Can an intranet be beautiful?

March 8, 2011 Updated: July 29, 2022 by

When you hear a description of a good company intranet, what kinds of words do you expect to hear? Streamlined? Navigable? Organized?

How about beautiful?

“We live in a world where function is seen to be as very important, but beauty isn’t,” Paul Miller, CEO and founder of the Digital Workplace Group, said in the latest episode of the DWG’s Digital Workplace Live program. “We’re so attuned to the idea that aesthetics don’t matter.”

But beauty can “contribute to the richness of the experience” of visiting an intranet, Miller said, so IBF is launching another “My Beautiful Intranet” competition, in which companies upload screenshots of their intranets in the hope of having theirs named the fairest of them all at the IBF 24 event in May.

Last year’s winner, Oxfam’s intranet, won for its incorporation of the Oxfam logo and “a really nice mixture of brand colors and background color,” Miller said. Runner-up Coca-Cola Enterprises’ site seemed to simply push out corporate messages, remarked Bruce Graham, Digital Workplace Live guest co-host and director of communications for corporate research and engineering at Kodak.

Miller remarked that beauty can certainly be only skin deep.

Rebecca Richmond, research and content director at Melcrum, said the Westminster Abbey intranet, another runner-up, did a good job of incorporating an organization’s history and image. “It’s striking when the website enforces what the company wants you to think about it,” she said.

Later in the program, Kate Rezucha, manager of internal communications for Esurance, gave a virtual tour of her company’s intranet and stressed the branding efforts there, which include the mascot Erin Esurance. “For our company, it’s extremely important,” she said. “In order for them to talk the talk and walk the walk, we need [employees] to be familiar with what our core values are and what our message is.”

Other notable topics from Tuesday’s Digital Workplace Live broadcast included:

1. The importance of authenticity. “A lot of us have become experts at detecting what is fake and what is real,” Graham said. Miller replied, “Speaking in your own voice really counts for so much now.” In citing her recent research paper on intranets’ future, Richmond said a key finding was that they must focus on what employees need and want. Executives “need to do more to make their organizations more transparent and sustainable,” she said. “Many of them are coming around to the idea that the intranet is a great base for that.”

2. Establishing governance. Lots of C-level executives view the company intranet as a call center, said Toby Ward, founder and CEO of Prescient Digital Media. Worse, some see it as an IT project, Graham said. “That’s like turning over a magazine project to the print shop,” Graham said. “It’s not the quality of your printer that creates a good magazine; it’s not the quality of your IT department that creates a good intranet.”

The best intranets engage employees, and it’s imperative to set rules for how to do that, Ward said. Executives must set forth detailed guidelines for content, design and layout. “Intranets are only one part technology and two parts people and process,” he said. “An intranet cannot be strictly pushing information.” Richmond recommended a free website where hundreds of company intranet policies are available for viewing.

3. Working on a budget. The panel of co-hosts complimented the Esurance intranet on its “nonconformist” tab headings such as “go green” and “do good,” as well as its “faces of Esurance” area, where employees are featured quarterly with an interview and an illustrated avatar. Rezucha said the intranet was built for less than $50,000 and that she has a monthly budget of about $250. Miller and the other panelists were shocked. Graham remarked it proves that the level of interactivity and conversation on an intranet is “not proportional to the amount of spend.”

Co-host Paul Levy said doing good work on such a limited budget could set a bad precedent, making executives believe you don’t need substantial funding. Miller responded, ““It’s never a bad thing to do a lot without many resources.”

4. Dropdown menus. Prominent dropdown menus on the Esurance intranet led Ward to remark that they’re “a faux pas.” That led to a flurry of comments and tweets from listeners. “Esurance dropdowns being hammered, but not hearing any positive alternatives,” tweeted @stuart_r_gray. “They work fine if the hover timing is right.”

Ward explained that dropdowns clutter up the screen. “Employees like a very clean screen,” he said. The preferred option, he said, is offering a tab to click in order to reach a menu page. At the very least, make the dropdown span the screen. His caveat: Best practices vary by company.


Categorised in: Collaboration, Strategy & governance, Usability & design

Nancy Goebel

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