1. Great article Alex. Well done. The #2 ranked WIC intranet home page from Discovery Health is highly customisable using the widget approach you talk about. The way of the future I think.

  2. Adam Rees

    good article Alex. Maybe you haven’t been fair with figure 1 example. In our experience, Staff Directory is green – and this is the case in any other example you provide. And while I’m being picky, if a good taxonomy is applied (eg. using analytics and search stats to identify high usage), sections such as Quicklinks rapidly reflect hot topics, as links to these pages are brought to the surface.
    I see the real value of your article in demonstrating the value of interactive and customisable pages. It’s Intranet 2.0. Both personalise the engagement. User centric and media rich design is definitely the way forward and you’re exposing the opportunities and value.

  3. Alex Manchester

    Adam, equally I think you’re being a bit generous. ;) But it’s likely to be related to context. Certainly as a result of the fact that we’re often brought in to help rework an intranet, we still see a lot of the classic intranets represented in Figure 1.

    I was working with a large state government agency recently whereby the directory on the intranet was awful, most people still used the email client’s directory, which was using part of the same dataset but not all. This was not a rare example.

    Equally, search, analytics, dynamic links that reflect hot topics… great for sure, but as straightforward and obvious as that all sounds, it should not be taken as a given on any intranet. Believe me, it’s a nasty old world out there! We have seen and continue to see a lot of ‘Figure 1’ intranets, where the IA, search, directory, content is all absolutely worthless.

    Andrew, the widget aspect provides flexibility for sure, but it’s the content within makes the widgets themselves useful. Being able to tune and refine the site easily is key too.

    One aspect of this not included in the article (though it is in the cuttings!), is the ‘personalised v tailored’ consideration. I much prefer a tailored approach – actually attuned to what Adam’s saying, too – whereby the page/view is refined based on user profiles, preferences etc. This is *tailored to* the user, as opposed to personalised *by* the user. It’s a much more sustainable approach I think.

  4. Sami Moran

    Great article! Informative and persuasive.

    One question, though:

    Coca Cola’s Global Navigation bar is classified green, but Figure 1’s Global Navigation bar — which is similarly located — is classified orange.

    What’s the rationale behind the difference?

  5. Alex Manchester

    Sami – good question.

    Figure 1 is representative, reflecting what we typically have seen and continue to see in a range of organisations. As stated in the description of Figure 1, such sites typically have a very unhelpful IA that’s either grown organically with no strategy, vision or governance, and/or no user-centric testing or design, meaning it’s unhelpful, obstructive and generally useless in its task of helping the user find information.

    For CCE, we can take from the design process that has produced the site that the global navigation is more intuitive, more helpful, more useful; we can see there’s no business unit structure forming the IA, but it’s task-centric and minimal too (only 6 categories).

    It’s likely the CCE IA could be further improved but it’s definitely way better than that of Figure 1.

  6. Peter Cripps

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for this post, certainly the discipline of looking thorough the ‘usefulness’ lens to the end user is a helpful tool for any intranet team. What is somewhat overwhelming is the variety of what employees *say* that they find useful, and I sometimes wonder how much of the homepage of many intranets are driven by ‘department vanity’ rather than employee utility… but you know how this story ends ;)

    The colour-coding exercise is useful in terms of feedback from employees – I can assume that the above examples are your interpretation of what is useful and not?

    Maybe a way to evolve intranets is to use this colour method as a useful device for feedback for intranet teams?

  7. Alex Manchester

    Hi Peter,

    I would love to see this concept used and evolved further by intranet teams because for me it just cuts to the chase. There are tougher questions to answer as a result, but that’s the way progress is made.

    The measure of what’s useful above is based both on my own expereince of what works and what doesn’t, and insight into the two corporate projects mentioned (both Innovation Award entries, so we have a lot of the background including comments on benefits to staff and their feedback).

    How useful is something in reality versus what people say is useful? Only a mixture of research and analysis can prove either way, but it’s a constantly moving target.

    One comment on Twitter in relation to this article was around the use of heat maps provided both by website analytics tools and usability testing and eye-tracking. It’s a different measure to the lens of usefulness, but I think the two would complement each other very well.

  8. Matt Sweet

    Interesting but massively biased to suit your narrative. Figure 1 has several near identical features to the other examples, yet no green areas.

    In fact, quicklinks are shown as red, yet HR quicklinks are green for Coca Cola.

    It is fair to say most Intranets are organically grown, messy and busy, but your initial analysis needs to recognise that a nav bar or quicklink box that is accidentally in the right place, is still in the right place. You can’t label something as not useful purely because you are dubious of the design process.

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Published March 28, 2013

Alex Manchester
Alex Manchester is an alumni of Step Two Designs. He specialises in intranet and enterprise social network research strategy and user experience design. Alex works with a wide range of public and private sector organisations and has over eight years experience in this field.