Every successful intranet has its own style, feature set and personality, unique and special in its own way.
Great minds do think alike, though, so some themes and features are common in some or all of the 10 best-designed intranets for 2016.
These may be leading-edge cases, but the trends in their design should spread to mainstream intranets in the next few years. Although every intranet feature won’t work well at every organization, feature trends from outstanding intranets can inspire your intranet redesign.
Stay ahead of the curve and consider taking on some of these intranet design trends now:
1. Help and tutorials
2. Simple, minimalist design
3. Better photos
4. Search evolution
5. Carousels and heroes
6. Fat footers
7. Left-side navigation
8. Social media features targeted at particular topics or groups
10. Business communication
Help and tutorials
After many years of being chastised for being unhelpful, online help went out of fashion. This was reinforced by the idea that an interface should stand on its own and not need help to be usable. This year, however, we saw a resurgence of Help that is helpful. Although the winning intranets’ mostly employ nice-and-easy user interfaces, occasionally more-involved or new interface elements do benefit from well-designed help. Help features can aid in discoverability of functionality and expedite employees’ learning and understanding of the intranet and its capabilities.
Repsol offers various support services and tutorials that explain new intranet features.
At Intermountain Healthcare, employees who need a little assistance can refer to the Help section in the right rail. Similarly, The Co-operators provides thorough, wide-ranging guidance about how to make the most of its intranet.
Nav Canada offers instructions about how to create a collaboration site. Such guidance and suggestions can help employees be more productive and confident as they take on new tasks.
Simple, minimalist design
The “flat and boxy” designs prevalent in years past are much less pronounced this year. Most of the designs, however, continue to boast a simple, sometimes minimalist, aesthetic. Some, such as those from Enbridge; Repsol; and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, use ample white space.
Salini Impregilo (in example above left) uses a gray palette with touches of red to achieve an elegant effect with small splashes of color for excitement, as seen on the full home page.
A legible typeface and limited content makes the Salini Impregilo intranet home page (in example above right) easy to scan, as seen on the first part of the home page. Dorma also uses a gray palette with touches of color.
Intermountain Healthcare, Nav Canada, Swedish Parliament and (to a lesser degree) American Cancer Society all use rectangles for a boxy, easy-to-scan design.
Whether it indicates a strong commitment to photography, more people sharing photos or simply today’s better phone cameras, the photographs on top-flight intranets are quite engaging. Photos typically relate strongly to the material they accompany and often show employees doing their work.
For example, the Enbridge site shows an employee evaluating a particular job site. Dorma shows two employees joking around.
Swedish Parliament features a member giving a speech. It also shows an old-but-good feature: the “Picture of the Week” in the top right corner of the home page. In a modern twist, users can “flip” the photo over to reveal the caption and additional information about the picture.
Enbridge periodically asks users for feedback about the search right in the user interface and collects additional feedback from content owners, site ownersand business units. The team then uses the information to improve search, such as by adjusting keywords and adding metadata. Team members also change certain results’ rankings temporarily and highlight them in “Best Bets” to elevate them in the search engine.
To enhance its intranet search, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft consolidates data sources to produce a single point of entry to knowledge resources.
Salini Impregilo’s search, which appears on every page, enables employees to search the entire intranet for news, people, projects and documents.
Carousels and heroes
Although the carousel is still a prominent feature on winning intranets, the hero is making a comeback. Some organizations, such as Nav Canada and Repsol, still opt for multiple images and statements in one area; others, such as Salini Impregilo and Intermountain Healthcare, prefer one hero image to make the desired statement.
Above, Intermountain Healthcare displays a hero image of a person exercising.
Large footers at the bottom of pages became popular a few years ago and remain common today. Employees often know that the information they’re seeking is on the intranet, but they can’t always find it. When using a public-facing website, people can and will leave the site. Employees often know that the intranet is the main source or the only place to turn to find particular content.
Providing organized links at the bottom of pages provides employees with one more chance to locate what they need. The content in these footers can be arranged in many ways:
- Repeat the global navigation
- Suggest related content
- Present popular links
On the Nav Canada intranet, the wide footer navigation repeats the global navigation topics and offers a list of the mega-menu links.
The Enbridge footer includes links to the public sites of Enbridge companies and information for contacting the Enterprise Service Desk. It also lists Ethics and Conduct information, along with a reminder: “Let’s work together to maintain a respectful workplace.”
The American Cancer Society’s intranet footer is discernable because of the dark background juxtaposed against the light page background.
All of these use a visual element to indicate the footer; this element can be:
- Colored background that is different from that of the rest of the page
- Border (line) delineating the footer from the page content
- A combination of the two
Side global navigation
Because mega-menus don’t work in a phone interface, designers often set up a mega-menu for desktop navigation and an accordion or some other option for mobile navigation. Some teams opt for menu interfaces that translate easily from desktop to mobile. One such pattern popular this year is the vertical navigation bar down the left side of the page. The Swedish Parliament and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft are among the organizations that follow this navigation pattern.
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft offers global navigation down the left side of pages.
Targeted social media
A great trend is continuing: presenting social tools in an understandable, targeted way. Gone are the days of displaying a wall feed on the home page or in personal profiles with no additional description or context. Great intranets use social media features to encourage further communication about important or trending topics.
Salini Impregilo has four major social sections with clear content types; this helps users understand what is acceptable to post. These include: employee selfies, a discussion forum, a corporate-vocabulary wiki and contests to stimulate creativity. The company’s intranet also displays the names and photos of employees who participate most in the social feed.
Dorma’s CEO participates in the social features, leading employees by example and playing a big role in the social features’ success. Two major company events occurred near the features’ launch; these events provided a source of content, increased interest and natural momentum for success.
The Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft intranet lists recent hires and employee anniversaries on the home page. Such seemingly simple features can go a long way toward building a sense of community and inclusiveness.
The Co-operators offers a variety of social features, including the weekly Five Minutes With… (an employee-profiles feature), polls, achievements, Popular Links and the ability for users to submit news. Also, in the site’s executive blogs, senior leaders share their knowledge and opinions and ask employees to do the same.
The Trending Now section on the American Cancer Society intranet summarizes the site resources, search terms and pages that receive the most traffic. This section is a simple and automated way to keep users informed about the site’s most popular items.
Enbridge employees can easily access the company’s public information on social media sites—including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube-via links in the middle of the home page. This section also includes a link to the @enbridge blog. Providing quick access to external sites raises employee awareness about information that Enbridge is sharing with the public and about the conversations occurring on social-media sites.
Tools to create, edit and post videos have made them accessible and easy to use. Prevalence on social media channels has lowered the expectation for high-quality video production. Many people welcome the simplicity and folksiness of realistic, just-shot-it-myself videos. With these changes, individuals, teams and even high-level managers are sharing information through video.
Videos are often stored in their own section of the intranet, enabling employees to sort, filter and search by topic. Videos, like written content, are also presented on the home page and in news sections and are cross-linked from related contend.
Business people have learned that the intranet is the perfect place to communicate their goals and statuses to all employees. This information helps employees realize how the organization is doing and motivates them to work toward and achieve the organization’s goals. It also adds a level of respect, signaling to all employees that they are important enough to know where the organization has set its sights and that each person can play positive a role in those plans.
Whether your organization is large or small, formal or informal, public, private or governmental, consider which of the above trends can be implemented successfully on your intranet. Choose a few to try over the next year to enhance the user experience and increase the business value of your intranet.
For more information about themes and intranet best practices, download the 2016 Intranet Design Annual.
Kara Pernice is senior vice president at Nielsen Norman Group. A version of this article first appeared on that company’s website.