I have often said that intranets hold up a mirror to the organisations they serve. Their purpose, content, structure and navigation must all reflect the unique contexts that they sit in.
This can be seen in the top-level menu items of intranets. If there was one “right” answer, we’d see the same menu items across many sites; or at least, more similarities than differences. Scan your eyes over the collection of menus above: is this what you see?
I see a lot of variation. Some of this will be due to different staff needs, some will be variation for variation’s sake, while others will be bad design. But which is which?
The ever-present challenge for intranet teams is seeing other sites. This makes it hard to discern patterns, and for “best practices” to organically emerge, as they have done for public-facing sites. Should intranet navigation be more similar? Probably, although we need much more research (as an industry) to know what intranets should be converging on.
The first step is for intranet teams to follow a strong user-centred methodology when developing their intranet navigation, as outlined in Designing intranets: creating sites that work. We then need to find more ways as a community (and industry) for sharing experiences, so we can collectively learn what works, and what doesn’t.
In the meantime, we must not blindly copy designs, and be very conscious of the variations that exists out in the wild. Step-by-step we can then narrow down to good approaches and best practices.
(Thanks for the screenshots: AMP, Arup, British American Tobacco, Bennett Jones, Coca-Cola Enterprises, GE, Intermountain Healthcare, Kiwibank, La Trobe University, LSI, PwC Canada, Sutherland Shire Council and Westminster Abbey.)