By Cathy Dew
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Great employee intranets foster great work environments and great work environments produce results.
And if you’ve done your job creating a great employee intranet, you’ve established a one-stop resource that houses all your company’s important communications, from your mission and vision statements to your training materials to various teams’ shared documents and works in progress.
A stellar intranet allows employees to communicate across departments and up and down the chain of command, all the while keeping them motivated — think team-building tools like employee newsletters and special spaces to highlight employee accomplishments — and focused on tasks.
Although your intranet is not customer facing, it is still important to bring in your company’s brand through design elements to reflect your organization’s personality. By taking the time and dedicating the necessary resources to focus on visual design, you’ll be recognizing the important role branding plays in UX and UI design.
But how do you plan for the inevitable changes that will take place in your company over time and, as a direct result, will require changes to your employee intranet?
Coping with Change
It’s a dilemma that every digital designer faces: how to create a site that is evergreen enough to stay usable and efficient while at the same time provides room for growth and evolution.
Since change is the only constant in life (hat tip to Greek philosopher Heraclitus for that one), it is just a matter of time before the content of your intranet is going to run stale, requiring the introduction of fresh information to keep up with changes in technology, reconfigured business processes, and evolving company goals and priorities.
You want to be consistent with the elements and interplay of visual design so that your users are never startled by incongruous design elements or off-the-wall and out-of-place content markers. In a nutshell, you want consistency of style because you want to send a loud and clear message that your company cares enough to pay attention to overall user experience.
This can be tough to do especially if, like most companies that are successful, your intranet is a dynamic reflection of your company’s continuing growth and progress. In other words, people get busy, plain and simple, and you need to make it ultra-easy for them to interact with the intranet while supporting branding and furthering UX goals.
In order to achieve that delicate balance between encouraging intranet interplay — and that includes allowing users to post, edit, and amend content — and maintaining a style that reflects branding, you are going to have to create (and enforce) rules regarding graphics, code and content design to maintain your company’s design standards.
Without a clear set of design standards your intranet will continue to evolve as a patchy, confusing set of pages, some well-designed, some not-so-much, and all just parts of a system that looks broken.
Take my advice. You are going to want to create style guides.
Graphic Design Style Guide
Pretty much every project that incorporates graphic design elements needs a brand bible.
The purpose of this type of style guide is to maintain brand standards by setting out the creative elements that are consistent with the site’s branding, as well as how they should be used. Typically, design style guide entries will include information on:
- Acceptable fonts: Your intranet should have a consistent set of fonts that can be used for any text or typography embedded in the site. The guide should be very specific about fonts, specifying sizes for things like headings or photo captions and providing examples and character sets as guides.
- Logo use: Generally, the rule around logos is they must never lose their recognizability or their clarity. The guide should specify the logo sizes that are acceptable — most logos will lose their effect if displayed too small — and how much white space should surround the graphic. Be sure to include acceptable colors the logo can be displayed in.
- Color pallets: Spell out in as much detail as possible the colors that are acceptable for intranet pages. Color intensity can also influence brand perception. Intense colors are seen as “lively,” “bold,” or “young,” while neutral colors are usually perceived as “calm,” “mature,” or “grounded.” Provide hex codes and their CMYK and Pantone counterparts to the extent possible.
- Photography standards: Specify where photographs can be uploaded (e.g., home page or section pages), allowable size and resolution (e.g., 1600 x 500 pixels, no more than 180k), and if they must first be vetted by someone in the company.
Code Style Guide
A code style guide is set of rules or guidelines for writing source code, including, programming conventions, styles, and best practices for developers. Following a style guide helps everyone write code in a consistent way, which is easier to read and faster to update. From a UI perspective, a code style guide breaks down the different components and modules on a site, each with specific styles that keep visual continuity and promote learning across the site. This one is for the techies in your company, or your outside expert UX design team.
Content Style Guide
Also referred to as an editorial style guide, the content style guide is what your users who post on your company’s intranet are going to refer to the most. Your guide should detail everything from the appropriate voice and tone for any content to grammatical and editorial preferences and standards. Some examples of content style guide elements are:
- Style and usage. Includes guidelines related to things like preferred spellings, abbreviations and acronyms and preferences for capitalization, grammar and punctuation. You might want to specify that AP style be followed, for example.
- Inline link formatting: You will want to ensure that inline links are useful, usable, relevant, findable and accessible by requiring that they are always used with descriptive phrases.
- Web writing guidelines: It is a good idea to include a section on web writing guidelines to educate content contributors to educate on best practices, such as keeping sentences concise and paragraphs short, while incorporating plenty of headers and bulleted lists to increase text readability.
2Plus2 Knows Style
Style guides are the most efficient way to ensure your intranet stays fresh and relevant. The UX and UI design experts at 2Plus2 are experts in producing user-friendly and accessible style guides for our intranet development clients.
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.