Usability Strategies for Intranet Web Site Design
by David Dick
The corporate Intranet is an interconnection of users and an organizationís servers and databases. It may be located in one building or multiple buildings, nearby or spread across the world. Think of wiring the Corporate Community. The structure may primarily consist of the organizationís service departments such as Human Resources, Marketing, IT, and Security, and company-wide programs and projects. In addition, the corporate Intranet consists of:
The benefit of a corporate Intranet is the ability to publish news and information instantly to staff.
Publication of forms, policies, and critical data for secure online access reduces paperwork, response times and costs. The result is increased staff productivity.
From the Home Page, users can make hotel and travel reservations, submit expense reports, update personal records, sign-up for training, download documents, check telephone listings and employee information, and read job advertisements, to name a few. There is no limit to the services and information that can be offered.
Where does usability fit into all of this? Poor Web site design, complex tools, inability to locate information, and inconsistent navigation contribute to the frustration of users.
Strategy for Design
I discovered that the same principles for applying usability engineering (see ISO 13407:1997, Human-Centered Design Processes for Interactive Systems) to product design are also relevant to design of a Web site, such as:
Remember that the ultimate rule of all communication ó know your audience, understand their needs and goals.
Specify the Context of Use
The Web site should satisfy more than one use. If not, there is little justification to dedicate the time and effort to design it. A good way to begin is to brainstorm the context of use with co-workers and your manager. The following are some issues to consider:
What services and information will the Web site provide?
The Web site should reflect the mission of each department/division, provide links to tools (and instructions on proper use of the tools), centralize information (headlines/projects/people), list career and training opportunities, and archive corporate policies and procedures as well as internal and external publications. To help locate all of these services and information, provide a link to a central search facility. These categories can form the framework of the home page.
Are there any localization issues (e.g. regional offices) to consider?
If your company has staff working out of state or country, consider their information needs as well. Common questions to common problems usually handled by phone calls and e-mails can be resolved by making the information readily available on the Web site.
Are there any employees for whom the Web site must satisfy accessibility design issues?
Knowing that some users will need text readers, you should design without relying on graphics alone to display information. You can probably obtain more information about staff with special needs by contacting Human Resources. It is a good policy to always design to meet a good standard of accessibility. It is always better and easier to make things right the first time than to go back later and make corrections.
Specify User and Organizational Requirements
The Web site should contribute to cooperation and communication between users and other departments. By concentrating on the services and information that the Web site will provide, you can identify potential users (visitors) who can also participate in usability testing. As part of a design that incorporates usability, you must identify user and organizational requirements, provide objectives and goals to satisfy usersí expectations, and develop a basis for evaluating design against requirements.
Create Design Solutions
I recommend the following strategy for creating design solutions:
Use a Template
It may be possible that the corporate communications department has templates for a Web site. If so, I strongly suggest that you follow the corporate standard. Following the standard will resolve basic design decisions for navigation, graphics, and page layout. A consistent layout will contribute to ease of use and provide uniformity of bloopers popularized in GUI bloopers: Doníts and Doís for Software Developers and Web Designers.
Many Web site designers prefer not to follow the corporate standard because itís not mandatory. Web page aficionados believe they can do better and generally contribute to the bloopers popularised in GUI bloopers: Doníts and Doís for Software Developers and Web Designers.
Organize site structure
The best method to organize the site is according to how users see it. To achieve this goal, you can either follow the recommended guidelines (style guide) or (in the absence of guidelines) implement the structure indicated by usability testing. Site structure should reflect the tasks users want to perform and information (chunks) they want to see.
The design of the site should conform to recommended guidelines (style guide). Whether or not guidelines have already been established, the design should meet usability and. if possible, accessibility standards. The Usability SIG Web site has a list of valuable resources to help you get started. Accessibility design standards are a developing area. Accessibility design considers not just those with total blindness but a much larger group ó those with color blindness (10% of the male population) reduced visual acuity, and those with other physical impairments. Two good sources of about accessibility are www.section508.gov and www.w3.org/WAI.
Compare Designs With Requirements
Usability testing of the prototype will identify design issues that will need to be corrected before making it available to the user community. When you have completed the prototype, invite members of your organization, department, and division for a Ďtest driveí. Provide testers with tasks to accomplish and information to find.
When you are confident that the design satisfies user and organizational requirements, publish your Web site on the corporate Intranet web server and advertise it on the corporate Intranetís home page. Contact the corporate web master for assistance to load the files to the server.
Youíre Finished Ė Whatís Next?
Improving content and quality is 80 percent of the effort to keep the site up-to-date with the latest news and information. Have a mechanism set up to monitor the traffic on your site ó the number of users and the pages they visit. In this way, youíll identify popular and unpopular pages (information) and tools.
If you identify an increase in the number of users to a particular site/tool, review the navigation to that location and consider redesigning the home page to simplify user access.
Pages that have no traffic indicate that they are either of no interest and should be removed or that users donít know that the pages exist. Conduct a survey to identify their value to the user community before you make your decision.
Redesign the site to improve productivity and efficiency, especially for forms and tools. A "face lift" is a welcome change to regular users if, but only if it helps to improve navigation.
Nielsen, Jakob, Designing Web Usability: the Practice of Simplicity
Johnson, Jeff, GUI Bloopers: donts and doís for software developers and Web designers