Your intranet design = your company website design?

MirrorSeveral years ago we embarked on a renewal of our intranet. The platform had already been chosen, we had a vision, a plan for the new information architecture and we knew which functionalities we wanted to implement and highlight. But the visual design caused us quite a headache, and not just because we were better in functionalities, collaboration and efficiency than in visuals.

We had been looking at our company’s website, ofcourse. Following that visual design would give us a uniform brand appearance inside and outside the company. However, we did not know if we should take that as an example. The colour scheme and style did not match the corporate internal style guide and the design changed far more frequently than we could afford. So what should we do?

It seems logical…

…to style your intranet in the same way as your website, but the two sites have more differences than similarities:

  • Your website visitor is an unknown person from outside your company. Your intranet visitor is an employee.
  • Your website/brand/company has competition from other brands and companies. If your visitor does not find what he/she is looking for very quickly, he/she goes to the competitor.As an employee you can not escape your intranet, however.
  • Your website visitor is looking for entertainment, information or a purchase. Your employees are doing (part of) their work on the intranet.
  • Website visitors will remain on your site for a short time only, so you have to employ all sorts of tricks to keep them on your site as long as possible and avoid they go to the competition.Your employees are forced to spend a large part of their day on their intranet, though.
  • The websites of your competitors are easy to find and study. But however sharing intranet folks are, it is less easy to find intranets, especially if they are your competitor’s.
  • Websites are generally redesigned regularly. Intranets are not always so lucky.

So, the visitor, purpose, residence time, competition and design refresh rate of a website are all generally completely different than those of an intranet site. The only things they have in common are the organization and “web technology”. Hmmm….

Should your intranet therefore look like your intranet?

 I would say: not necessarily. With those differences in mind, I would make sure that your intranet has an excellent usability rather than match your website’s design:

  • Ask your employees what they need from their intranet and take time to test, and test again. Only your employees can tell and show you what works for them.
  • Make your intranet easy to look at and work with on an ongoing basis, without getting bored or provoking dizziness and headaches after looking at it for several hours each and every day. Increasingly, I see minimalist intranets with a plain white background, a limited number of colours and one font. Nowadays, if I see an intranet with a coloured background  and different fonts I think it is outdated, even if it is recent.Avoid annoying, useless or inaccessible elements as described in these hilarious-but-true posts: 14 signs you’ve lost the intranet plot and  and 10 more signs you’re losing the intranet plot. (Thank you @Intranetizen, I really enjoyed those posts!)
  • Opimize the design for different devices (if applicable).
  • Invest in clear navigation and good search.
  • Spend time on finding comprehensible labels with a good information scent and learn/teach how to write texts that are easy to understand for all employees.

I am not a usability expert or a designer, but I would give the topics above more priority than having the same design as the website!

Now please let me know: does your intranet look like your website? And I would LOVE to see screenshots of the pair!

Image courtesy of podpad /

5 thoughts on “Your intranet design = your company website design?

  1. Jase Wells January 24, 2013 / 12:29 am

    My guess about the Fossil intranet is that you wouldn’t spend a lot of time on it — it mostly looks like informational content you might check once and a while, not applications and tools you would regularly use as part of your job. So maybe that helps prevent fatigue…

    But if your intranet is a critical business tool with applications and tools that streamline work and help you be more productive, I imagine you would not want to design it exactly like your public website. To your points I would just add that your external site is probably about marketing to potential customers and clients, but your intranet is about making it easier to get work done — and that probably means more forms, search results, reports, people finders, knowledge repositories, and so on. Just from a layout perspective, those kinds of content might not work well with the layout of your public website.

    We use some of our public website themes on our intranet (like color, whitespace, and typography) but the intranet is definitely its own design. It still reflects our brand and culture, but with a more internally focused voice and functionality.

    • Ellen van Aken January 24, 2013 / 8:40 am

      Hi Jase, Thanks for your reply. Yes, I think the two sites have too many differences to use one design. And in Fossil’s case it is fashion, so I guess looks are important and they may change more often than a regular intranet!

  2. part time work from internet January 29, 2013 / 1:33 am

    Hey! I was interested to know if setting up a
    blog website such your own: http://mydigitalworkplace.wordpress.
    com/2013/01/23/internet-intranet-design/ is difficult to
    do for inexperienced people? I’ve been hoping to create my own blog for a while now but have been turned off mainly because I’ve always believed it demanded tons of work.

    What do you think? Thanks!

    • Ellen van Aken February 9, 2013 / 3:28 pm

      Setting up a wordpress blog is really easy, the most difficult part is choosing the nicest theme :-). And you have to be prepared to write a lot to keep things going. So it is not difficult, but it needs time and effort. Hope this helps!

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