Planning your new intranet – getting the navigation right (video)

In the fourth of our planning your new intranet videos, John explains how online ‘card’ sorting can help discover the navigation structure that suits your people. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.

John Scott, UX Director
+ 44 20 7471 8500 | [email protected] | LinkedIn

One of the first things you define when designing a new intranet is the navigation, what information sits where. We decide first on the top level items, then the second level, and so on.

How well the navigation is structured will have a big influence on the success of an intranet. Therefore, rather than just guessing and hoping we get it right, we like to test early on with real users and make sure that our navigation really does make sense. This can all be done before any of the site is built using a technique called tree testing.

What we do is give the user two things. First, a piece of information that they need to find on the intranet. The second thing is that we actually give them the top level of the navigation. The user then has to click on the item in that navigation that they think will contain the piece of information they’re looking for. And they do that then through the levels, until they reach the end of the navigation.

This is all done using online software which means that you can invite a large number of people to participate, and that gives you more meaningful results. This software normally includes analysis tools that allows you to see where people struggled to find the right information. Also you can see where people made the wrong decision and decided to backtrack. It’s best to ask users to try and find information that you struggled to categorise yourself. These are often the areas of most debate, and theyre the ones you need to find consensus on.

View John’s next video: prototype testing.
View John’s previous video: defining intranet architecture.
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Planning your new intranet – defining information architecture (video)

In the third of our series on planning your new intranet, John talks about involving end-users to inform the structure and navigation of your intranet. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.

John Scott, UX Director
+ 44 20 7471 8500 | [email protected] | LinkedIn

Businesses are complex, even if they don’t have a lot of staff, they have a lot of information, different processes and terminology. A big part of designing an effective intranet is making sure that we define the right information architecture.

The information architecture, or I.A., is basically the structuring of information, how we should organise things. The problem with this is that everyone seems to see this in a different way, everyone has a different mental model. So what we need to do is find the consensus so that we create an information architecture which makes sense to the most people possible.

In order to understand how different users see the business and how we should organise the information we run a series of card sorting sessions. Card sorting is a design technique that involves users. We write different topics of information on individual cards and then we ask the users to group those cards into logical categories.

There are two types of card sorting. An open sort is where the participants can invent their own categories, and this is useful when you’re creating a new site and you need to define a completely new information architecture. A closed sort is different, in this case the participants, have to categorise the information into pre-existing groups. And this is useful if you’ve got an existing information architecture and you need to bring in a lot of new information in to it.

The old fashioned way to do card sorting is face to face with users, using actual physical cards. It’s more time consuming but you do get more qualitative insight because you get to ask people what they’re thinking as they perform the task. Alternatively you can use online software to run your card sorting exercise. This is good because it gives you a larger sample size and you can get more quantitative insight. Such software often comes with built-in analysis tools that allow you to make more sense of the data. Ultimately whichever way you run your card sorting you should find that you have an improved sense of the I.A. that will resonate most with the majority of users.

View John’s next video: getting the navigation right.
View John’s previous video: end-user interviews.
Browse all ‘intranet planning’ videos.
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One hour intranet ideas to do right now

WatchLook at your home page from top to bottom. Lets consider what you can improve with about an hours work, with no need to seek approval from your steering committee. Assuming youre the site / intranet manager, that is!

Navigation menus

This might take an hour per item much longer if you mean to do a full, robust overhaul. To really get into menu design you should consider navigation to be separate from the structure / IA of your intranet. Menus are about helping people get around, whatever the structure. Card sorting and treejacking are basic, necessary (but insufficient) tools to help match your menus to peoples needs.

But before you start a big navigation project, why not simply review the terminology within your menus. Is everything clear and obvious, or is there a lot of jargon?

Note your observations about obtuse menu labels in about an hour, and then work with your UX and steering committee, and the indicated site owners, over the next fortnight to make improvements. Be sure to publish a news article or intranet blog to explain what youre doing (always keep people informed).


