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Intranet Design Quandary: To Prototype or Not to Prototype?

By Cathy Dew

That iconic slogan “you can pay me now or you can pay me later” comes from a 1970s marketing campaign for Fram oil filters. The idea was you can pay a little for an oil change and new filter now, or you can pay a lot (a whole lot) more for an engine rebuild later.

It was a modern twist on “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” coined by Benjamin Franklin in 1736 (he was concerned about Philadelphia going up in flames).

Iconic sayings are iconic for a reason.

Take the stages of intranet design and implementation. After sketching out your wireframes —  the basic skeleton of your intranet’s layout — and running them by your stakeholders for feedback and revisions, it’s time to move on. The question becomes, do you head straight into full-on intranet development, or do you make the strategic decision to prototype first?

 

Risky Business

The answer hinges on how much risk you are willing to take. How confident are you in the quality and quantity of the information and insights you already have? Do you feel ready to actually commit to all the UX and UI elements and tools you will rely upon to develop the site your users will embrace?

In other words, what kind of assurances can you give all your stakeholders that if you forego prototyping you will not need to, at some point in the future, go back to the drawing board to incorporate UX elements you glossed over or missed?

Do you move full steam ahead, or do you spend a comparatively little amount on prototyping now in order to save your organization from the potentially much higher costs of a do-over if your wireframe-to-intranet site plan doesn’t work?

 

What Prototyping Looks Like

Simply stated, a prototype is an early-stage interactive demo of what a website or digital app might look like and how it might work.

It can be very bare bones or very sophisticated, but usually a website or intranet prototype will be sophisticated enough to allow users who are testing the site to navigate around and actually interact with many of the UI elements that are intended to end up incorporated into the finished product.

Usually, as the prototyping process progresses, several versions are created, with each new prototype becoming more sophisticated. Each will incorporate new UI elements based on UX lessons learned from usability testing from its predecessor prototype versions.

 

What Intranet Prototyping Can Do For You

Like wireframing, prototyping affords you a mechanism for gathering information from users and stakeholders before you get to a point of no return (or, rather, a point of time-consuming and expensive return if post-development redesign must be undertaken).

You can use prototyping to learn more about:

  • The actual technical capabilities of your users.  Studies have shown that as much as 95% of the US workforce is systems challenged in some way. If you move on to development without prototyping, you could end up with and employee intranet that incorporates UI elements that a substantial number of your employees don’t know how to use. And nothing will keep an employee user on the fence more than being intimidated by technology. On the other hand, by creating an intranet prototype and asking actual users from all areas of the company at all levels of the organization to test it for purpose and functionality, you will learn a lot about whether or not you are designing for the right audience from a technology/usability perspective.
  • The scope of the employee intranet you are designing. While you will certainly have addressed scope in earlier stages of design, prototyping is where the scope rubber meets the real-life intranet road. It is not unusual to leave out one or several of the tools, information, and/or training that employees actually rely on in their everyday work lives. There is also a possibility that you’ve added in elements and functions that are, upon further reflection, not needed at all. The only way to truly tell if you have hit the mark on a site that will get high UX marks is to test it out in the prototype stage.
  • Whether and to what extent you have management support. Management support is vital to the success of any new company-wide system or tool. During the prototype phase, you have a chance to revisit your stakeholders and gauge their continued commitment to and enthusiasm for the project. It is a good time to remind management of the efficacy and utility of the intranet and have them restate their buy-in. It is also a chance to get their vital input to ensure they feel like they are part of the process. You need more from management than access to their purse strings to underwrite the intranet development. You will need their commitment at launch and beyond. The prototyping stage is the perfect time to get it.

Prototyping is also an excellent alternative to creating cumbersome specification documentation relied upon by developers and designers. With an interactive prototype in front of them, intranet designers can not only identify issues, but can act on them immediately.

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Where Prototyping Expertise Comes In

At 2Plus2, we know that prototyping is key to the UX process, and should be undertaken whenever feasible. The cost-benefit is there.

But the problem most people face is not in realizing the efficacy of prototyping, but in understanding how it works, how to proceed with prototyping efficiently and in a cost-effective manner, and how to decide which prototyping method or tool to use.

As experts in intranet design with vast experience working with all types and sizes of organizations, the UX and UI designers at 2Plus2 can fashion a prototype creation and testing paradigm that makes sense for your intranet project.

Call 2Plus2's intranet design team at 510-652-7700 or contact us online. Initial consultations are free.

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.