Intranet design often suffers from a serious case of “meh”. It’s like they’re stuck in the 90s, with clunky navigation and more quick links than you can shake a floppy disk at. But if your intranet is there to serve a functional purpose, does good visual design matter?
In short, yes. Good intranet design is more than just a splash of colour and a company logo. It’s a game-changer for productivity and employee engagement, and acts as the friendly welcoming face of your digital workplace.
Picture this: you walk into a well-designed office space, complete with ergonomic chairs, stylish décor, and plenty of natural light. There are logos on the walls, branded mugs in the kitchen, and even strategically placed plant pots in your company colours. You instantly feel motivated and inspired, ready to take on the day.
Now, imagine your intranet as the digital office space for your organisation. A virtual representation of your company brand. A sleek, intuitive design can evoke the same feelings of motivation and inspiration in your employees. It says, “We care about your digital experience, and we want you to enjoy your time here.”
And it’s not just about looking good. When your employees log in, they shouldn’t feel like they’ve entered a digital labyrinth where information goes to hide. They should be able to effortlessly find what they need, connect with colleagues, and get stuff done efficiently.
Intranet Design: What does our UX expert think?
To dig deeper into the world of intranet visual design, we spoke to our Lead UX/UI Consultant Kate Molloy. Kate is the brains behind many of our excellent SharePoint designs here at Silicon Reef. Here are her thoughts on why good visual design and a strong user experience (UX) are vital for any intranet. (But especially SharePoint.)
Let’s start by posing the controversial question. Is there really any need for design or UX planning with a SharePoint intranet?
If we look at the bigger picture, as a minimum your intranet should be three things. Functional, reliable and usable. With SharePoint out-of-the-box, you can achieve all those things. You can build a functional intranet that serves a purpose.
But if your intranet is more than just usable? That’s when you change the game. When your intranet becomes convenient and enjoyable, that’s when the engagement and productivity gains will come.
And that’s where visual design can really make the difference. A good intranet design that showcases your brand, offers personalisation, and reflects your culture will create memorable, engaging experiences. That’s where you’ll find the adoption and engagement that internal comms teams are looking for.
So, is intranet design all about looking good?
Visual design is what gives you that good first impression. It draws your people in and makes them want to stay.
If your intranet looks great but is hard to use, then employees won’t be in a hurry to return. That’s where more technical design – or UX – comes in.
UX can help with things like intuitive navigation, signposting and prioritising content. Which all contribute to your intranet being usable.
Accessibility is also key, and is often overlooked. Accessibility isn’t just catering to those employees who have additional needs. It’s about making your intranet usable to everyone.
Accessibility covers such a broad spectrum. It can be making your intranet available across devices to be inclusive of non-desk-based workers who rely on mobile. Or, adding subtitles to video content. Not only for employees with hearing impairments, but also for those working in a noisy cafe without headphones.
So that’s where UX comes in. And you can do it all in a way that still ticks the ‘does it look good’ box.
How involved do the design team get with an intranet project?
There’s no one-size-fits-all with UX or design.
Some customers have very few requirements other than they want their intranet to look good, and to feel like them. Those projects are all about branding and visuals. With a bit of creativity and some extra magic tricks, you’ll be amazed at what SharePoint can do.
Some customers have more complex challenges with functionality or navigation as well as visual design. In those cases, we’ll help out with more detailed UX activities.
It helps us to understand what employees need, what they want, and what they expect. Then we bring that vision to life through design.
Ultimately it always starts with the challenge.
And on that note, what are the challenges you see most clients facing?
There are two things we hear from customers repeatedly. “I wish we could make SharePoint look more like our website.” And “I wish our intranet felt more like us.”
Branding is a key part of intranet design, and it’s a big sticking point for a lot of people. The branding and design features in SharePoint out-of-the-box aren’t enough. Our customers often find it too restrictive – too hard to showcase content, and limited options to make it look engaging.
Businesses invest a lot of time and money in carefully crafting their brand. And then find they can’t use it in their core internal comms channel.
We’re seeing more and more businesses come to us to help solve that challenge.
And if businesses ignore those challenges, what’s the risk?
For me, it comes down to two things. Engagement and productivity.
As consumers, we expect first-class digital experiences. Netflix, Amazon, Alexa…We use them every day in our personal lives. And those experiences are now impacting our expectations at work.
Especially when you think about Gen Z. By 2030, Gen Z will make up a huge proportion of the workforce. What they expect from a digital workplace is wildly different than in previous generations.
Research tells us they have shorter attention spans, prefer visual content and demand personalisation. If their intranet doesn’t give them that, how we can expect to engage them?
If Alexa can turn your heating on, then having a branded, well-designed intranet shouldn’t be a step too far. And if it doesn’t meet employees’ expectations, people probably aren’t going to use it.
But even if it looks good, it serves little purpose if people can’t use it. Your intranet should be a gateway to getting work done, not a barrier.
Want to know how SharePoint can look like this?
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