Intranet Design Annual 2020 Part 1 – trends and insights

Intranet Design Annual 2020 Part 1 – trends and insights

by | Jan 16, 2020 | Digital workplace, Intranets, Reviews


Every year in mid-January I get a polite message from the Nielsen Norman Group asking me if I would like to have a copy of the Intranet Design Annual.  As if I could ever say ‘No!” 108Mb later and my initial reaction to the 2020 edition was ‘Wow!’ because NNGroup have undertaken a complete visual make-over of the Annual. It is just so much easier to read the 540 page report and examine the 168 images. In Part 1 I am summarizing the trends and insights that emerge from the profiles of the winners. In Part 2 there is a list of the winners with a summary of their objectives and the technology platform they used.

There are three sections at the beginning of the report that provide valuable insight into trends and issues. The first of these sets out the common themes of the winners. These included a vision of creating a unified organisation, but this vision has to be manageable and achievable. All the winners placed a high priority on putting employees at the centre of the design process and moving the intranet towards being a prototype of a future digital workplace by connecting users with a range of applications and giving everyone a sense of the wider organisation. I liked a break-out of the challenges faced by the winners in achieving the vision.

What comes across strongly in the report is that many winning intranet teams have engaged external resources to help in their redesign projects, both to fill internal team gaps and gain outside experience and perspective. The report authors (Kara Pernice, Patty Caya, Maria Rosala and Anna Kaley) comment that reliance on outside resources is a double-edged sword.  Many winning organizations have quick development times and iterative processes, which raises a crucial question: When these short-term external resources leave, who is left to iterate, maintain, and continually improve the new site?

This raises a question about the analysis presented of intranet team size. The report notes that the development team (especially if external resources are taken into account) can be very sizeable indeed, but then a much smaller team then has to maintain and develop the intranet. It the size of this support  team that every intranet manager wants to have ready at budget time.

The second section sets out eleven feature trends. These included favourites for pages and tools, a significant amount of customization and personalization, and (at last!) a recognition of the value of search, not just of the intranet pages but of other associated applications. You will not be surprised to learn that I am delighted by the attention paid to search in reporting on the intranets, including a good number of search UI images.

The third section sets out 14 ‘best practices’ in intranet design, starting out with an invaluable (stick it on your desktop) list of 24 basic steps to achieve a great intranet. I feel that this section would have benefited from more structure and possibly references to one or two of the case studies that exemplify the best practice.

Next come the case studies of the ten winners, and these are listed out in Part 2 of this review, with a note of the technology platforms.

Towards the end of the report is what I regard as a very helpful list of reasons why the intranets that were submitted did not make it to the final ten. I really appreciated a comment in this section that “So far, no intranet tool—not even Microsoft SharePoint—makes it possible to simply install it, load in the content, and have it work well for users. No intranet solution eliminates the need for good user research and thoughtful iterative design. Teams must make the intranet fit their organization’s needs, even when taking some help from an intranet solution.” Absolutely!

In conclusion I have to congratulate all the winners for spending the time and effort to provide the information (and thus inspiration) in the profiles, and the report authors for what is a massive task of diligently and uniformly creating a report of this size, complexity and value. The single copy price is €248.

Martin White