Should you attend the designing intranets that work masterclass?

In early March, I attended the London Designing intranets that work masterclass led by James Robertson (@s2d_jamesr) of Step Two Designs. If you haven’t already heard of James, read his blog or own one of his books, then you need to fix that immediately. James knows intranets, therefore you should know James.

I was looking forward to attending James’ masterclass because he promised an interactive day full of:

  • design principles and concepts
  • practical techniques, including card sorting, tree testing and usability testing
  • pros and cons of the homepage design

Did he deliver on that promise? I think so. Ok, I am not saying James didn’t deliver what he had promised, nor am I saying I was disappointed in the masterclass. Actually it is the exact opposite, but I was disappointed in the debate. I wanted more from my fellow attendees!

What worked well


His presentation style works. He has been doing this masterclass for awhile and it shows. If you haven’t seen him speak I highly recommend it.

The content

Some of the theory can be simple to the naked eye, but there is a lot more to it. James breaks down the theory in manageable steps from working out what to deliver to sorting out the homepage, structure and design. He suggests books to buy and articles to read and always backs up his argument with screenshots.


I don’t think we went 45 minutes without breaking into groups to complete an activity. Groups completed a card sorting exercise, looked at intranet reaction cards, and tried to create a draft structure in 30 minutes. It was a great way to put the theory to test and really expand the minds of the attendees.

What needed some help

The participants

If I am being perfectly honest (and James already knows this) it was an odd mix of people. There were a significant number of people from the agency world. Not intranet practitioners, but people who want to add intranets to their repertoire of what they can offer their current and potential clients. It has to say something that agencies are attending James’ masterclass, it’s a clear indicator that James is well respected in the global intranet community. But I felt I missed out on some great debates.

Interactive Session

Not enough people took advantage of the interactive session. We were all invited to bring screenshots of our intranet to be reviewed by James and the group. Three people, including myself, followed through on that assignment. It might be scary to find out what you are doing is wrong, especially from James, but how else will we learn, or in my case challenge? My advice for future participants, swallow your pride and bring your screenshots. I think screenshots should be mandatory.

What should happen

No matter where you are in the world, if you are going to attend James’ masterclass, or any workshop for that matter, participate! Paying the fee and showing up is not enough. You need to commit yourself to be an active participant. That means you have to join in the conversation, play devil’s advocate, and challenge the speaker.

Take everything with a grain of salt. You are listening to an expert with great ideas for the perfect scenario. Listen to what the experts have to say to but balance it out with what you know. Sometimes you have to make the most of what you can.

Remember, what works for one organisation may not work for another. That is the key to a user-centric design; it’s about the people who use the intranet.  We listen to the theory, we hear about the perfect scenarios, but some intranets ignore the basics yet they are a success. Why? They delivered something that their colleagues want. Sounds so simple yet it is hard to achieve.

James and I may have disagreed with each other with my approach, but it is always good to have someone review your intranet and challenge the techniques you used. It’s the opportunity to debate with James that is a key contributor to attending this workshop. I am looking forward to proving James wrong, and I know he is as well!

Oh, and one last thing … did we mention James has written a book?