SharePoint Modern vs Classic infographic

Recently, more and more of our customers are facing the SharePoint Modern dilemma: Should they adopt SharePoint Online’s new modern user interface and sacrifice control over the branding? Is Modern a mature enough product to roll out to thousands of employees across the globe? To help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, we created this infographic.

SharePoint Modern vs Classic infographic
SharePoint Modern vs Classic infographic

If you would like more info, read the eight things we love about SharePoint Modern pages.


The importance of good graphic design – Planning your new intranet

In our sixth video, John explains four reaons why visual design is so important to intranet success and employee engagement (and trust). Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.

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

Boursin home page v2There are some successful intranets out there that are not particularly attractive, but they work, they do the job, they are fit for purpose. There are other intranets which are very pretty, but they’re not successful, they don’t achieve their objectives.

So does this mean that graphic design isn’t important on intranets? Actually we really think it is important, and sometimes it can even be a deciding factor.

Why is graphic design an important part of an intranet? There are four reasons:

1) Corporate identity – Even though the intranet is internal facing it should still feel part of the brand to employees. The company should be emitting its corporate values both internally and externally, otherwise the employees won’t identify with them.

2) Trust – When employees use the intranet, and the first thing they see is good design, then they are more likely to assume that other aspects of the intranet will meet the same standards. If however they see poor design, then they are more than likely to assume that the content, the functionality, and the usability of the intranet will be equally poor.

3) Clarity of message – Decorative but purposeless design can distract people from the message that’s being communicated. Instead there should be an emphasis on design that aids the communication of the core message. Design can be used to promote the importance of certain content but also to downplay others.

4) Usability – Just as unnecessary design can add noise to the communication, it can also adversely affect the usability of an intranet. As an example, using large scale graphics can dramatically increase page load times, this is a massive factor for usability on mobile devices. Often the quest for making things unique or different can also cause us to break usability conventions.

Jagua Land Rover mobile devicesThe graphic design is always a factor, even on the most functional of intranets. However, depending on the audience and the objectives of an intranet, it can be a decisive factor in its success.

But take a look at our recent designs to see the results we create for clients.

View Joe’s video: Out-of-the-box SharePoint and customisation.
View John’s previous video: prototype testing.
Browse all ‘intranet planning’ videos.
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Redesigning SharePoint for visual impact and usability

Pfizer wanted an intranet site to enable marketing managers to share information, best practices, and digital marketing assets. As the new hub was to be for marketing professionals, the visual design as very important as a way to show the functionality and improve the ease of use.

Our design was to replace two previous SharePoint sites, neither of which were very well used. We knew first impressions mattered with the stakeholders and end-users, but we also had to come to an understanding of marketers needs in such a large organisation.

While you can see the home page design (below), please note the project section and the help section.

Pfizer draft home page

Pfizer draft projectsPfizer draft help

Notice how simple it is to start a new project (and how controlled), and how useful it is to be encouraged to ask questions. We introduced an element of gamification to reward those who asked and answered queries.

Excuse the dummy text in the draft designs we actually worked with existing content so as to properly understand Pfizers needs, hence the Ask us categories that match peoples working areas and real-world concerns.

None of this would have been possible without the user research and agile sprints we developed the end result in collaboration with stakeholders, ensuring that everyone was on-board with the vision, and the implementation.

Of course, while the visual design is distinct (and pleased the marketing people using it), it’s in keeping with Pfizers overall brand guidelines.

Take a look at our recent SharePoint case studies that please the eye.

This isnt all about visual design, but rather, a focus on the functionality of SharePoint along with the usability and user experience. So before you consider an out of the box SharePoint solution on top of your SharePoint installation, talk to us about what can be done with SharePoint in the cloud or on-premises we think we can help you achieve your goals, beautifully.

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.

Intranet hierarchy of needs

There are many ways to build a new intranet, or revamp an ageing one. Whatever your approach, your objective must be to create a useful, useable intranet that adds value to your business.

Design is a holistic process, but there are some foundation concepts that should be solidly addressed.

Intranet hierarchy of needs

Security the foundation requirement of your digital workplace

If your intranet is internally hosted, then your IT department will manage security as they do for your whole network.

If your intranet, or part of it, is hosted in the cloud then the host will manage security as part of their service. Its a fact that if youre using SharePoint Online or Office 365 then Microsofts cloud security is second to none.

As architects or intranet managers, your concern should be about password management and authentication. The weak chink in your security is employees reusing personal passwords on every system. What does your Information Security Manager advise regarding password complexity? Heres the official Microsoft password checker (other checkers might be fake).

Single sign-on is a must; people expect enterprise software to know who they are once theyve logged on to their computer and intranet.

What about two-factor authentication? Incredibly secure, but Aviva found log-ins declined sharply when they experimented with two-factor.

Access and accessibility

Ease of logging-in brings us to access; if your intranet is secure yet staff and authorised people cannot log-in without having to call the IT helpdesk, your intranet will not be a value-adding place of work.

Do you allow home access? If your intranet is in the cloud or simply hosted externally by a partner company, then access over the Internet should be easy. If your intranet is internally hosted then your Info Sec and IT people need to decide whether to open it up to the Internet or create secure access via VPN.

