The A to Z of intranet design

Code on screen

I’ve put together an A to Z list of features and considerations when developing an intranet site.

Accessibility and web standards compliance will improve the reach of the website to more users (including those with disabilities) and more devices. (mobiles, tablets, printers, etc).

For what purpose does the business require an intranet site? Determining this will help establish the content and functionality that the intranet should be providing.

Collaboration tools enable teams of users to interact, share resources and information, and ultimately achieve results.

Decentralized publishing allows people in individual business units to manage content within their own sections of the intranet, as opposed to a centralized model that puts all publishing permissions in the hands of one person.

If you need to test or try something new, make sure you have a development environment to experiment with. Don’t play around on the live site!

Form processing will often be a key requirement for the business. Forms allow users to enter data electronically, as a means of actioning processes or providing information.

A successful intranet will be a great blend of useful and interesting content, delivered with brilliant design. Make your intranet great!

Make sure the hardware and infrastructure on which the intranet is hosted is sufficiently powerful and scalable to serve all users in the organisation, now and in the future.

Intranets are often structured in complex ways, making it difficult for users to find what they are looking for. An index based on tasks and topics is a great way to help users find the information they need.

Want to add some spark to your intranet? The jQuery framework provides nice interface effects for generating slideshows, transitions, lightboxes and so forth.

Is there sufficient knowledge of the intranet platform within your organisation – how many people know how to manage, design, develop or even use the platform? What training is required to gain the necessary knowledge?

Most intranets require users to login by typing in a username or password. Alternatively, authentication via Active Directory means users are logged in automatically based on their network credentials.

Who is responsible for the various aspects of intranet management? Consider content, design, development, user access, hardware, testing and so on.

News which is regularly updated and is both useful and interesting will keep users informed and will make sure they come back.

How do users know where they are within the intranet? Provide breadcrumb trails, consistent navigation and other cues to point them in the right direction.

What permission levels does your intranet require? Between super administrators and end users, you may need permissions for site administrators, designers and contributors. Develop a permissions structure that is easy to manage.

Quicklinks from the intranet homepage can provide users to direct access to popular content located deep within the intranet.

What data recovery and backup systems are available? If the intranet crashes, how much data can be recovered and how much will be lost?

A search engine is the most important tool on the intranet. Makesure all content is searchable and indexed in a meaningful manner.

All intranet users will require sufficient training, from the super administrator through to end users. Provide sufficient resources to ensure all users are equipped as required.

Some usability testing is better than none. Don’t assume the interface will just work. Get a cross-section of users to try common tasks, on paper mockups or working prototypes. The results from this testing will be invaluable.

Versioning or version control allows older versions of documents and files to be accessed. Keep in mind, versioning capabilities put more demands on the intranet server.

Webstats (or web statistics) will provide insights into users and content. For example, you can find out who the most frequent users are, which content is popular, what the common search queries are and many other usage statistics.

An extranet is a portion of the intranet (or website) providing content and other resources specifically for client groups.

How does someone find you on the intranet or how do you find others? A phone directory or people search tool is an essential feature for any business intranet.

Become a zealot for your intranet. Talk to your users. Keep up to date with new technologies. Obsess with making your intranet better and improving it over time.

What features and considerations do you think are important when designing an intranet site?