Solving the Ink Cartridge Crisis: Creating Intranet Navigability and Findability With Sitemaps

2Plus2 information architects explain the importance of flexible sitemaps when designing employee intranets for the ultimate UX.

By Cathy Dew

If your printer runs out of ink and there are no ink cartridges to be found, does the document you were trying to print exist?

The physicist’s answer: Yes. Whether printed or not, as long as there is a manifestation of images combined in a format that can be measured and from which meaning can be discerned, the document exists whether or not it is able to be printed out and read at present, given that time is such a relative concept.

The subjective idealist’s answer: No. For a printed document to exist it must be perceived. Since a lack of ink makes it unprintable, it cannot be perceived as a document. It, therefore, does not exist.

The information architect’s answer: Did we take into account that some of our user personas might need to order ink? We are going to need to adjust our sitemap! Our users need ink!

The Intranet Sitemap

A sitemap is a visual layout of an intranet site’s information architecture. It allows the information architect to organize and label the site’s components so users can navigate to, find, and use the information they need when they need it.

Sitemaps help define the taxonomies and user interface tools that will resonate with the employee users. More than just a handy reference tool, sitemaps are an ever-evolving vital resource to help guide UX and UI designers in their work and keep them focused on user experience.

Actual Users Define UX

One of the biggest mistakes intranet designers make is creating a sitemap that fails to take into account how actual users will want and need to interact with the site.

Inexperienced intranet design teams will often create an initial sitemap that follows the structure of the organization, rather than the minds of the users.

It’s easy to get your hands on a company organizational chart, which may appear, at first blush, to be a useful tool for a sitemap template. After all, its chock full of perfectly segmented blocks of departments with sub-departments and offices clearly shown via neatly drawn dotted lined reporting hierarchies pointing this way and that.

Top management just seems to love their org charts. They might even insist that structuring an intranet around these already established lines of demarcation makes sense. But the fact is, it is unlikely that this will make a whole lot of sense to employee intranet users.

Employees don’t think in terms of org charts. They think like humans trying to accomplish particular tasks as efficiently and as frustration-free as possible. They are going to seek out the fastest way to get from point A to point B, and your typical corporate org chart reflects anything but a straight line.  

Finding That Ink

For instance, let’s say you want to make it easy for employees to order office supplies via the intranet. The current company process is to email the office supplies manager and, after a long and time-wasting stream of back and forth emails, the initial request might be approved at some point in the future if and when the supplies become available. Existential dilemmas aside, no wonder the printer keeps running out of ink.

Now, with the intranet, you have a chance to streamline the process, make ordering office supplies easy, and save everyone a lot of time.

You look on your org chart-turned-sitemap and find that the office supplies manager works in Facilities Management which is in the Operations Department, whose director reports to Quality Control. So you set up the office supply ordering process under QC, since that is where the organization chart places it.

Needless to say, nobody in your company is ever going to be able to order office supplies again because, unless they possess the intuitive powers of a mentalist, nobody is going to look for an office supplies order form under QC. What does printer ink have to do with quality control?

Trust Your Users

While you don’t want to revolve your sitemap around an existing organizational structure if it doesn’t make sense from an intranet UX perspective, it is also a mistake to completely ignore all aspects of corporate structure, company culture, and employee nomenclature. These characteristics can be very helpful in driving the taxonomy of the site. Use what is useful and don’t change what you don’t have to.

For instance, if everyone knows that they need to ping the office supplies manager to get their printer ink replenished, don’t change her name to something fancy like Vital Operational Assets Engineer because it sounds nice and looks good on a drop down menu. Nobody is going to know who that person is. But if you create a tab under Office Resources called Office Supplies Manager Requests, everyone will know where to go when their ink runs dry. It’s intuitive. It’s practical. And it’s familiar to everyone in the company.

Legacy labels and company-specific nomenclature have been reinforced and validated by years of employee use. Respect them. And keep your sitemaps adjustable as you learn more about your users and their needs and abilities.

2Plus 2 Provides Task-Based Information Architecture

Replacing the arduous task of office supply replenishment via email with a simple, findable form connected to the person who actually provides the supplies, is just the tip of the iceberg. Think of all the vital company functions that can be streamlined and improved with a well-structured intranet that puts employee users front and center.

The information architects, UX designers, and UI designers can help you organize intranet content and execute intranet infrastructure to support navigation, findability and usability.

To learn more about our process, 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.