Discussing the length of the intranet homepage
Some while back I posted an article which asked the question: how long should the intranet homepage be? I then discused what attractive intranets look like, providing examples of modern designs, including some long homepages.
This generated some discussion and debate. Most recently, it has led Toby Ward to write some passionate posts about the length of the homepage. He started by stating that employees demand a clean home page, no scrolling, saying:
Your employees demand a clean, white home page, with absolutely no scrolling. This is a fact, supported by dozens of employee focus groups, at dozens of leading, and medium size organizations in North America.
Toby then followed this up with speed kills on roads; lack of speed kills the intranet, including:
The problem with designers, not all designers, but many of them, is that they’re trained in creative and web design. The intranet is not a website. Let me repeat: THE INTRANET IS NOT A WEBSITE! The same creative concepts for the web, and marketing driven websites, don’t always apply to the intranet.
Be warned, these are robust articles, stating strong opinions!
Intranets aren’t short of opinions, from staff, stakeholders, consultants and experts. As I discuss in eight intranet design mistakes, it’s important not to fall into the trap of “design by opinion”. I also commented at an intranet workshop yesterday:
There are plenty of statements made about design and usability. The simpler they are, the more likely they are to be wrong.
This includes classics like the “3-click rule”, and “7+/-2″. The “homepage should never scroll” falls into this trap.
Toby seems to have based his design decisions on what staff say they want. This is like asking people “do you want more or less crime”, and being surprised at the outcome. (Task-based usability testing wasn’t amongst Toby’s list of techniques.)
There is clearly a “traditional” approach to intranet homepages that squeezes everything into a single screen. This features news, with navigation at the top, quick links on the side, and a few tools. Considering how often staff complain they can’t find anything, we have to question whether this is the best approach.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying long homepages are definitively the right way to go. But I do want intranet teams to step back and to take a fresh look at how to design their sites.
What am I sure of is that it’s hard to deliver a truly useful homepage in just a single screen. There’s simply not enough space to provide more than basic information and navigation. So if we can design long homepages that are also usable, that opens up a new world of opportunities to deliver better sites.
So let’s get away from “right” and “wrong”. Let’s instead:
- Fully research staff needs, going beyond surveys and focus groups that only gather opinions.
- Take a robust user-centred approach to intranet design that includes techniques such as usability testing.
- Avoid opinions and assumptions wherever possible.
- Keep an open mind on the best design for each situation.
- Focus on delivering an intranet that works well for staff, and delivers concrete benefits for the organisation.
Intranet teams are already experimenting with new approaches, and I’ve featured a number of them in my upcoming book on intranet design. I look forward to further innovation, testing and refinement.
What are your thoughts on this topic?