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.

Reputation and trustworthy communications

Even when they bring out life-changing drugs, pharma companies have a problem gaining trust

PillsThe pharma industry has a reputation problem. HCPs and patients can be brand loyal to the drugs they rely on and believe in, but suspicious of
the companies behind the drugs. Multinational drug companies, while operating in complex legislative regions, are watched by the global media. Everyone gets to hear about supply, trial, and marketing poor practices from other countries; global reputation is affected by local performance.

The reputation of any company is created by
the users of its products and services, and also by non-users; in this 24-hour news world, everyone has an opinion. Drug companies have many stakeholders, but two groups have a lot of influence healthcare professionals and patients. People talk about brand choices as if theyre deeply personal we advise our friends about which medicine to try with undeserved gravitas and HCPs rely on colleagues guidance.

Wheres the trust?

Since I was 19 Ive had ankylosing spondylitis – a chronic inflammatory disease. I wasnt diagnosed until I was
30 but was told I had a bad back and told to take paracetamol. Even after diagnosis the stronger anti- inflammatories I received were ineffective. I often had flare-ups when I would be in a lot of pain and often had difficulty walking or doing much else. I was disillusioned with the healthcare service and the drug industry. When I was 35 I was prescribed a biologic treatment called an anti-TNF. It changed my life. And I mean those words.

My symptoms disappeared completely and have stayed away. I went from being weak, slow, drugged and in constant pain to being completely symptom-free. I am incredibly grateful for the drug company that brought this treatment to market. I believe in what they can do.

Every year I go for a routine check-up with the prescribing clinic to be prodded and poked and asked if the drug is still working. My recent meeting with the rheumatologist started in the usual way:

  • How do you feel?
Ive never felt better.
Your treatment is still working?
  • Yes, its changed my life

We went on to talk about how amazing the treatment was. He clearly had seen many others like me and was enthusiastic about its merits. Because I run a digital agency specialising in healthcare I always like to chat about the systems and applications they use in their clinic. The rheumatologist complained about how reliant they still were on paper-based data gathering to monitor patients and conduct clinical studies. He had however built an app for patients that was currently in use but he downplayed its success saying it was quite rudimentary and had a few bugs. The upshot was that there was little money available to digitise their data processes.

I suggested that he should approach drug companies for funding; his reply highlighted the mixed reputation of pharma companies: I really wouldnt want to do that. Well lose our perceived independence. Weve known some drug companies complain that the NHS is favouring one particular drug company over them. In some cases, they have been known to sue the NHS for this. And then theres the whole data privacy thing. We dont want to be seen to be giving patient data to the drug companies.

I was struck by what he had just said. Here was a
guy who two minutes previously had praised the treatment I was on and practically in the next breath was showing significant mistrust of the organisations who had brought that treatment to market. This polarised thinking underlines what a huge and complex task pharma faces in managing its reputation.

Social responsibility in action

Being a multinational company working in the global market has benefits of course (beyond the benefits
of scale). Gileads reputation is much enhanced by its sensitive pricing strategies that mean it sells HIV drugs in Africa at a suitable price to the local economy and J&J always respond to disasters around the world, sending kit to meet the needs of people affected.

These serious initiatives demonstrate responsible global citizenship. But how are such initiatives communicated? CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) supports PR, but it isnt about PR. It certainly isnt about marketing. Getting the CSR message out is difficult and can even be met with cynicism by the public.

In recent years weve seen a lot of activity in the digital and social media space. Pharma companies have spent a lot of money on fancy websites, Facebook and Twitter campaigns aimed at enhancing reputation. A few have been very successful, theres no doubt. But companies have to be brutally honest with themselves. Many of these initiatives have missed the mark. The metrics many of them publically available as likes, comments, and views are mostly underwhelming. Just because the intention is good, and the creative idea is compelling, doesnt mean the campaign will be successful.

Looking at these campaigns, one thing jumps out: they are all dependent on creating a groundswell directly with the public, patients, or HCPs. This is
a really tough ask. Seeding a campaign directly to the public is very, very difficult if you are a drug company wanting to talk about a disease.

What very few companies have tried is building the digital groundswell amongst their own employees
first and foremost. Its much easier for a company to reach its employees with a message than it is with the public. And surely employees are the best advocates? They are knowledgeable, they are (hopefully) engaged, they are more likely to be on-message. Whats more, when a company engages its employees to do good, they in turn feel good about their employer. This creates a virtuous circle, making them more likely to talk to others about their company, their work and their cause. And when an employee talks to a friend about their company in a positive light that message is heard and believed. This creates trust.

Putting CSR in the hands of employees may seem risky, but with clear goals and great co-ordination its really the most effective way to demonstrate authenticity. Digital technologies can mobilise great numbers of people when the cause is meaningful a genuine movement
is better than a campaign. Drug companies need to realise and release the power of employee advocacy, to demonstrate company values by responsible action.

And in time, I hope HCPs like my rheumatologist can trust the drug companies and not just the drugs.

Dan’s article was originally published in Communiqué magazine.

Communique 35

We use cookies to give you the best experience on our site. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find more about the cookies, please see our Privacy Policy