Want to Customize and Personalize Your Intranet? First Let Go of Good Ideas

2Plus2 intranet expert on how letting go of some good ideas in favor of user experience opens opportunities for personalization and customization.

By Cathy Dew

You know what’s hard? Taking a good idea and letting it go.

Not every good idea is going to work its way into your intranet design project. Sometimes you have to close that door, shutter that window, lock up that box and throw away that key.

As intranet designers, our heads are full of ideas. Brilliant ideas. The best ideas.

And letting those ideas fall by the wayside in the interest of functionality, usability and economy can be hard.

Unfortunately, too many intranet designers throw too many thoughts into a single project. The result is an overdesigned mess of ideas on steroids.

If you engage in intranet idea juicing you might feel like an intranet Avenger in the short term, but in the end you will only damage the long-term health of your intranet design project.

Signs You Might Be Overdesigning

You know you are overdesigning when you find yourself throwing in everything you know and are capable of creating into a single intranet project because you are Just. That. Good.

The problem is that overdesigning is a sure sign that you are not as good a designer as you think you are. Overdesigners of employee intranets tend to put themselves or upper management or anyone other than the actual users of the intranet site first.

Overdesign is ego-driven, and it has some telltale signs:

  • Your site appears cluttered. You have too many design elements competing with each other and the result looks sloppy, overwhelming the user.
  • You lose function. If you focus on font and color to the detriment of readability and navigability, you end up with a site that is visually vibrant but functionally vacant.
  • You go way over time and way over budget. Trying too hard to incorporate too much is time consuming, exhausting and costly. When you throw in everything but the kitchen sink, it’s a fair bet that you will end up with a big scary intranet mess that is going to take effort and resources to cull down to a manageable site.
  • Your fallback position is to rely on personalization and customization to streamline functions, and that opens up another whole set of problems.

This last bulleted item is so important, it deserves its own section. Read on.

The Personalization and Customization Trap

Personalization occurs when developers set up the system to deliver certain content, functionality or experiences based on a discernable identity.

The purpose of personalization is to match specific user needs or interests, with no decision-making effort on the part of the user. The system profiles the user and adjusts the interface according to that profile.

Personalization may highlight a certain set of information, restrict or grant access to certain tools, or simplify processes by remembering information about a user.

For example:

  • In the intranet context, a personalized system might target employees in a particular location and then display information and direct them to content relevant to the language spoken and job functions in that location.
  • Or, on the intranet’s HR page, it may only display retirement account information for those employees who participate in the company’s 401K plan.
  • In an app, personalization might retain past searches so the user can obtain access to relevant information quickly.

Customization, on the other hand, is in the hands of the users. With customization, users can work within system parameters to create a user experience that comports with their self-perceived needs. Customization might let users select what they want to see and how information is organized. It lets users have some control over their interaction with the system.

For example:

  • A user might be able to configure the site layout and content so that the information they need most -- such as the weather for certain cities or how the market is doing -- is displayed first on their screen.
  • With customization a user might be able to create a list of most-visited links to save time on Internet searches for recurring information needs.
  • A user might also have the option of changing the default color palette to one that they prefer.

The Problem With Too Many Choices

Instead of researching employee needs and then applying technology to serve these needs at well-documented and identified touchpoints, it’s tempting to keep all your user options open. It’s much easier to throw everything in that you can and then let user customization and systems personalization do all the hard work of tightening the technology into manageable users interfaces.

While passing the discernment buck may sound like a good idea, it’s still up to the design team to create a tight usable design that lends itself to incorporation of these tools. In other words, there is simply no way to foist the responsibility off on technology or your users.

The upside of intranet personalization is it doesn’t require any extra effort from the users because the computer does all the work. The downside is that your users are at the mercy of the system to determine need, and leaving too many parameters for personalization could end up mismatching function to employee and confusing the user.

The upside of customization is that each user is in control. The downside is that many users either aren’t sure what it is they need, don’t have the level of computer literacy necessary to actually perform the tasks necessary to customize the site, and/or don’t have the time to tweak the user interface to match their preferences.

If you don’t cull the idea herd before you turn choices over to either the system (personalization) or the user (customization), you are going to end up with more downside than up.

Striking a Balance: How 2Plus2 Designs For You

Providing avenues for personalization and customization enhance intranet user experience, but only when the user experience is already a good one. The goal of both should be to enhance positive UX, not frame it. Trying to fix design flaws with personalization and customization is a one-way ticket to intranet failure and user abandonment.

The information architects and intranet designers at 2Plus2 understand the importance of striking a balance between design ideas and implementation.

If you want to learn more about how a customized intranet design can meet the needs of your employee population, give me 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.