Intranet Design Fundamentals

An intranet is not a website. If redesigning an intranet was as easy as throwing together some new graphics, the work could be done by buying Microsoft Templates, much like PowerPoint. 

Redesigning an Intranet requires a completely different approach to design than a consumer website (or mobile site, or mobile app). For starters, typical websites are primarily marketing vehicles, created with the purpose of selling a product, a service, an idea, a concept. Never make that mistake with your intranet. Employees do not want to be sold anything. Ever. Employees use the intranet to find information, as fast as they can. And management uses the intranet to engage employees in the business – often with highly relevant, targeted communication.

Your focus as an intranet manager must be on speed, access and content. Employees want information fast. They want it on all their devices. And they want it tailored to their specific situation.

The National Geographic Intranet Home Page 

However, the look-and-feel shouldn't be overlooked. The visual look of your intranet is the first thing companies seek to change; it’s the first thing people notice; the it’s also first thing users complain about.

BUSINESS DRIVEN, USER-CENTRIC DESIGN 

The intranet is not a website; repeat: not a website. It’s not a glossy brochure, or a marketing campaign. An intranet is a business system – a digital business ecosystem for directing business, communications and collaboration.
The designer’s focus for a typical internet website or consumer app is to create a strong, dynamic, visual identity while reflecting the company brand and style guidelines. But when it comes to intranets, the design approach must be strategically driven – that is, aligned to the goals and objectives of the company, it’s organization and management, and make-up of the employee population - recognizing that design must help achieve measurable goals for the business, and to enable the ‘speed’ that employees demand when searching for information. Simply put, intranet design must facilitate the usability of the site and aid employees.

An intranet should be focused on facilitating the quickest possible access to information and tools that help employees do their jobs. There’s no need to sell employees, they already work for the organization. So forget about glitz, glam, flash and bang that you might use on a website.

The risk of having a web-designer with little intranet experience attempt to redesign an intranet is often obvious. They focus on creating a highly visual design, but often overlook the core online behaviors that drive intranet value: business process, workflow, usability, personalization.

Don't forget about the mobile design... 

People tend to think that if they just change a few colors, the font, and add a photo, their intranet becomes a winner. Is that what employees really want or need? Or do they want more reliable, timely content, and better, faster retrieval of content? Unless there is a clear understanding of the intranet’s purpose and the desired audience – the strategy - the intranet will not be a success.

REDESIGN PROCESS 

When redesigning an intranet, you need to follow a process that is grounded in assessing the current environment (not the least of which are senior management concerns and needs, business requirements, and user needs), and then planning accordingly. The intranet plan begins with strategic planning (vision, mission, measurable objectives, KPIs), governance (ownership, management, policies), and moves into functional planning (intranet features), information architecture and wire-framing – all before any designer starts to put pen to paper (mouse to screen).

Prescient recommends following our intranet methodology, which establishes the strategic elements long before it’s time to consider applying graphic design and color to the intranet.Detail your organization's business requirements, undertake extensive user research, apply best practices, and then develop detailed plans. Among the plans that must be created prior to engaging a graphic designer or intranet design consultant, is the creative brief with detailed design elements including color palettes, font types, etc.

Intranet Redesign Methodology by Prescient Digital Media

Prescient Digital Media's Intranet Project Methodology for an Intranet Redesign  

By listening to your users and stakeholders you may implement content and tools that will provide employees with what they need to do their jobs, which in turn will help your intranet achieve its goals. And of course the best way to know and articulate that achievement is by having defined measures that are tracked on a regular basis. When you know and intimately understand these needs, and how the information architecture and functional plan of your intranet must address these needs, then you can worry about the creative design.

ADDITIONAL READING:
Intranet Design White Paper
Great Intranets: From Social to Design 

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The founder and President of Prescient Digital Media, Toby Ward s an internationally recognized and acclaimed expert in the areas of enterprise technology, intranets, communications, and social media. A specialist in intranet planning and design, Toby is also the Chair and Founder of the Intranet Global Forum conference.