consider ways to effect great aesthetic results while staying mindful of limiting parameters. Factors to consider include:

  • Upload speeds and devices that will be used to access the intranet
  • Current and future data storage parameters
  • Capacity for site updating and maintenance

2Plus2 Combines UI and Visual Design Into Great UX

The multi-disciplinary intranet design team at 2Plus2 understands how to incorporate visual elements into an employee intranet design to produce a site that provides clarity of message and usability, while at the same time promoting a company’s core values and corporate identity.

To learn more about how we can work for you, call 2Plus2’s intranet design team at 510-652-7700 or contact us online. Initial consultations are free.

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.