By Cathy Dew
Which do you think is more important in designing an intranet site – your users’ subjective opinions and attitudes about an intranet? Or empirical evidence of their behavior around technology like an intranet?
Before you answer, I have a confession to make. It’s a trick question.
According to researchers, what people say is as important as what they do. So in order to design an intranet for maximum usability, information architects and intranet designers are going to need to understand user attitudes and user behaviors.
Everyone’s Got a ‘Tude
Each user is going to come to a new system with certain pre-conceived notions and biases that could inform their willingness to embrace intranet technology. Negative perceptions could be the result of unsuccessful prior experiences with similar systems, might come from fears about adopting new technology skills, or could be the byproduct of concerns that intranet use sucks up employee work time with little proportionate benefit.
On the other hand, some users may look forward to having a new dynamic tool that will aid with productivity and communications. In fact, in some instances user perceptions could be so high that trying to design to unreasonable expectations could create its own set of challenges.
Attitudinal research is a helpful tool to measure and understand user belief systems. In the intranet design context, understanding how your users think and, especially, how they might perceive incorporating a new (and perhaps strange) technology into their everyday work lives is useful information when designing for ultimate user experience.
Attitudinal Research Methods
The following are some examples of attitudinal research methods with brief explanations of how they can help inform intranet design.
In the intranet design context, card sorting can provide unique insights into the users' existing mental models of an information space, information that can prove invaluable to an information architect.
During a card sorting session, users use real or virtual cards to organize topics into categories that make sense to them. It should come as no surprise that, in many cases, the way employee users interpret and categorize topics can be quite different than the way management and/or the intranet design team might sort them.
Looking at different categories of topics and gaining insights into the users’ perspective can go a long way in developing the empathy needed to design for ultimate UX.
User surveys can be helpful in measuring and categorizing attitudes. They are a great way to collect self-reported data and isolate important issues to address during the design process
Of course a survey is only as effective as its elements, so it is important to design a survey that users will actually participate in and that will provide evidence of their attitudes, preconceived notions, and perceptions of potential benefits of an employee intranets.
While off-the-shelf surveys are available and cheap, the best surveys are created from scratch and take the specific goals and dynamics of each enterprise into account. Consider these tips when creating your survey:
- Keep questions relevant, well written, and easy to answer (e.g. I have the skills to use an employee intranet; An employee intranet saves time; Intranets are easy to use; I will need training to use an intranet; etc.)
- Avoid closed “yes or no” questions
- Opt for providing rating scales, where respondents are given a range to frame their answers, e.g., Fully agree, agree, do not agree, fully disagree, do not know/no opinion
- Keep the open-ended questions to a minimum
While not as widely used as other attitudinal research methods, focus groups can be useful in helping your intranet design team develop a high level understanding about how your employees might view the introduction of a new intranet system into the workplace.
Focus groups can also serve the purpose of building community and camaraderie, letting employees know you are putting their needs front and center.
Actions Can Speak Louder Than Words
Behavioral research methods during intranet design focus on gauging, to the extent possible. what people will actually do when provided with the new intranet site. Rather than relying on self-reporting by users, this type of evidence offers the designer some objective evidence of what to expect from users.
When seeking this type of data prior to intranet development, researchers often conduct testing using systems that mimic aspects of the technology and design that is being considered for the intranet
The reactions of test subjects can go a long way in helping designers anticipate potential barriers to use and how to transcend those barriers in order to offer users the best experience possible.
Behavioral Research Methods
Two examples of behavioral research modalities are A/B testing and eye tracking.
A/B testing presents changes to a site's design to random samples of site visitors, but attempts to hold all else constant, in order to see the effect of different site-design choices on behavior, while eye tracking seeks to understand how users visually interact with interface designs.
In A/B testing, you present two different versions of something to your users in order to determine which does a better job meeting performance needs.
A/B testing is an old-school marketing protocol often used in distinguishing between different approaches to direct mail campaigns. In this context, companies devise two different versions of a single direct mail message, split the mailers between two lists, and then measure responses.
A/B testing has been adopted in the website development world, where it is easy to present different website pages to visitors and measure behavior. Using A/B testing when creating your intranet can help you gauge how users actually respond to different pages, instructions, menus, etc. You can adopt multivariate testing, which follows the A/B protocols but invites users to choose between several variable at one sitting.
A great advantage of A/B testing is it allows you to measure actual behavior and provides data on seemingly small performance differences that can, in fact, have a large impact on user experience.
devices focus on the pupil of a participant’s eye, determining the direction and even level of concentration of their gaze. Software incorporated into the device then records where the person is looking and for how long, how their focus moves about the page, and what they are ignoring or missing.
This information informs the researcher about design and functionality aspects of the intranet design, including how the size and placement of items affects attention and user behavior.
2Plus2 Designs Intranets For Users
It’s clear that when you design for the user, both attitude and behavior are important. What is equally important is working with an information architect-led design team that understands the importance of usability and focuses on your company’s unique population and needs.
2Plus2 has experience in designing employee intranets for the user. To learn more, contact us online or call us at 510-652-7700 for a free, no-obligation consultation today.