Good, Better, Best Practices in Intranet Design

2Plus2’s UX design team explains how to use competitive analysis to incorporate best practices in employee intranet design.

By Cathy Dew

Re-imagination is the birthplace for vision and change… Susan Young, motivational speaker.
The standard library saves programmers from having to reinvent the wheel… Bjarne Stroustrup, designer of C++

Reimagining the Wheel

User experience is everything in employee intranet design.

You want your users to be able to enter your intranet seamlessly, intuit or easily identify options for navigation and exploration, and painlessly achieve whatever purpose they have set their sights on in entering the site in the first place. And you want to create this UX-centric tool on time and in or under budget.

Best place to start? Understand what has been done before, how it worked, why it worked, and what could have been done to make it even better.

In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, take a look at the relevant wheels out there and reimagine them, turning what is good for them into something better for you, so that their good practices become your best practices.

Competitive Analysis Applied to Intranet Design

One of the most useful tools when starting any digital design project is what is commonly referred to as the competitive analysis of other sites. Basically, the idea is that designers test drive competitors’ sites to learn what others have created so they can recognize and avoid bad practices while taking good practices and reimagining them into something better.

For example, if your digital design goal is to create an e-commerce website that is easy to navigate, offers consumers what they want, and encourages conversions by simplifying checkout procedures, you are going to want to test drive other e-commerce sites in your commercial space. You want to find all the flaws of the competitors’ sites while taking note of what aspects of the designs and functions get your competition to those coveted conversions.

Similarly, if you are working on the design of a gaming app, you are going to want to spend time actually playing similar digital games, taking note of how user-friendly and engaging they are for the demographic you are designing for, as well of how and when user enjoyment turns to frustration.

In the intranet design world, undertaking straight up competitive analyses is not going to be so simple.

You are going to need to shift a bit to a comparative analysis mindset, although the distinction between comparative and competitive analysis will not come with much of a difference. Employee intranets are, by intention, not open to external or public scrutiny. However, experienced intranet UX and UI designers will be able to direct your attention to sites that are freely accessible on the Internet that carry most of the user interface technology and applications that you will likely incorporate in your intranet. Spending time on these sites will help you learn the upsides and downsides to each element, informing your own design decisions.

Delving Into UX Issues By Examining UI Elements

Once you’ve selected the sites for UX comparative/competitive analysis, you want to take a deep dive into the UI design issues you encounter on the sites you are analyzing and create list of what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to the color palette, the typography and iconography, the visual language, etc., and ask yourself why you think they might have done something a particular way. Could there have been a better way of doing it?

For each aspect of the comparative site’s design, ask yourself?

  • What user problem does this design element seek to solve?
  • How well does it accomplish its purpose?
  • How could we achieve better results by reimagining this function?

Then, when you are drilling down into the UI and UX aspects of each site, you are going to want to get very granular with your observations and analyses. For example, you might want to ask:

Is it easy to navigate the site?

  • Can the user easily locate a search function and what types of queries are understood or allowed?
  • How easy is it to move from page to page and to return to a previous page?
  • How many steps are needed to locate specific content?
  • Do icons convey a clear message? Do they aid in navigation or confuse the user?

Are input controls easy to find and use?

  • Can the user immediately locate drop down and other menus?
  • How many choices are provided in each menu? Are they helpful or could they be overwhelming?
  • How are buttons activated and are they labeled in a way that makes sense to the user?
  • Can the user customize any elements? Which ones?

How well do informational components integrate with the rest of the site?

  • Do progress bars help the user advance through a process or do they distract and impede the user’s progress?
  • How and when are hints displayed and can a user bypass or avoid them when not useful?
  • When and how often do pop-ups appear and for what purpose?
  • How are error messages and warnings conveyed and do they help educate the user on a better practice?
  • Is the user rewarded for successful task completion? How?
  • Are there impediments to a users’ progressing through the site and, if so, are they intentional? If intentional, what purpose do they serve?

A competitive/comparative analysis can set the stage for a streamlined and best practices-driven intranet design process.

How 2Plus2 Can Help You Employ Competitive/Comparative Analysis in Intranet Design

Not sure where to start with your analysis? With a 20-year track record in digital design, 2Plus2’s team of information architects and UI and UX designers have a treasure trove of sites they can recommend for you to visit and analyze. We can walk you through a checklist of intranet design elements to assess and evaluate, or we can undertake a comprehensive competitive/comparative analysis on your behalf.

To learn more about how to incorporate best practices into your intranet design, give us a call at 510-652-7700 or contact us online.

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.