While doing some research recently I was pointed towards the Drupal 7 User Experience Project by one of its designers. Drupal is a free content management system that allows users to publish, manage and organize web content. I found the project to be a brave attempt to involve their users in the entirety of the design process basically from sketches on the back of envelopes up to the completed wireframes.
The project used free social apps such as Flickr, YouTube and Twitter to suport the project as well as discussion lists. Looking at what Drupal did gave me some pause for thought. If they can effectively involve their users, who are scattered all over the world, in improving their upgrades shouldn’t it be far easier for intranets to do the same? After all we know who are users are and where they are so there are no good reasons why this shouldn’t be done for every major change that is planned for our intranets.
This approach will not replace user research (aka needs analysis) or usability testing. These activities will always be an absolute must for any intranet project. However as user research is carried out at the beginning of a project and usability testing towards the end, the ‘collaborative intranet’ approach could fill the gap in, allowing users to comment on and provide ideas right through the entire life of a project.
So how might this work? If you’ve read many of my previous posts or articles you’ll know that I am something of a sceptic when it comes to ‘intranet 2.0′. I can see the value of wikis for particular groups of people, at particular times, but the rest of it, especially blogs, are just a waste of time. Who wants to know what the CEO likes for breakfast?
However, sceptic though I am, I feel I’ve just found a valid use for the intranet blog!
The ‘collaborative blog’
So let’s imagine that we’re in the process of designing or re-designing an intranet. We’ve done all our user research and now its that scary time when you have to somehow turn the research into design ideas. You have a set of user requirements and its ideation time. Once you’ve generated some ideas wouldn’t it be nice to get some user validation as to which ones might be best for the user?
Start up a dedicated blog, available to all intranet users, and start publishing your initial ideas. It doesn’t matter if they are just rough sketches or photos of flip chart sheets covered in post-it notes (in fact these are some of the best way of recording ideas) - let your users have a look. Importantly let them comment on what you put up and also let them upload their own ideas.
Using an intranet blog this way means that you can -
- Keep you users right up to date with what’s going on
- Get good feedback on what users think will work or won’t work
- The ideation process can include all your users if you allow them to be equal partners and let them upload their sketches and photos
- Prepare users for change after the final selection of ideas
- Inform users of the outcomes of usablity tests
I think that this could be a really good way of having a conversation with your users, getting their buy in and perhaps get them thinking that some changes might actually be for the best!
(Thanks to ralphbijker for the great Flick CC photo)