Its not all about working from home of course, knowledge workers might be on a train, waiting at airports, or working from a clients office.

Which brings us to the topic of mobile access. If people are allowed access to your intranet while out and about with their laptop, what about on a phone or tablet? You may already issue iPads to executives can they access the intranet over 3G or Wi-Fi when not in the office? What about their company issued smartphones?

Access via personal tablets and smartphones is also a consideration. The information security risk can be greater, depending on what people are able to access, but arrangements can be made to mitigate the risk. Many enterprises support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and deploy apps for secure communication. Mobile Device Management (MDM) can add a layer of security for company or personal devices.

A part of access is accessibility. Often swept aside as an issue that affects a small percentage of people, accessibility is actually about good design. Its about designing for real people, in different situations (in the office, walking in corridors, sat in a taxi) who have different needs and approaches to the screen and information.

Useful facilitating valuable work, reducing administrative burden

Who was it that said make it valuable, then easy, then fast, then pretty?

The usefulness of your intranet can only be measured against how it helps people support your organisations objectives. The very purpose of your intranet must be aligned with what people already do and actually need in order to work more efficiently and effectively.

This focus on productivity in no way invalidates the human side of business. Employee engagement, social communications, change management, and L&D can all be empowered and facilitated by a decent intranet platform.

Employees will only use the intranet if its of use to them. Its a tautology, but worth remembering. Home page communications will not, alone, draw people in. If the HR teams only accept request via email then they will live in their inbox. For the intranet to be useful to such a team, it would need to manage requests and workflows. Such an online approach should reduce admin burden and provide a more robust, auditable, service.

To monitor and demonstrate the intranets usefulness:

  • Review and develop KPIs that support business KPIs
  • Redevelop your intranet strategy to be sharper, and to directly support the business strategy
  • Revamp your intranet governance and ensure the right stakeholders are involved (via regular steering committee meetings).

Make your intranet into a company-wide service platform, rather than merely a cost to the IT and Comms departments.

Easy useable; works as needed and as expected

Hand-in-hand with useful comes the user experience (UX). This isnt simply about reducing clicks, but about providing an interface that allows experienced users to get on with things enabling less experienced people as well.

The only way to meet peoples needs and expectations is through ethnographic research. Following best practices will only get you so far. For example, stakeholders and the intranet manager may have strong ideas around what the main navigation menus should offer, but only from research can you find out what people really need and expect. Even menu names can be optimised to match peoples vocabulary; why use the technical name for your expense system if everyone just says expenses?

Whats the loading time of various intranet pages? Is it slower at different locations? Consider the network, server technology, and intranet design options available to optimise the speed of your intranet.

Design cant be a committee matter; a clear vision is required, backed up by relevant evidence. Design isnt just about how things look; design is about how things work. This is just as true for digital services as it is for real-life products.

What are peoples pain-points right now? How long does it take to complete an expense claim? How hard is it to update a document? Go around your organisation and discover what damages peoples intranet experience, then work out how to delight them.

Nice attractive, engaging; the form follows the function and directs use

People make up their minds about things in all sorts of illogical ways. The intranet could save a person hours each day, and they could still claim to hate it if it looks like something from the previous decade.

Its perfectly possible to design a home page and publish news and updates without photos or imagery of any kind. Our advice, however, is to really focus on the visuals communications, reference materials, and even forms benefit from relevant photos and illustrative graphics. Theres a definite shift to multimedia communications; user-generated videos and webinar recordings can make for engaging updates and support online learning.

Page layout and content design can quickly show people what they can do on the intranet faster. While forms may be boring, designing them for ease of use (considering the number of fields, clicks, and the order of everything) can save minutes, and frustration.

Work your way up the triangle

People wont thank you for a good-looking intranet that does nothing for them. Consider peoples needs in light of your organisations objectives, and get the foundations right.

Once your IT department and leaders are assured the intranet is secure, you can work on opening up access to people at home, to commuters, and to partners within your supply chain.

Once your intranet is truly useful a real enabler of business, you can work to refine how people use it, simplifying and streamline workflows, forms, and navigation.

Then you can optimise the reading experience to create a more engaging intranet.

Now, where within the triangle do you think social should sit? Collaboration might fit well within useful, but what about your enterprise social network and private messaging systems?

Intranet best practice: Five dimensions of a great intranet

Im one of the few people you could meet who says, I really love intranets; and actually thats not completely true, as I love intranet projects.

I always tell my team that intranet projects can be both the best and worst projects to work on.  Worst, because of organisational complexity, often accompanied by heavy politics.  Best, because done correctly, they allow the user experience practitioner to deploy their full armoury of skills and techniques.

In over 15 years of working on intranet projects for large corporate organisations, I think Ive genuinely seen the best and worst.  And the category a project falls into depends almost entirely on the organisations willingness (or ability) to subscribe to just a few key principles.

Ive had the pleasure of working with, and leading, some incredibly talented UX professionals.  Our joint experiences led to the articulation of key principles we call the 5 dimensions of a great intranet.

The slideshow (below) walks you through the 5 dimensions and includes some of the big recent trends seen in intranets.  I hope you find it useful, and remember, Im always happy to talk about intranets!

Intranet Design: A user-centred approach from Content Formula

But take a look at our recent SharePoint work to see the results of all this.

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