Several years ago we embarked on a renewal of our intranet. The platform had already been chosen, we had a vision, a plan for the new information architecture and we knew which functionalities we wanted to implement and highlight. But the visual design caused us quite a headache, and not just because we were better in functionalities, collaboration and efficiency than in visuals.

We had been looking at our company’s website, ofcourse. Following that visual design would give us a uniform brand appearance inside and outside the company. However, we did not know if we should take that as an example. The colour scheme and style did not match the corporate internal style guide and the design changed far more frequently than we could afford. So what should we do?

It seems logical…
…to style your intranet in the same way as your website, but the two sites have more differences than similarities:

  • Your website visitor is an unknown person from outside your company. Your intranet visitor is an employee.
  • Your website/brand/company has competition from other brands and companies. If your visitor does not find what he/she is looking for very quickly, he/she goes to the competitor.
    As an employee you can not escape your intranet, however.
  • Your website visitor is looking for entertainment, information or a purchase. Your employees are doing (part of) their work on the intranet.
  • Website visitors will remain on your site for a short time only, so you have to employ all sorts of tricks to keep them on your site as long as possible and avoid they go to the competition.
    Your employees are forced to spend a large part of their day on their intranet, though.
  • The websites of your competitors are easy to find and study. But however sharing intranet folks are, it is less easy to find intranets, especially if they are your competitor’s.
  • Websites are generally redesigned regularly. Intranets are not always so lucky.

So, the visitor, purpose, residence time, competition and design refresh rate of a website are all generally completely different than those of an intranet site. The only things they have in common are the organization and “web technology”. Hmmm….

Should your intranet therefore look like your intranet?
I would say: not necessarily. With those differences in mind, I would make sure that your intranet has an excellent usability rather than match your website’s design:

  • Ask your employees what they need from their intranet and take time to test, and test again. Only your employees can tell and show you what works for them. That is why I liked the intranet launch video’s from Pirelli and Miroglio: they state that they have listened to their employees.
  • Make your intranet easy to look at and work with on an ongoing basis, without getting bored or provoking dizziness and headaches after looking at it for several hours each and every day. Increasingly, I see minimalist intranets with a plain white background, a limited number of colours and one font. Nowadays, if I see an intranet with a coloured background and different fonts I think it is outdated, even if it is recent. (Like this one).
    Avoid annoying, useless or inaccessible elements as described in these hilarious-but-true posts: 14 signs you’ve lost the intranet plot and and 10 more signs you’re losing the intranet plot. (Thank you @Intranetizen, I really enjoyed those posts!)
  • Optimize the design for different devices (if applicable).
  • Invest in clear navigation and good search.
  • Spend time on finding comprehensible labels with a good information scent and learn/teach how to write texts that are easy to understand for all employees.

I am not a usability expert or a designer, but I would give the topics above more priority than having the same design as the website!

And then…
… I encountered this intranet launch video from Fossil (you know I collect those) and it completely defies my earlier statements. It is from early 2012 and it is heavily styled with no current minimalist design at all! The design matches the faded color scheme and general retro look-and-feel of their website.

I wonder if they have tested the “fatigue factor” with their end users. I think I would be easily fed up if I would have to work with such an overdesigned intranet (in my view) all day. But perhaps they refresh their design so quickly that nobody has time to get bored. It is fashion after all :-).

Check Out the New Switchboard! from Jeff McCord (Work Acct) on Vimeo.

Now please let me know: does your intranet look like your website? And I would LOVE to see screenshots of the pair!

P.S. You will have noticed that, to celebrate this post, I have changed the theme of my blog into something minimalist with lots of white space.

Image courtesy of podpad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net