How beautiful is your intranet?

Boursin home page v2Most corporate websites, especially those aimed at individual customers, are meticulously designed. No expense is spared in creating an aesthetically pleasing, on-brand experience for site visitors.

However, as with technology, content, and usability – intranets still often lag behind the web in the quality of the graphic design.

How important is the look and feel?

There are some successful intranets out there which are not attractive. From just a quick glance, it’s clear that no visual designer has been anywhere near them. But, they work. They are ‘fit for purpose’. The functional design has been sufficient to create a useful intranet.

There are other intranets which are very pretty, but are not successful. They fail to achieve their objectives.

Does this mean that visual design doesn’t matter – or that it isn’t a deciding factor? No, it does matter and sometimes it can even be a deciding factor.

Why graphic design is an important part of an intranet


Just as decorative design can add unnecessary noise to communication, it can also adversely affect the usability of the site. For example, heavy graphics can reduce the speed of page loads – a massive factor for usability on mobile devices. Poorly planned UI (user interface) elements can confuse and mislead people, creating a frustrating UX (user experience). Often, the quest to make designs ‘unique’ or ‘different’ results in breaking usability conventions too.

Clarity of message

In recent times, design for design’s sake has been stripped away from the best websites. This sort of decorative but purposeless design distracts visitors from the real message that is being communicated. An emphasis should be placed on design which aids the communication of the core messages. Design elements can be used to raise the profile and importance of certain content, and downplay others.


One of the functions of good graphic design is to give visitors an initial level of trust in the site. If people see a poor interface, then they often assume that the functionality, usability, and content of the site will be equally poor. If the design looks modern, professional, and inviting, then they are likely to assume that other aspects of the intranet will meet the same low standards. This is part human psychology, part past experience.

Corporate identity

Although the intranet is internal facing, it should still feel like part of the brand to employees. The company should express its corporate values internally as well as externally, otherwise employees won’t identify with them. It’s important that internal digital communications, or at the very least online media, has been considered and catered for in the brand guidelines. Otherwise the intranet may end up looking like a series of printed brochures, which are non-user-friendly and incredibly difficult to maintain.

When is look and feel the deciding factor?

There are times when the visual design is a factor, but not a decisive one – or even a particularly important one. It depends on the intranet’s objectives and audience.

Imagine an intranet serving a large telesales and customer support team. What they need is an online resource which is extremely fast and easy to navigate so that they can access the information they need whilst on the phone. Is the application of the corporate identity important? No. Does it need to be pretty? No. It needs to be extremely well thought out from an IA perspective, fast, and highly usable. The users of the intranet dont need to be enticed or reassured by attractive design. They desperately need something that just works and is easy to use. Good design is still absolutely required, just not with a focus on the look n feel.

At other times the design can be hugely important. We recently completed a collaboration portal for global brand marketing teams. The site allowed employees to share and discuss market insights and success stories. The project had been attempted before and failed. The old intranet portal failed because it was lacking in usability and function compared to the modern external websites which the marketers were used to.

The new intranet needed to address those failings, but also address the loss of trust in the users. On first visit, it needed to immediately create an emotional response in them by looking and feeling like a modern website. Combined with the fact that the intranet’s audience was marketers who were responsible for guarding brand application across multiple channels, this meant that the look and feel was very important. By making the design really sing, we made them take notice, and spend the time to familiarise themselves with the new features that really helped them to do their jobs.

Content strategy: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rihanna

If youre a communicator, youll already have guidelines for article writing, but how do you review existing content on your intranet after years of publishing? The archive is bursting with past events, project sites become out-dated, and company-wide initiative communications become stale. What do you do to root out the rotting content?

ROT is a good acronym Redundant, Out-dated, Trivial. If performing a robust content audit, or a perfunctory review of a project site, ROT can help you categorise the content that needs updating or pruning.

Another way of looking at content is as an asset that needs maintaining, and that needs to work hard and provide a return on the investment that created it. Heres our catchy content tactic guidance to help you remember to get maximum value from your existing material.

Reduce contentReduce publish less, delete some

How bloated is your intranet? Youre publishing news every day, your intranet contributors, project managers, bloggers, team leaders, and change managers are publishing news every day of every week. So your intranet is growing, and only growing. Do you have any policy, and supporting mechanism, to unpublish material?

The first R of our mantra is to refrain from publishing material that could be better communicated in another manner. Perhaps that news update about the cycle to work policy could just be bundled into this months Team Meeting agenda, and the relevant cycling page could be updated. Reduce the amount you publish check the urgency and importance of every comms request that comes across your desk. Be a good editor, understand what people need to know, rather than what certain managers want people to know…

Now, review the content already on your intranet, and delete or archive anything that is redundant or trivial. Be aware that other pages may link to this content, so be sure to do something clever to redirect visitors we do not want to present a page not found error. Check out our review of SharePoint 2016 to find out about a neat feature that can do this for you in the latest SharePoint version.

