Intranet user experience: usability, utility and emotion 

Back in the 1880s, Kodak revolutionised photography.  They created the roll film box camera, a camera which hugely simplified the process of taking photos.

Their advertising slogan “you click the button, we do the rest” was one of the first to focus on the experience rather than the features of their product.  It took a product that met a well-defined need, improved its usability by simplifying the process and hiding complexity from the end user. It played to the emotional needs of its audience by making photography accessible to them.

Elements of user experience

Those three things (utility, usability and emotion) are the basic ingredients of User Experience (UX).

  • An experience without utility has no purpose. If your product or service doesn’t fulfil a need, it is – literally – useless
  • A product you can’t use is as bad a product that has no use
  • And if the emotional element isn’t right, people either won’t be drawn to your product, or worse, will be deterred from using it

None of these, individually, is anything new. Each one is a topic we as Intranet Managers deal with daily, whether its discussing the ‘useless search’, the ‘impossibly complex expenses process’ or the ‘boring monotone video update from our ugly Exec’.

Yet when I hear people involved in intranets talk about UX their definitions too often forget one of these important aspects.

Where we get UX wrong

Forgetting utility

Before I stumble back into controversial territory, we should remember that photo of the day, the weather widget, polls about random topics can sometimes have purpose.  Giving people something they like can be an attractive gimmick that puts your intranet on the road to becoming an ‘essential’ business tool.

But too often the goal is ‘hits’ and positive feedback. Measuring the wrong things means chasing outputs rather than outcomes  and hinders the intranets ability to offer real benefit. Utility is the main driver of adoption; for intranets to be adopted and used in the longer term, they need to provide the information or services that people actually need.

A good UX achieves the goals of the user and of the product. A good Intranet UX has to deliver business benefit while giving employees what they need too.

Forgetting wider usability

Usability has improved massively on intranets over recent years. But while almost all intranet managers now involve their end users in designing new sites or features they remain blinkered to what are commonly the biggest usability problems.

Clunky security, multiple passwords with complex rules, poor device compatibility, lack of support or understanding from the IT helpdesk, missing or outdated help guides and instructions all ruin the experience. Good user experiences respect users’ time; great intranets prioritise the time of those searching for information or completing a task over that of that of producers.

An employee’s experience of the intranet doesn’t only happen when they are on the site.  It starts when a problem arises in their work and finishes after they have left the intranet, finished that piece of work start on their next.

Forgetting emotion

While we all seem to focus on making pages look their best, this is often done with an eye to making them ‘engaging’ – attention grabbing, full of promotions and CTAs to the latest corporate campaign.

Grabbing attention isn’t bad in itself, but a great UX needs to be considerate of when distraction is the last thing an employee needs.  Allowing someone to maintain their flow and complete their task in the most hassle free forgettable way is often the best experience you an give.

Muzak was created to be played into lifts to do the same thing: make an unavoidable but uneventful experience less awkward and more forgettable.

Getting Intranet UX right

Don’t just look at how people interact with your intranet – look to the gaps between the interactions. Take time to understand why people are visiting and measure based on how people feel in the minutes after their visit, not just how many times they click during it. Try to understand, too, the reasons people don’t  use the intranet; this won’t show up in your analytics, but through observing real users.

Learn when your design needs to stay out of the way too.  Think beyond the intranet’s cliched marketing approach and do better than just ‘engagement’ – we need to make the site delight.  Find smarter ways to make the experience of using your intranet productive and positive for your employees and your organisation.