My Beautiful Intranet or My Effective Digital Workplace?

Recently the 4th edition of IBF24 took place. It is a 24-hours-Internet-show about Intranets and modern ways to collaborate. It is always full of Intranet tours of various organizations, and many thought leaders come and discuss their views on technology, gadgets, ways to communicate etcetera. Generally, IBF24 provides you with a full year of food for thought! 🙂

My Beautiful Intranet is a recurring theme on IBF24 and this year 39 organizations had submitted a screenshot of their homepage to be judged on the pleasantness of their design. Of course, we all prefer to look at a well-designed page rather than an ugly page, but this year the contest made me feel a little uneasy. It has taken me some time to think of the reason.

Outlook, Excel, and Powerpoint are among the most widely used tools in any organization, yet they have no design to speak of. Of course someone has thought how to arrange all buttons as logically as possible, and the design changes with every new version. There is no way you can call it “beautiful”. Still, every organization uses them out-of-the-box; they may have a logo on their slides, or in the email signature, but that is about it.  Nonetheless, it has been quite a task for me to wean people off these tools in favour of the Intranet – people love using email  and Excel files, and they only want to change their ways when they have issues.

Does this mean that, if functionality is good, you do not have to worry too much about the design? Does it matter whether the header is blue or green, has pictures on the home page or not? Or is it enough if your Intranet is easy to use, if it enables you to do your work better and does not hurt the eyes?

So, I wonder if a beautiful Intranet is something we still want to aim for. To me, it sounds a little outdated, like when Intranets were an electronic top-down corporate newsletter. It was your internal website, it was new, so it had to look good to attract visitors.
Nowadays, I am not so sure. If you need a pretty design in order to attract users, it may be that your Intranet is not as business critical as it should be. Perhaps you can better spend your design budget on making it a good Digital Workplace that nobody can afford not to use. Making sure that people can find eachother, share project information, can see how their KPI’s are developing, where you can book a room and lunch and a plane ticket.

So, next year I would like to see another contest….My Effective Digital Workplace! And there I would like to see Mark Mazza’s  quote come to life. “I wonder if we will one day stop branding Sharepoint and use it out-of-the-box, like Office”. It was a remark made months ago, but it has kept me thinking. So, next year, bring on the Sharepoint (and other)  out-of-the-box Intranets that have us gasp in amazement and envy at the sheer functionality of it! And imagine what design creativity that will take!