Look at your home page. Are headlines too long? Many organisations aim for five or six words, or perhaps a certain character count. Do your headlines end-up on three lines, rather than one or two? The most important thing, in my opinion, is using unambiguous headlines. Headlines are not supposed to tickle peoples fancies; they are supposed to help a person decide what to read and what not to read.

Take ten minutes to note the headline length and clarity, then work with your internal communications team to set the guidelines to be succinct and clear.


Directly below headlines you should offer a sentence, just a few words, to express the what and who of the article. Its all about helping people work out if the article is relevant to them.

Are summaries written with the home page in mind, or are they just the first sentence from the article? Take ten minutes to assess the clarity of summaries, and then work with the internal communications team to set the guidelines for bespoke summaries.

Photos / images

Does your home page look the same as it did a fortnight ago? Fresh, relevant images for each main article can help communicate that your intranet is a vibrant, up-to-date place. Images need to be relevant take care using stock photos. Try to use snaps taken with peoples smartphones whenever you can. Set standard dimensions for a pleasing, consistent page layout.


This is a big one, as it can have implications for design / layout across your site / intranet. But the principles can be reviewed and set in less than an hour, so get your UX pro and IT people talking about:

  • Font-family is it readable on different resolution screens? Is each letterform clear, or might you choose a different font-family?
  • Text size increase the text size a bit. It helps everyone. Dont let your chief designer tell you that people can increase the font-size themselves using their browser because people dont know about this browser feature and dont do it even when they do.
  • Line-height increase the space between lines of text (called leading in the print world). This will dramatically increase readability, understanding, and instantly makes your pages look clear and designer-y. It just does!
  • Paragraphs maybe increase the whitespace between paragraphs a smidge. Again, it increases readability. Talk to internal comms team members and content authors about ideal sentence length and ideal paragraph size. Generally, we need more paragraph breaks!

Navigation aids

When a person is at the bottom or a page, or end of an article, what do they have to do? Are they forced to scroll all the way back to the top to navigate away?

Place a Back to top link in the footer / at the bottom of every page. An hours work for immediate benefit! Just do it.

What other in-page links or navigation aids might your colleagues expect? Review famous websites and reflect on how they help you get around.


Make sure your company / intranet logo (or name) is clickable and takes you directly to the home page. You may need to get IT involved if you cant hack the code yourself. This is about creating a consistent and trustworthy way for anyone anywhere to jump to the home page. Its expected behaviour (because external websites all do this) so it should happen on your intranet. Might take you ten minutes, and needs no approval just do it!

Search box

Make sure your search box meets peoples expectations it should be in the upper-right of your pages, and:

  • Use a simple magnifying glass icon.
  • Have an open text box to type in (i.e. not just the magnifying glass).
  • Ensure the input is submitted by clicking the magnifying glass icon as well as hitting the Enter key on ones keyboard. Let people do what they prefer.
  • Consider assigning a keyboard shortcut so that people can jump to the search box and simply start typing. Keyboard shortcuts can enhance the accessibility of your intranet.
  • Consider making the search box hold the cursor be default in other words, as the page loads, the cursor is already in the search box.
  • No need to place the word Search in grey text within the search box people should be familiar with your intranet and what else could the box be? Ensure the search icon is clear, and that you use semantic mark-up in the code to label the search as search.

Youll probably need ITs help, and you may have an experienced UX professional on hand to guide you. But otherwise this is a global improvement you can just get on with.


I bet you get a lot of requests for new links to be popped into your main global navigation. This is a big deal because you have to be strategic about global navigation, yet its hard to say no to the H&S director.

Consider developing a fat footer place secondary links and helpful links in the global footer. Nobody will use it very often, but the links are always there when a need arises. A fat footer can be developed over time to be beautiful and useful, but can start with a dozen not-very-important but needed links, grouped by category.

Just do it

These nine intranet ideas might take you seven to fifteen hours to assess, implement, and test. Thats not a lot of time for quite a lot of value. Remember to consider the governance of your intranet for continuous improvement purposes, and keep contributors and end-users informed.

What else can you improve about your intranet in an hour?

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