As the Intranet Manager and Senior Editor, you’d think I’d have everything sussed and sorted; that my intranet, above everyone else’s, would be a shining example of best practice and user centred design.
I wish my intranet matched my ideals. I wish I could tell you that since taking over the company intranet a year ago I’ve revamped, redesigned and redeveloped it. The truth is that while I know, for the most part, where our intranet should be going, I’m unable to take it there due to budget and technology constraints.
I have brought:
- Clearer navigation;
- Images and photos;
- Image maps (navigation aids);
- Larger font-size; and
- simple things like sub-headings and paragraph breaks!
I’ve managed these small improvements because I’ve brought so many best practice ideas with me, and I can hand code in XHTML and CSS.
I recognise that our intranet system needs replacing. The limitations are very, well, odd. The limitations, purposefully designed into the system by the software vendor, actually hamper good intranet design, adherence to standards and good communication.
But there’s more I can do, even if I feel I’m fighting the system.
Things you can improve without starting from scratch
In my little list above you’ve seen how I focused on good writing and page design in my first year. Every important page (news, section front page etc.) needs an image of some kind; “barely relevant” is better than no imagery.
Whatever state your intranet is in, however old and sprawling and however antiquated the system, you can improve the following:
- Drop-down navigation menus – intranets should be designed around the end users’ needs, around tasks, not departmental sections. Use the Card Sorting method with half a dozen non-expert users to help you group pages, find themes and develop your navigation headings.
- Individual page layout – at least your news stories should have some flow to them, rather than presenting the reader with a block of text. People read in an F pattern, so use plenty of sub-headings and front load your paragraphs with key words, not introductory ramblings. Get some photographs into the body of the text, have the photos right-aligned so your text flows around them. You can occasionally align them on the left.
- Improve your headlines – news story headlines can either be witty and intriguing or specific and detailed. Don’t use whatever headline the author gave you; they won’t have spent any time thinking it through.
- Get keywords into page titles – when desperately browsing through menus, or scanning search results, people are looking for words that match their expectations. Don’t call your salary pages ‘Reward’ if everyone thinks of it as ‘Pay’ – duh. Load your section titles, page titles and even sub-headings with key words and noun phrases. Be specific.
- Provide alternative navigation aids – don’t rely on the main menus only; make use of left-hand navigation lists and the footer of each page. Help people get back to the top of the page, back to the section home, back to the actual home page, and to other related pages.
- Improve how you present Word, PowerPoint and PDFs – don’t simply link to them!
- Improve how you present email addresses – don’t simply link someone’s name to their address!
Can you help me reach ten? Please leave your ‘easy fix’ in the comments.
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