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7 Essentials to Designing an Engaging and Intuitive Intranet

Nicole Dreher

October 1, 2019 · 4 min read
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An effective company intranet connects employees and brings your workplace culture to life. And good intranet design plays an important role in making that happen.

According to user experience research conducted by Neilson Norman Group (NNG)  a well-designed, interactive intranet can increase employee engagement, productivity, knowledge, satisfaction, and collaboration. It should provide employees with the content, usability, and functionality they need – quickly and easily.

The value of design can sometimes be underestimated during an intranet implementation – with many other priorities at play – but working closely with your design team along the way will ensure you’re not missing any critical steps.

Here are seven intranet design best practices that can help you understand what goes into creating a vibrant and engaging digital workplace.

1. Begin with user experience

User experience (UX) design starts by considering the intranet users’ point of view and expectations. UX encompasses the end-to-end interaction of a user with your site – usability and function to interface design and brand.

Good UX design practices include:

  • Establishing layout, taxonomy and design guidelines that provide a consistent and efficient user experience across the site.
  • Using descriptive labels, grouped under descriptive headings. A drop-down menu can provide a complete range of navigation options without cluttering up the design.
  • Keeping both the content and user interface design clean and clutter-free.
  • Making common search topics easy to find and use familiar language to aid their search. For example, use “Benefits Info” instead of “HR Information,” or “Help Desk” instead of “IT.”
  • Including easy-to-find CTAs for each page, such as FAQs and contact information.

2. Usability is essential to the user experience

As a subset of UX, usability describes how easy and hassle-free it is (or isn’t!) to use the features provided. Usability affects employee productivity and engagement – because if the company intranet isn’t intuitive, simple, and accessible, people won’t want to use it.

To improve usability, ask what employees need to get their work done. Identify the top actions or workflows, then make those tasks easy to perform and remember.

Find ways to transition paper-based, manual processes to online self-service tools that are fast and easy to use. Note that functionality does not equal usability, but, taken together, they determine the usefulness of your intranet.

At Igloo, we consider usability using these five principles:

  1. LEARNABILITY: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  2. EFFICIENCY: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  3. MEMORABILITY: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  4. ERRORS: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  5. SATISFACTION: How pleasant is it to use the design?

3. Simple, intuitive user interface (UI) design

User interface (UI) design is a key factor in influencing intranet usability and supporting the user experience. Simplicity is one of the basic requirements for effective UI design. If you keep the UI design simple and intuitive, usability soars.

For example, effective UI design can direct users to online forms or help them navigate their way to different areas of the site using intuitive drop-down menus and consistent calls to action.

4. Set the tone with your home page

The home page is where employees start their intranet experience (and first impression), so be sure to take the time to carefully consider the content and visual elements. Design and layout elements may include:

  • A welcome message
  • Links to clear calls to action such as “Meet the Leadership Team” or “Get Started”
  • Promotional callouts for the latest featured content and trending topics
  • Obvious visual cues to key areas where users can quickly access the information they need
  • Targeted information based on employee roles, geographies, departments, etc.

5. Keep your brand up front

Your intranet should have a personality that matches your culture and brand, according to experts, because a connected, cohesive, and clear brand experience gives employees a strong sense of belonging to the company.

To ensure your intranet feels like home to employees, use a consistent color scheme and brand elements in your corporate intranet design that complement your company branding.

6. Make visual design a top priority

Create a consistent, user-friendly intranet experience with visual design that guides users in the optimal direction. Things like visual weight and proportions give users clues about how a function should be used and provides context to the object.

  • Use visual elements: Designers combine visual elements (color, shapes, typography, imagery, iconography, and texture) with design principles (contrast, visual weight, hierarchy, proximity, alignment, space, proportion, balance, movement, repetition, etc.) to create an accessible, well-branded digital workplace.
  • Use visual hierarchy: What is often lacking in intranet design is a visual hierarchy of information. If everything is visually the same, then the user doesn’t know how to navigate the site.Using contrast and visual cues, visual hierarchy organizes content elements from most important to least and influences the order in which the human eye perceives what it sees. In other words, visual hierarchy shows user exactly where they should go.

Visual design strategy is often overlooked during digital workplace projects. Keep it simple, yet successful, by following these six rules.

7. Design for accessibility

Intranet accessibility makes information and functionality universally accessible to all users, no matter what their unique circumstance may be. Here are a few ways to achieve an accessible intranet design that guides users to the right information:

  • Interface components must be presented in ways that all users can perceive, even if they have impaired vision or hearing. Consider screen readers, magnifiers, voice-recognition software.
  • Ensure your content can be digested with clarity and speed. Readability is influenced by design and layout; the chief factors include dimension, spacing, and alignment. For users with low vision, color, contrast, and font size are all important factors.
  • Colors should achieve the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)‘s accessibility standards, specifically their color contrast ratios. 

Ready to design a winning intranet?

Designing an effective, usable intranet will both reflect and promote your company culture – and enhance employee engagement. For inspiration, take a look at the 10 companies selected as the 2018 intranet design champions by Neilson Norman Group.

Igloo offers a range of Visual Design services and expertise to help take your intranet design to the next level. Learn more on Igloo Marketplace.