Intranet UX: What drives a good user experience?

What is a great intranet user experience? Efficient functionality with a little fun, and a focus on keeping it simple maybe? Today, guest writer Carolyn Douglas, Founder / CEO of Intranet Connections, give us her insights on the intranet user experience journey and provides great tips to improving your site.

The User Experience is an ambitious and ambiguous concept that can be hard to define. It is highly subjective depending on your audience, and in the case of intranets, tricky to deliver on new trends. It is easy to redesign your public website every two years. Not so for an intranet. Employee tolerance for change with enterprise software can be very low.

Go LEAN for Good Design

A great place to start is The Lean UX Manifesto, a brilliant piece by Anthony Viviano. He identifies the major factor that impacts User Experience: Design. Design is the foundation of a great UX and plays the most critical factor in determining how your employees will gauge their experience of the intranet, whether that is good or bad.

Viviano expands the Lean UX Manifesto into four design tips to provide a better UX:

  1. Collaborative Design over designing on an island
  2. Solving User Problems over designing the next “cool” feature
  3. Nimble Design as opposed to over-architecting a static design
  4. Measuring KPIs over undefined success metrics

I am a fan of The Lean Manifesto, and in looking back over my career with intranets, I thought it may be fun to put my own spin on these four tips to a better UX.

1. Collaborative Design: Starts With the Home Page

Good design is absolutely a collaborative effort. Your intranet is not an isolated tool and so it makes sense that it should be created through a collaborative experience. Implementing an intranet design in isolation can be overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be: combine the right design, architecture tools and with a team to collaborate, to make the workload lighter and your intranet design better.

Put yourself into the shoes of employees, what would they want to see on the home page? First impressions are so important. The intranet home page sets the tone for the User Experience.

So what does an effective home page design look like? It is simple. That sounds like a play on words, but it is literal! Keep it simple. Keep it interesting. Keep it enticing through engaging and interactive content like online surveys, fun facts, the seven-day forecast, posts from other employees and the latest customer win.

Employees usually want to know about other employees. It is about the human connection. Start simple with connection and you’ll have a home page that resonates and gets employees exploring beyond the home page.

2. Solve Problems: Make the User Happy

I am incredibly passionate about solving our clients’ problems with Intranet Connections and I believe that a good User Experience trumps all the bells and whistles of feature sets. What makes the user happy? Delight them! The surprise element is your secret weapon. If you can create magic moments on your intranet that delight employees, you will make them happy and love the intranet. What do employees care about? How can you surprise and delight them? Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Employee Recognition: most intranets have a peer-to-peer employee recognition application, but take it one step further to create the surprise element by showcasing employees with the most kudos on the intranet home page, along with a reward such as a paid day off.
  1. Show You Care: employees want to feel like they are recognized and cared about in your company. Ask managers or the company CEO to post a birthday wish or anniversary “thank you” on their employee wall
  1. Share the Wealth: wealth is not always money. Wealth can be measured by success, so share the company and employee wins, share how you treat your peers, and moments of magic with customers. Use the intranet to immerse the corporate culture and infuse it in the UX of your intranet.

3. Nimble Design: Intuitive and Task-Based Navigation

If your home page is the front door of your intranet, then navigation is the doorways to the next rooms. Unlike public websites, navigation on an intranet grows constantly. Growth and scalability are always the challenge faced with intranet navigation, which is why I really like the ideas of Mega Menus for an intranet. Mega Menus are a bit controversial: some very big brand websites use them however you don’t see them much on intranets.

Mega Menus allow for:

  • Descriptive labels, grouped under descriptive headings
  • Growth and scalability, without compromising on page real estate
  • Combining navigation links with promotional material that is dynamic and fun

Mega Menus also give you the ability to promote content embedded within department sites:

Visit the Human Resources Site

  • HR Home
  • Who to Contact
  • Apply for EI Benefits
  • Medical & Dental Benefits
  • Share Your First Job
  • Stay current with the HR Blog

It is easy to fall into the trap of common pitfalls of poor navigation and information architecture but if you follow the guidelines above, keep it simple and use descriptive labels that are task-based, you will be well on your way to improving the User Experience on your intranet.

4. Measure: Define Intranet Success

The final principal in delivering a good User Experience is defining and measuring success on your intranet. Avoid the immeasurable, such as better engagement and instead define it. What does that mean to you and the other intranet stakeholders? What does it mean to your employees? What specific measurable do you want to define for the intranet?

Be careful to avoid defining vanity metrics. If you want to measure engagement, use data such as the number of comments, ratings or postings on the intranet overall, or perhaps the number of pages visited month over month.

Make sure all measurements are useful and actionable. If they don’t mean anything to you or your key intranet stakeholders, then dig deeper to define the goals that you truly care about to reach your success. Above all, your intranet should empower employees to connect, collaborate and create their way to a better workplace.

Delivering on Intranet User Experience

Delivering a good User Experience relies heavily on the principals outlined in The Lean Manifesto but creativity plays a part, as does putting yourself into the shoes of your employees. Everyone always thinks a good UX is about technology, software, features and functionality. It has more to do with connecting to your audience through these means.

If you have further questions about this topic, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @carolyndouglas or via email at douglasc@intranetconnections.com



There are 4 comments

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  1. Samuel Driessen

    Nice post about an important topic, Carolyn. When you say that the design(er) should keep the user in mind, do you mean design with them or based on their feedback?
    And could you advise tools to support the design process. We use Axure for instance. That works really well. We design based on input from employees, then give it back to them. Employees can view the designs, actually play with them and leave feedback. We pick up that feedback go into discussion with them and incorporate the feedback in new versions of the design. Do you have comparable experiences?

  2. Carolyn Douglas

    Hi Samuel,

    Thanks for the feedback and nice of you to share your use of Axure. We use a Customer Advisory Board which has a diverse range of customers in various industries using our intranet software. Our CAB is brought in during the full phase of our development cycles, from conception of feature and enhancements to design prototypes. But we also add in a good dose of our own best practices for design. It is literally impossible to cater to everyone in design feedback, because it is such a personal and subjective topic. My first stab at design is to always follow the simplicity rule. Dumb it down and make it as intuitive and easy for anyone to be comfortable working and administrating the intranet. We typically create the design and UI’s and then run them by our CAB members for feedback and advice. It’s not an exact science, to be sure, and it is often tricky to match complex and deep functionality with super easy and intuitive UX.
    Whenever possible, I like to bring in similar design elements from popular trends on the internet, as my thought is end-users will have a familiarity right away. One final strategy is to “shoulder-surf” remotely with our customers. Whenever possible, I take notes as we do support remote sessions and meetings with beta customers, related to design and how they navigate the site, how they bring up tasks, where they seem to get lost, if they appear frustrated by a UI. It is a constant reiterative process! We are lucky, however, as we get to see what works and what doesn’t among hundreds of thousands of employees using our intranet software, so over the last 16 years, we have fine-tuned a fairly good base of best practices and great ideas from our customer base. Listening always works 🙂

    • Samuel Driessen

      Thanks for sharing this, Carolyn. Interesting to hear you continue to develop your product. I agree listening closely and watching people use the design/product is extremely insightful.

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