So you want to redesign your intranet? - Part 2

David Humphreys and Tania Lang
December 04 2008

Welcome to the second issue of our online newsletter! Each edition we'll feature a new article by our consultants as well as usability tips, tricks, industry events, and the latest in user-centred design.

This month we include the second article in a three part series on redesigning intranets by Tania Lang and David Humphreys and we share our tip of the month. In Part 1 we focused on the Challenges in kicking off your intranet redesign. This newsletter will focus on some of the issues with Design and Development.

So you want to redesign your intranet? Part 2 Design and development

Trap 3 - "I want to customise my homepage with links to the stuff I use. We all do!"

Users often say they want to be able to customise their intranet homepage with links to all the stuff they use regularly. However, it is our experience that they rarely bother using customisation features if they are available. This is widely documented in other Intranet research publications. What you need to think about is what the real problem is that users are asking for help with. Most of the time what they are asking for is the ability to customise their links as they can't find information in the current design and menu structure.

Most people in similar roles and subdivisions of an organisation actually have quite similar needs to each other but may have very different needs from users in other parts of the organisation. Rather than providing customisable pages, consider providing personalised gateway pages with links and content tailored to their role or business area. This approach particularly suits large organisations and is usually well received by staff if their needs are researched and the links match their common tasks.

We recently worked with a large emergency services provider and found that each major user group just wanted to see 'their stuff' and not the other services' 'stuff'. In response we designed dedicated 'gateway' navigation pages for all major divisions of the organisation with links to the rest of the intranet where 'their stuff' was located. These pages don't have any content and are an alternate gateway to the rest of the intranet. The feedback from users we have received so far has been very positive.

Targeted information is useful but the target has to provide a significant bang for your buck. There is little value in developing a personalised gateway page for 20 users. But a fifth of your organisation with similar needs is a better investment than one Finance or HR officer.

Tip - Provide personalised pages for specific roles or business divisions but ensure they include the links that they commonly need to do their jobs. They should be based on extensive user research e.g. workshops and interviews with different business areas.

Tip - Do your user research and try and work out who has common needs across the organisation and design personalised 'gateway' navigation pages for those groups. Groups can be horizontal (all admin officers) or vertical (all fire fighters)

Tip - If you are going to allow these pages to be set as their home page, considering incorporating minimal organisation wide content on these personalised pages e.g. latest updates, message from the CEO/DG etc.

Trap 4 - Business areas often get precious about their content and have a strong and often misguided view of how their information should be displayed.

Key support areas such as HR or Finance are major intranet stakeholders and content providers and they affect everyone! For some of our clients as much as 75% of the information users are looking for on their intranet is HR or finance related. Support areas often receive complaints about their intranet content and want their content and navigation to be more 'user friendly and intuitive'.

All content experts can be very resistant to change and may have a false understanding of how users really think about their content. They often don't understand the impact of meaningless menu labels such as 'Organisational Capacity and Performance Management' instead of 'Human resources' and insist that staff should learn to use it. Calling and labeling the new workplace health and safety initiatives such as 'ZeroDanger' or 'ActiveHealth' may actually endanger someone's life or well-being if they can't easily find this information.

You need to help these areas achieve their goals and effectively deliver services to employees via the intranet but how do you get them onboard and convince them of your better understanding?

Tip - Do presentations to key business areas to communicate your approach, findings and rationale, including evidence where possible. Video excerpts from usability test sessions, low task completion rates and user comments can be very powerful.

Tip - Run some quick test sessions with users to test their proposed ideas for the new site. Involve content experts and/or allow them to observe these test sessions. Seeing users struggle to complete basic tasks will quickly highlight issues and will usually convince them they may not be right.

Usability tip

Forms design tip - don't overwhelm your users with all options and functionality up front

Users confronted with web forms or applications can sometimes be confused by the number of options or tasks available to them. Sometimes forms ask users for information that may not be relevant to them, such as asking somebody who has indicated his age as 27 to provide their Senior's Card number. It is often easier on the user if you use what is called 'progressive disclosure'. This is a design technique where users are shown the basic or important functionality that will be frequently used by most users but the system designer hides functionality that is used infrequently or by only advanced users and is offered upon request or requirement.

This technique is used effectively by insurance companies in their online quoting tools where user's choices influence what appears in later menus. If you have indicated that you wish to insure a Ford you don't want to have to select from a model list that includes all the other types of make of car (Hyundai, Toyota, etc.)

Examples include:

Categories: Intranets