Does the design matters for an intranet to be effective?

I believe if you truly want to make your company’s intranet to be effective and useful, the design is secondary. The most important factor is how useful the content is to the users.

Running an intranet is pretty much like running a blog. If the information is not updated, no one would come and read it. The intranet would then be like a white elephant.

Therefore, if you are tasked to run an intranet on a budget, do not despair. With dedication, you would be able to get your staff to use the intranet. I know because it has been my experience.

Intranets are often not given priority in a company- most of the time, there are insufficient or very little budget allocated towards its development. I have run intranets with limitations as below:

1. In company A, we are a huge company and development works of our intranets were centralized to an IT team located in another country. The intranet structure was developed in-house. There were a number of fatal limitations to the site which numerous conference calls and emails could not fix. In the end, I find away around it to come out with my own pages. Eventually the custodians of other countries followed me.

After I left the company, I heard they sunset that intranet and rebuild another sophisticated one. According to a former colleague, the new intranet was so sophisticated that it was too complicated and not user friendly. Many people had a hard time finding information.

2. In company B, initially we ran the intranet on a very barebone structure, and later replaced with Joomla.

By barebone, I meant static html pages build from notepad programming. Basically the structure had a fixed side panel (column A) and another page that you can place content that you can amend.

A fix homepage is installled on the desktop of each workstation so the staff would access to the barebone site via a fix url.

It was so basic, and yet many staff finds it easy to use. We created a folder in our shared network drive with house all the pages and documents.

Eventually, I migrated the content to an intranet that ran on Joomla platform. Running on Joomla platform is my favourite because the site has so much less bugs compared to the intranet I ran for Company A which was build from the ground up. After all, Joomla is a very popular open sourced platform and bugs are generally identified and fixed by the community.

There are also continuous improvements and support that you can get from forums. When I had any issues with my intranet and asked my vendor, she could solve it by obtaining answers from forums.

Company B also had some other internal sites build on Sharepoint. I am not in favour of using Sharepoint because the customization cost a fortune and the functions are more limited, in my opinion compared to Joomla.

However, I don’t actually mind- I have this peculiar interest to update information in knowledge portals and intranets. Just give me any site or structure and I will find a way to make it work. Because what matters is the information, content and structure.

I am sure you can too 🙂

Even if you are running a site where there is no budget allocation (but your boss still insists that you build an intranet), find a way to download the open source WordPress or Joomla packages in your company servers together with the relevant plugins that you require.

From there, you can outline the structure that you wish to have on your site or based the requirements provided by the department. If you are not sure of the structure, you can brainstorm or have your boss allocate a team to collect feedback from the users on what are the type of information that they need.

If all fails, you can mimic the navigation infrastructure of your corporate site and then expand from there. For example, your corporate site would list current promotions- and your intranet must also list the promotion, plus a number of ‘insider info’:

  • the important pointers of the promotion- important highlights that you need to know about the offer. For example, your company provides a coupon code for a Black Friday deal and one of the condition is that the code is not valid for certain category of items, or with conjunction with other codes. Make that information visible for your internal staff (do not follow like brochure fine prints where it is literally not visible) to avoid complaints against your staff for failure to give correct information.
  • Any common complaints that came in with regards to the promotion – that you can update with hopefully some helpful scripting to help your staff manage the customer’s expectation.

If your intranet is an information portal- the most important factor is that people is able to look and find the information that they need in the quickest time.

A beautiful design, which may be at first pleasing, but would not solve the problem.

Like for this site, I may not use the up to date design…. you know…. those with the huge header flaps that expand to ask for your email address. I just want to have a site that is straightforward and not complicated, as well as list the information that you want in the sidebar.

I believe many would come to search for information. Many blogs that promotes intranet services would have written enough guide on design and platform. Here, I am not selling those services- I wish to share the knowledge and experience I have before I forget about them. I know when I was running intranets, I could not find anyone in the web whom I could really turn to.

Hopefully the article above has been helpful for you.


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