We spoke to Silicon Reef UX/UI Consultant Kate Molloy to understand the value that User Experience design brings to a SharePoint implementation.  

Let’s start by posing the controversial question, is there really any need for UX planning with a SharePoint implementation?

Absolutely! SharePoint is an incredible platform for managing and serving content, allowing it to be shared and worked by employees across a business. The SharePoint experience is essentially determined by the way that business chooses to organise and signpost that content. A successful SharePoint implementation is one with the right content, presented in the right way, and sitting in the right place so that the most possible business users can access and work on it, discuss it and learn from it. Without careful consideration of the user needs and a focus on their experience in design, even the simplest SharePoint implementation can come unstuck!

How involved do the UX team get with a SharePoint project? How do you know what clients need?

The level of UX involvement really varies with the size of the company we are working with, and the complexity of the challenge they are facing.

Some customers want a light touch out-of-the-box implementation, and we will work with them to give them the best, most accessible solution for their budget, with supporting guidelines to deliver great accessibility through their own SharePoint management. Where clients are carrying out a custom build – and putting accessibility and usability front and center – we get the opportunity to help them develop an excellent experience for all employees that will sustain over time. 

With any project we start with extracting a problem statement from the client to make sure that the time we spend on the design and build maintains focus on delivering a meaningful solution. This problem statement could outline an issue with a current intranet solution, challenges with internal comms and employee engagement, or it might simply outline their vision for what they want to achieve. We return to this problem statement throughout the project and then check in with it at the end to ask, did we achieve what we set out to?

What are the challenges you see most clients facing?

The biggest impact area for our clients is navigation. Either their current solution is failing to deliver a great navigation experience, or they are simply focused on delivering an intuitive, accessible navigation in their new SharePoint platform. 

We have also worked recently with a multinational client that was having issues with translation. Employees were having real issues navigating through the site where calls to action (CTAs) and navigation links had been implemented as text in images and so weren’t being automatically translated, leaving non-English language speakers stranded.  

So, how do you go about designing great UX for a SharePoint project?

Once we have the problem statement, or the vision, we move into Discovery when we really get to understand the company culture and the end users. We look at company structure charts and pull out key roles. 

We look at how and where people work, identifying a cross section of users. From this detailed study we can begin to build out personas for use throughout the design phases. We set up focus groups with representations across all of our personas, and we use this group to check in at every stage of design.

What are personas? And how do you use them?

Personas are well-articulated representations of all the user types that we need to design for. We might identify several different persona types by the end of Discovery. These will help us, the client, and the rest of the project team create a solution that meets the needs of all employee users. When we need to make a design decision, say – for example – on the prioritisation of features on the mobile interface, we can go to our personas and ask what is important to them, what will they use most, and what will they be doing when they want to access that app or content? Personas help enormously with decision making in design as they are a manageable, relatable way to move the power to the user themselves. 

UX design then, what’s that? 

For clients with an existing intranet or employee communication hub we carry out testing on their current structure. This sets a baseline metric for us to measure against as we develop a new IA (information architecture) for the business.  

Once we are into the design itself, we work on navigation by carrying out tree testing, and card sorting exercises to develop the right taxonomies of content to meet the needs of the employee personas. We also look at positioning of navigation and CTA buttons and ensure that the design has the appropriate levels of accessibility for all users, including those with visual or manual impairment. 

As prototypes are developed, we bring these back to our user focus groups and interrogate the structures and designs, feeding the analysis back into the development team. 

And once the design is done, is that the UX job finished?

Not at all! 

SharePoint is a living, growing entity and our customers will be feeding it with content and apps and users long after the project has completed. As it grows, they want to maintain the high levels of usability and accessibility that they launched with, so we develop guidelines and supporting documents to help them manage this going forward. 

UX is such a fundamental part of what we do at Silicon Reef. We never lose sight of why we are doing a SharePoint implementation and, ultimately, that’s to improve our client’s productivity and increase happiness in their workplace. With a good understanding of the employees’ needs, pain points and drivers we can deliver a solution that really enables a business to drive engagement and facilitate great cross company collaboration. 

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