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Does your intranet have an ‘employee zone’?

What can users expect to find in the ‘AlertBox’?

Do TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) rule your IA?

Large organizations are rather like countries when it comes to language. Over time, groups of employees  evolve a dialect that, while clearly understood by those in the loop, leaves others bamboozled. Add to this the tendency to reduce complex terminology to dreaded TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and to “sex-up” services with snappy names and branding and – well, even Google translate won’t help the average user.

Image: Beat the intranet jargon with user-centred design (UCD)

The cost of “corporate speak” on your intranet

While corporate jargon often serves a purpose – and only inconveniences new employees – when this terminology creeps into the wider company intranet it can cause significant problems, such as:


  • You may have implemented user-generated keywords and metadata, maybe even socialized your search, but what happens when thousands of unique tags are being created? If individuals and teams use their own specialist language to tag content, for everyone else finding content becomes a game of “guess the tag”.


  • Search isn’t everything and users often rely on clear and intuitive content categories to find what they are looking for. Calling your HR section “employee zone” may seem fun but to an end user it is confusing. Try to use the simplest, clearest, most descriptive terms for your site sections.


  • Faced with a long list of acronyms and jargon as navigation options, most users will feel overwhelmed. Intranets are intended to enable the sharing of information across divisional boundaries, but unexplained acronyms and specialist terminology will leave users feeling left out and unwelcome.


  • Users aren’t interested in cracking the secret code of your site. If they can’t see an immediate match for what they are looking for several things might happen. They might go the long way round and use an offline process. They might miss valuable information or spend time completing tasks that could otherwise be finished quickly. Worse still, they might simply give up. While the cost of clarity is small, the cost of confusion is immeasurable.

Intranet jargon-busting tips

Want to ditch the jargon? Below are some simple steps all intranets can follow to keep their language clear. For a deeper look at this and related issues, see our extensive report on Managing intranet content: a good practice guide.

Control terminology

  • Establish a controlled vocabulary to prioritize terms and phrases that can be shared by many resources. Make sure that this is regularly revised and reviewed by teams across the business. Once this is in place, a controlled list of terms can be used to improve search engine performance, drive social activity and allow users to discover content and resources in many ways.

User-centred IA

  • Collect together related content into categories according to the user’s view of things, not the organizational structure. So if more than one department publishes health and safety information, make sure it all gets presented in the same intranet section. Once content is grouped sensibly, label these sections with simple, descriptive terms. Tips for researching user-centered categories are included in our report Developing a user-centred intranet information architecture.

Jargon buster

  • If jargon and acronyms have to be used (and let’s be honest, sometimes they do) include a “jargon buster” tool where users can look up the terms and discover their meaning. Adding this as a permanent link in the global navigation is a great way to ensure users can get to the tool easily, wherever they are in the site.

Get stakeholders on your side with user centred design (UCD)

  • Intranet stakeholders often have no familiarity with UCD. Getting them interested and invested in this a user-centred approach requires “show-me” communications. Our recent post on explaining UCD to intranet stakeholders offers concrete ways to get your business partners’ support.

So, in a nutshell, good UX comes from UCD-based IA, poly-hierarchical taxonomic CMS systems and avoiding TLAs… Oops!

New report: User-centred design (UCD) for intranet navigations

User Centered Information Architecture - coverLarge corporate intranets serve diverse audiences and support multiple goals, but often they have evolved with little control, reaching mammoth proportions.

In this paper we set out the steps to developing an intranet IA using user-centred design (UCD) techniques, starting with why it is so hard to find an intuitive IA, and key success factors.

Free executive summary »

About the author

Louse Bloom, Usability Benchmarking LeadLouise Bloom is in charge of the training and quality assurance component of DWG’s usability benchmarking and of driving the development of the benchmarking model to keep pace with current workplace trends and member requirements.

Louise has been long been at the forefront of user experience development in the UK, where she has worked with leading brands such as O2, Sony Ericsson and Random House to deliver a diverse range of online services, from Facebook applications and e-book readers to e-commerce sites and search platforms.

With two small children and an enthusiastic puppy, Louise is a dedicated free-range worker, combining playground visits with report writing and user evaluations across time zones.

Connect with Louise on Twitter at @Lou_Bloom or on Google +.

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