Making something beautiful doesn’t necessarily make it enjoyable or even useful. Particularly if the format chosen is inappropriate for the interaction

Do you find the scene in the featured image beautiful? If you were there, would it be enjoyable? Even if you answered yes to the first question, the answer to the second is going to be ‘it depends’. It depends on whether or not you need to be somewhere else. It also depends on whether or not you wake up to the same view every day. We soon lose sight of beauty when it is always in front of us…

The Digital Workplace Group (DWG, formerly known as the Intranet Benchmarking Forum) is having a competition to find the most beautiful intranet. Whilst trying not to sound like a grumpy old toad, I can’t help but wonder why?

I’m not saying organisations should aspire to create ugly intranets. And goodness knows, that outcome is more easily achieved. But beauty provides no indicator about usefulness or the benefits from deploying an intranet.

Forrester recently shared an image showing three levels for evaluating customer experience. And customer experience can be as important internally as externally. For an intranet to be successful, it must enhance the employee experience compared to what alternatives they would turn to instead throughout the working day.

Image: Forrester Customer Experience index

Source: Forrester

Making something enjoyable will improve customer experience. But only if what they are doing is easy to do. And ease of use only matters if it is something you need or want to do. You have to start from the bottom and lay the foundations correctly to reach the upper levels.

Where does beauty come into it? It can certainly enhance enjoyment. It does not always enhance ease of use. And it doesn’t change whether or not something needs to be done. Although it can create the desire to do something. A technique Apple are rather proficient in.

To meet the needs of employees, an effective intranet should target the four reasons for visiting:

  • To read news and announcements
  • To participate in conversations
  • To search for information
  • To complete actions

The Intranet framework should make this as easy to do as possible. Only then should the visual styling focus on enjoyment or target creating the desire to do something people would otherwise avoid. And the focus should be on enjoyment and engagement from the perspective of the user, not the content delivery team.

Magazine-brochure style layouts have only shown to be effective for one of those four purposes. And they tend to look far better in demonstrations with sample content than in practice. To prevent such a style from going stale and messy you need a variety of articles and supporting artwork created and published on a regular basis that the audience wants to read. With editorial oversight and graphic designers crafting each ‘edition’. Whilst some organisations may have such a team and desire, from my experience it is not the norm. In nearly 20 years of working with web-based technologies, I haven’t seen any evidence to show that the magazine-style layout is a more effective intranet framework than one based on current trends driving user engagement on the intranet’s big cousin, the Internet. At the moment, social networks have proven to have far higher-levels of user engagement than traditional web sites. Messy user-generated content and interactions trump formal broadcast messaging. And the rise of natural user interfaces (touch, speech and motion) combined with mobile devices entering the workplace is driving a rethink in the delivery of processes online for completing everyday tasks.

If intranets are to be taken seriously and prove their worth within the organisation, the focus should first be on improving employee participation in activities they want or need to undertake. But I’ll bet most submissions for the beauty pageant will adopt the glossy brochure format, with beautiful background images, carousels and/or tiles scrolling through the latest news and corporate messages. And minimal screen estate devoted to getting stuff done.

That all said, I’m not so much of a grumpy old toad that I won’t enjoy seeing what entries make the list in the DWG competition. And love the humour on the DWG site. The ‘World’s Best Intranet Ever’ is truly a site/sight to behold 😉 Tho’ slightly troubling that people seem to be voting for it…


NZ-KaikouraFeatured image: Own photograph. Taken in February 2014 on the Coastal Pacific train from Picton to Christchurch, The South Island, New Zealand.

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