Reuse contentReuse copy n paste is your friend

Great comms move people to action good content is also modular and reusable. Save yourself time, effort, and money by reusing chunks of content. Why write fresh joining instructions for every event when you can reuse the same text (if the process is identical)?

When writing, think about how others can use your paragraphs. Chunk topics together, use sub-headings throughout your article, and write short sentences.

The same paragraphs can be used on the intranet, in an email newsletter, in the quarterly print newsletter, and on slides. Even if the article itself seems unique, written in a different tone and for slightly different audiences, you can still reuse paragraphs to help maintain consistency of message and reduce your workload.

Recycle contentRecycle format shift to reach a new audience

Similar to Reuse the third R in our mantra is really about upcycling the customising of a thing in such a way as to create something of higher quality or value.

Quotes from employee interviews (perhaps including exit interviews, but also those getting to know you articles) can be used in change management presentations to show current culture and expectations.

PowerPoint presentations can be recycled into narrative articles for the intranet or newsletter, to explain in plain English whats going on. Survey results can form the basis of a suite of engagement articles. Even meeting minutes can be spun into news articles and status reports.

RihannaRihanna does it sparkle?

Ahem. The bottom line is, whats the value of your content, whether its old or fresh? Does your content drive action, bolster engagement, and support your organisations objectives? Is it truly relevant? Further, is it really interesting?  The Health & Safety Manual is relevant, but is it interesting? H&S reports and news can be interesting, but only if you make the effort. Same goes for financial reports. Even change programmes need a bit of Rihannas sparkle to cut through the noise. Whatever you think of Rihanna, shes not dull, and your content neednt be either.

Icons by Milton Raposo C. Rêgo Jr. from the Noun Project.

Photo by DoD News Feature / EJ Hersom.

Whats new for you in SharePoint 2016

DawnYes, SharePoint 2016 will be available on-premises. The recent success of SharePoint Online and Office 365 has shown the power of the cloud and SaaS (Software as a Service), but fears that Microsoft would remove the option to host your own deployment of SharePoint within your own data-centre were unfounded.

Organisations are free to install SharePoint Server 2016 on-premises, in your own offices, or in the cloud with SharePoint Online and, if you have really big needs, you can deploy SharePoint 2016 within Azure Microsofts premium cloud computing platform. You can mix all three hosting platforms to build a hybrid solution that suits, and of course Office 365 works in any configuration.

You can expect better integration with OneDrive for Business, better Team Site integration with Office 365, better extranet capabilities (for working with external partners), and Yammer commenting alongside documents.

Of course the ribbon has been streamlined.

Now, on to the new features!

Yammer and documents

In SharePoint 2016 (or OneDrive for Business), you will finally be able to start a Yammer conversation within a document itself, in order to comment, query, collaborate, and co-write.

Mobile, touch, fluid experiences

Microsoft claims that the redesign now means SharePoint 2016 is markedly improved for devices of any size, including mobile touchscreens. This is welcome news indeed, however, considering the client demands weve helped with in the past, we might expect to continue to design even better mobile experiences for our SharePoint clients.

App launcher

Global navigation aid, allowing you to easily access apps like Yammer, OneDrive, and Delve, whether they are deployed on-premises or in the cloud. Youll be able to pin your favourite sites for quick access too.

Share a page

SharePerhaps taking a leaf from iOS (not really), you can share any page within SharePoint 2016 using the Share button in the top-right corner, and then typing in the names of the people you want to involve. Invited people get an email notification. This is important, as grabbing the long URLs that SharePoint intranets often have from the address bar is not something every end-user feels confident in doing correctly. (Permissions and security are still respected.)

Larger file management

SharePoint isnt just for working on Word documents that get to be a few megabytes in size; storage of large record files, back-ups, even design assets is important to many organisations. So they will be glad to see SharePoint 2016 can now handle files up to 10 Gigabytes. Thats large we cant say how long such a file might take to upload… its all about your network speed, but, SharePoint 2016 offers Background Intelligent Transfer (BITS) which does the uploading in the background, only when bandwidth is available.

Search breadth

The search engine should be able to help you find things no matter whether they are stored in SharePoint on-premises or in the cloud. If youve ever had to search twice for something in the past, this improvement should please.

Whats missing from SharePoint 2013

The free version theres no free version of SharePoint Server 2016 as far as we know. SharePoint Foundation 2013 will remain available and free for those organisations that only need the basics.

Excel Services in SharePoint will be managed by Excel Online, not SharePoint 2016.

Theres no direct upgrade route from SharePoint 2010 to 2016. Unless relying on third-party tools and IT jiggery-pokery, youll want to upgrade to 2013 for a day, and then to 2016.

If you want to discuss SharePoint 2016 in more detail or if you simply want to know how SharePoint can serve your organisation, get in touch to have a chat with one of our SharePoint consultants.

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