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FreePint BlogDelightful intranets: beauty and brains

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How can you get users engaging with your intranet? Make it beautiful to drive a positive emotional response.


Intranets that surprise and delight was the title of the closing keynote of the Intranets 2012 conference. Intranet project discussions often focus on functionality, data migration or the navigation. Design and usability can take a back seat but this can be a big and costly mistake. If users don’t engage with the intranet then there is low to no return on investment, and minimal business benefit.

Step Two Designs' James Robertson makes the point that the intranet should generate an emotional response. If you’re paying half a million quid for a SharePoint implementation then it’s a smart idea to earmark some of it to buy design and usability expertise.

Too many implementations fail because something is rolled out with minimal consideration of how people will actually interact with it. Just think of all of the hastily implemented "out of the box’" SharePoint implementations currently being reviewed and reworked. The true cost of a failed intranet is the cost of the technology implementation plus the cost of time wasted looking for information plus a lack of faith in future information management initiatives. That starts to stack up significantly against the overt cost of hiring a design and/or usability expert.

Apple have definitively proved that design matters, and that high up-take of products follows when techie toys are easy for non-techies to use. Users are used to seeing excellent design in commercial sites and apps, and can be disappointed when they get something that they perceive as "second rate" within the enterprise. I’ve regularly been sent links to websites accompanied by "can you make the new intranet look like this!!!??"

Design and usability are critical for any intranet, and this applies to the structure and the look and feel.

Intranets need to be built around the tasks people do on a daily basis rather than expecting workers to amend their habits to learn how to navigate the intranet. People give up easily when it comes to searching, especially when there are multiple distractions like incoming email, to do lists and looming meetings. Adding another barrier in terms of a clunky looking user interface just serves to discourage people yet further.

Worse, it can create that negative "oh no, do I really have to go on the intranet" feeling in users that all the training and comms campaigns in the world will not be able to overturn. The intranet should be somewhere that people feel comfortable using – not intimidated, not frustrated and not bored.

The godfather of usability Jacob Nielsen puts out a regular top 10 intranets each year that summarises the good features of each one. This is a great resource to keep on top of what peers and competitors might be doing, and major trends such as mega menus, mobile and participation rewards.

Check out the full report with screenshots here. How does your intranet compare?


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