By Cathy Dew
It may seem intuitive that any information architect or digital design professional would approach an employee intranet design project from the user’s perspective, so you may be surprised to know that many so-called designers do the exact opposite.
Instead of spending time understanding their users and how they will want and need to interact with the interface, some designers start by first looking to what technology is available or affordable or popular in the moment. Then, as if it were some kind of afterthought, they take their user’s needs and squeeze them into a tech solution that just plain doesn’t fit.
It’s like grabbing an expensive pair of on-trend jeans from the store shelf and, after ponying up beaucoup bucks because this is what all the cool cats are wearing, getting those designer jeans home and realizing that you are never going to be able to squeeze your ample behind into that skinny silhouette.
Prioritizing tech over user is like choosing style over fit. It’s a losing proposition (and, like that ill-fitting jeans purchase, will end up being an uncomfortable waste of money).
Why the Destination is More Important Than the Journey
This is the part where I flip some Zen stuff on its head.
Because when it comes to intranet design, it is all about the destination. You can figure out the path – how to get there – later. And there may be more than one.
It’s unclear who coined the adage, “The journey is more important than the destination.’ Some say it’s a paraphrase of an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 1850s, while others attribute the saying to early 20th Century theologian Lynn H. Hough. But whichever great mind of the 19th or 20th Century introduced this wisdom into our collective consciousness, it is clear that this person was not an intranet designer.
It sounds simple but it’s easy to lose track of the user’s needs when you are in the weeds of a design (or technology) project. By keeping the user front and center and remembering that you are designing for real people, you will naturally navigate to a usability mindset. Function trumps form in intranet design. Usability, which is the destination, has to come first.
Think about what the intranet will actually be used for. Things like:
- Communicating with colleagues
- Collaborating on projects
- Finding resources
- Organizing information
- Interacting with corporate culture
- Reporting on progress
- Giving and receiving feedback
If Usability is the Destination, How Do You Know You Have Gotten There?
This is the point where art meets science in information architecture. Because every company’s culture and user base is different, there isn’t a set algorithm you can plug into a template that spits out the usability quotient (although there are some cookie-cutter templates that claim to do this).
So you start by asking questions
Is what you are designing learnable?
How easy will it be for a new user to navigate around the site? How much time will it take for them to be up to speed with all its functions? Will training be required and, if so, how can you make that easy and interesting? Nothing will turn a user away faster than a cumbersome system that they can’t figure out how to operate.
Is what you are creating flexible?
Can different users interact with the system in ways that make sense for their specific needs and abilities? If the interface is too rigid – if you design with a “my way or the highway” attitude -- users will become easily frustrated and navigate to something else.
Are you creating a system that is memorable?
Not everyone uses an intranet every day. Some people might go days or weeks without needing to access the system. Others will be on it constantly. You need to design for both. If someone hasn’t visited the intranet in a while, how easy will it be for them to get back on? How can you make it easy for them to jump back in?
Is the intranet you are designing efficient?
How quickly can a busy user sign in, get what they need, and then get out? Nobody is going to embrace a time waster. A successful intranet has to come off as a valuable timesaving tool, not just another manifestation of company inefficiency.
Is the system robust?
Can users bounce back quickly from errors? Is there built-in support that will be sufficient to satisfy users? Or will frustrations run high if things go awry? Nothing runs smoothly every minute of every day. It is important to know the personas of your users and think about what mistakes they could make. Given those anticipated errors, will they be able to bounce back quickly so they don’t become fed up with the system?
Does the system enhance user lives in a positive way?
Are they satisfied with the intranet? Is their overall experience using the intranet enjoyable? Have you included elements that peak their interest and keep them engaged? Did you include any elements that promote camaraderie? Fun? A sense of being a part of a team?
Is the intranet pleasing to look at?
Does it have an inviting appearance? Functionality is important but so is attractiveness. The appearance of your intranet says a lot about your commitment to pleasing your users. Did you take the time to create a beautiful space people will enjoy visiting?
How 2Plus2 Information Architects Can Help
At 2Plus2 we approach every intranet design project from the perspective of usability. Through a methodology that helps is learn about users’ personas and by taking the time to understand your company’s specific goals and your employee’s unique needs, we have achieved the perfect balance to enhance user experience while meeting company goals.
When it’s time to marry that UX with design elements and technological ability, we put the pieces together so form seamlessly meets function.
Want to learn more? Contact us online or call us at 510-652-7700 for a free, no-obligation consultation today.