Intranet design principles

We’ve been investing significantly in an intranet for University staff and postgraduate research students (PGRs). Previously our intranet content was scattered across our external website, seriously old internal content management systems, wikis and random crevices that only staff who’ve been at the University for decades would be able to find.

As we’ve just moved it out of beta and into live I thought it was a good opportunity to detail the design principles we’ve been using to inform its development.

It’s important to add we’re still at the early stages of a long journey. There’s a large roadmap of development ahead. But we believe that by sticking with these principles we can continue to build an intranet that will prove invaluable to all our staff and PGRs.

Screenshot of intranet

The intranet is:

  1. First and foremost to serve user (staff and PGRs) needs. If it’s not they simply won’t use it. If staff are able to find the information they need to do their jobs quicker they become more efficient and more empowered. Ultimately it’s about increasing productivity. Its success (or failure) will be measured accordingly.
  2. A content platform not a technology platform. We are not installing a system, we are building a service. This means putting user outcomes above features.
  3. Continuously improved. User evidence gained through constant testing will drive its roadmap prioritisation.
  4. A single platform, not a cluster of disparate ‘intranets’. This is the only way it can provide a consistent search facility to find information and a ‘single source of truth’ for University policies and procedures, which senior stakeholders agreed were core requirements from the outset. As such it will be sustainable, accessible and efficient.
  5. Managed by digital specialists following an agreed content strategy. All content will be audience-centric and business-sensitive. It will be written in plain English, made for scanning, it will be fully accessible and will have a consistent user experience. These specialists will do the hard work so staff using the service don’t have to.

We’re indebted to Gerry McGovern and his fabulous book Transform: A rebel’s guide for digital transformation for much of the above. (If you’re building an intranet or planning to, read it.) Here are some other useful links that helped us work out what a good intranet should look like:

Jeremy Torrance is the University’s head of digital comms.

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