Designing intranet structures – An Overview (Part 1)

May 7, 2011

This is the first of a series of posts exploring a methodology for creating the best possible intranet structure based on research and iterative conversations with users and stakeholders. This post gives an overview of the methodology and subsequent posts will explore parts of the methodology in more depth.

In James Robertson’s excellent book Designing Intranets he brings together much of the best practice around how to design and re-design intranets. So I won’t repeat what he says about the importance of adopting a User Centered Design approach and carrying out robust user research and a content inventory before even attempting to define a structure . (I would recommend the Content Value Analysis (CVA) approach instead of the traditional content inventory as being more cost effective). Also I won’t be covering what should be structured, James covers this very well in his book, but rather how in detail a structure might be developed.

Getting the structure of your intranet as good as possible from the outset and building in flexibility will pay dividends for years to come. Many intranets unfortunately undergo the boom and bust cycle due to ‘intranet inflation’ – simply too much content. A good intranet structure can contribute to controlling the content and ensuring that user journeys are kept as simple as possible.

One of the aims of this methodology is also to help do away with the intranet re-design.  Your organization doesn’t stand still, it is constantly changing, and the structure of your intranet should reflect this. Refining your intranet structure should be an ongoing activity. You should always be looking for ways to simplify and improve things for your users. Standing still for an intranet is really going backwards.

The methodology

The methodology I’m proposing consists of the following activities –

System mapping your intranet – How you can produce a simple map bringing together all the findings of your user research and content inventory allowing conversations with stakeholders to begin

Designing your intranet’s URLs – Designing your URLs is a simple way of documenting the overall structure of your intranet

Defining and re-defining the structure -Using URLs  enables rapid iterations on the structure through brainstorming and other collaborative techniques

Mapping the structure – Once a structure is agreed upon it needs to me documented so that future changes can be considered holistically

Ongoing improvement of your intranet structure – How this methodology can help sustain your intranet through constant improvement

I will be devoting one post for each of the above activities so that the methodology can be explained in detail.


See Part 2 of Designing Intranet Structures

(Thanks to Ramberg Media for the great Flickr CC Photo)

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