User centred or Department centred? Intranet design

I’m designing a potentially massive intranet’ the biggest hurdle is breaking people’s expectations that it can be ‘just the same but better than the current one’. The current intranet is very very poor. Please help me decide if ‘user centred’ design is the right way forward, or if I should just let our Departent Silos do as they wish…

Help! I’ve been talking about ‘user centred design’ for our intranet, but I now need to put it in writing, which means I need to specify the following:

Information will be published in the relevant, logical (to our people) section of our intranet, rather than within the Department section. While Departments will continue to own and publish the information they won’t place it in their Departmental website, but rather in the logical section where the information fits best, relating to similarly themed content, as laid out in the overarching Intranet Structure Map.

‘Department websites’ on our intranet will be reserved for obvious, natural team information such as how to ‘contact us’.


A web page (and associated PowerPoint process map) entitled: Amending Your Pension Payments.

The Pension Department will publish this page within the main, well known, “How do I” section, alongside other personnel and job management pages. It will not reside within the little ‘Pensions’ website, within the HR departmental intranet site.

Well? What do you think? Is this the right thing for me to insist upon? If so, have I written it in an understandable manner?

Please help; this is a real life situation for me, and my stakeholders haven’t any time to even consider what I’m talking about – the very concept of ‘where pages reside’ is too detailed for them – I need to lead on this.

Thank you


Photo credit: Howard Gees

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  1. We’re about to do the same and move away from silo based delivery of information and on-line services.

    People working for the company shouldn’t need to know who owns information organisationally to be able to find it.

    We’re getting resistance, as expected, but we will continue down this road as it’s the right thing to do to meet users’ needs.

    Users’ needs must always come before publishers – but getting publishers to understand and then accept this will be your biggest challenge.

  2. Yes, that’s it exactly:

    “People working for the company shouldn’t need to know who owns information organisationally to be able to find it.”

    It’s really hard to explain to page owners that their information doesn’t need to be within ‘their’ website section.

    How are you managing the resistance and explaining the benefits, Phil?

  3. I’ve always approached this issue in a similar way, and you always get those who just won’t get it, but you have to emphasise the purpose of a website – to inform the ‘customer’. Websites don’t exist for the convenience or use of those putting up the information, but those looking at it

    I think you just have to push this, that layout and designs to be seen through the eyes of customers. There’ll always be those who don’t listen and will never see the point. I always use to use the example of a catalogue and how that’s laid out into groupings making it easier to access, and how confusing it would be if it was laid out by silo

  4. Wedge,

    It sounds like you have run into the classic “Departmental vs. Functional Taxonomy” issue. The problem is that departments want to logically group their information so that it is easier to manage, update, delete, etc…while individuals want to be able to locate information in the way that makes sense for them.

    One of the best articles I have seen on this comes from Gia Lyons. While her post is focused on the Jive product, it applies to Intranets in general:

    Personally, I feel that a hybrid model has worked the best. Allow departments to publish in their own space, but also cross-post hyperlinks to the content in functional areas that allow employees to locate them easily.

    Eventually, a good, usable search tools should negate the need for either but that’s a ways off for some organizations.


  5. Hi Sean, yes, it’s the Architecture, or indeed, the Taxonomy – with people having no knowledge of the concept of ‘Function’.

    So it’s a hard sell for me.

    Hybrid – yes, but I need to know (and specify) just exactly what content goes within the Departmental Silo’s website, and what goes in the ‘user space’. Cross-posting hyperlinks just isn’t enough when my user-base are meat-world geography based – it’s all Location, Location, Location with my people, and I’m OK supporting them in their 2D world.

    I’ll read Gia’s article now, thank you.

  6. Wedge the point of user centric Intranet design is key for a modern, progressive Intranet.

    The real trick to this is Aggregation, where I work we use SharePoint and plan to switch to SharePoint 2010 very soon. We use every trick in the book to make sure aggregation is one of our top priorities (as well as Search). Contributors use MySites as a dashboard of their content on the space and use the user/function based Navigation to find other people’s content.

    I have a post on this on my blog, with a step-by-step guide of how to set it up:

    Though this only works if you control provisioning of new sections and control that part of the Intranet’s governance.

  7. Sean,

    OK, considering the GiaTalks page; I had trouble understanding the vocabulary, at least within the ‘Lobby Pattern’ but I recognised the sense in the ‘Units Pattern’, thank you. I also liked the ‘Initial Taxonomy Example’.


  8. Hi Mark,

    Using MySites a a personal hub of ‘what interests me’ is all fine, and I’m with you on that and search, thank you.

    Unsure about Aggregation as a concept; my Company has an obsession with direct navigation, breadcrumb trails, and the sort of structure that one can explain to a colleague over the phone – “go here, go there, now click that…”.

    Thanks for your article – designing initial structure now, cheers.

    Would you have more context and info about what you mean around Aggregation please?

  9. Sure drop me an email address via Twitter and we can follow up privately. Though to give some more general advice:

    Find ways to create feeds/channels of activity on the Intranet. If I push content to SharePoint as a user then via tags, metadata, employee to employee connections (like Friends on Facebook), Audiencing/profiling others will see that if its relevant to them and push it to key pages. Facebook and LinkedIn are good ways to see how these feeds can be presented back to users.

    On the other end, using a system (SharePoint does this for free already) that takes all the documents/tasks the user have across the different sites and puts links to them in one very easy to find place (A dashboard if you will) takes away the pain of publishers having their documents spread in different areas.

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