In the world of corporate web portals user experience tends to take a backseat during a project. After all – with the requirements gathering, coding, configuration and additional tasks that need to be completed, who can bother setting aside time to deal with something wildly subjective like user experience? What intranet team has a dedicated user experience person on staff? Besides – we are going to be showcasing all of the difficult integration work and sophisticated development and content that we have created, right?
User experience is an inherent part of an intranet project – whether it is consciously addressed or not. Generally intranet deployments or deployments of a project within an intranet are carried out by the technical team supporting the technology and with their existing workload it is difficult to entertain putting into place another process or piece of paperwork that stands in the way of “getting the job done” (for a better approach see an alternative, pragmatic, delegated approach to portal development). The downside of this is that great technical solutions, regardless of their brilliance could have only a fraction of their value ultimately realized by the end user community. Your production line may have produced the Mercedes of technical solutions, but it is imperative that we do not skimp on the door handles, upholstery and paint job. In the context of a corporate intranet the following items often need answers that a purely technical approach cannot address
- General page structure and content placement
- Button and link placement
- Navigation options
- Titles for buttons, links, content headings and navigation
Even though we are creating bits and bytes – we must not overlook that the end product is essentially tangible and because of this a clear direction for rudimentary user interaction will help tremendously.
The User Experience Bull’s-eye
Thankfully by employing some very lightweight user experience design fundamentals we can drastically improve user experience. A simple framework – our “Experience Bull’s-eye” – can provide a way to guide design and development of a solution, producing much higher returns on everyone’s investment of time and technology. Since this concept has such a great impact and requires a minimal investment of time, this Bull’s-eye should become part of every project’s documentation. It provides a top-down approach to the fundamental design of the project to maximize user benefit. The Experience Bull’s-eye will explicitly or effectively
- Provide everyone with a shared understanding of the main goal for the project user interaction
- Get buy-in from stakeholders about the priority of various goals for the project
- Create a compass to guide and mediate decision making around how the project’s basic user interaction will be developed
The framework is inspired by a method that Hillman Curtis outlined in his book “Flash Wed Design – The Art of Motion Graphics” created by Roger Black. Although we are most likely not using Flash for our project – the basic idea that a user is in the middle of many daily activities during their visit and we need to harness their attention in a focused, effective manner on the task at hand. This is imperative if we hope to add value to their experience and support our intranet success.
To create an Experience Bull’s-eye that will act as a compass for any user experience design decision making throughout our project we need to
- Build – conduct a brief meeting with the project sponsors / business analysts and interactively create the Experience Bull’s-eye
- Use – leverage the Experience Bull’s-eye to guide design and development of our solution
Meet with Project Sponsors / Business Analysts
To construct the Experience Bull’s-eye it is important to have a meeting with the sponsor(s) of the project and other stakeholders that have a vested interest in the success of the project. During the meeting the team leader will draw 3 concentric circles on a whiteboard or flipchart. The leader should clearly state that this exercise is intended to ensure the most value possible from everyone’s hard work and the highest level of user productivity once the solution goes into production. They will then explain that the goal of the meeting is to define the main goal of the user experience in the project. There will be a primary goal for the user interaction that can exist with a series of supporting goals. The remainder of the meeting will then be spent with the leader facilitating open discussion around the main and supporting goals. In a short amount of time this should yield the development of a solid Bull’s-eye.
The guidelines for the meeting should be as follows
- The leader should use three circles.
- Only one goal can exist in the center – one has to be more important than the others.
- Do not have more than 3 items in total – if there are over 3 items the project needs to be further defined and or decomposed into smaller projects.
- The final ranking of priorities should be generally agreeable to the group. Any large gap here indicates that the purpose of the deployment should be revisited.
Retail Chain Store Project
ABC Retail Chain Franchises relies on a central corporate intranet to connect their various locations to central information. Headquarters has been struggling to provide their franchises with better information and guidance so they can be successful with their operations and respond quickly to changing market conditions. Currently ABC Retail Chain keeps inventory levels in their mainframe system and wants to make this available to the stores to help them gauge their stocking needs and allow customers to understand when an item might be arriving if it is out of stock. This information will also help the stores to plan when and how they will stock their shelves.
Further examples of this guidance might include changing end caps to highlight top selling products or posting advertisements in the store tied to a particular promotion. Headquarters would also like to make sure that instead of holding many management to employee meetings throughout the week that they can maximize their communications using a single delivery channel where information is stored, so that it does not need to be repeated. Based on feedback from one franchise that created their own web forum for employees, ABC Retail Chain has learned that allowing peers to asyncronously ask questions with each other was very helpful to quick problem solving and increasing productivity amongst workers. In a similar vein – a staff directory of names, phone numbers and email addresses has been very popular in helping employees to connect and resolve issues and has been photocopied and sent to each franchise. There have been problems keeping this book up to date though, as the stores frequently have employee turnover due to seasonality.
ABC Retail Chain’s IT department was put in charge of the project and knew that they could aggregate all of the data requested and create an intranet for the franchises. What they struggled with was how to place it all together for the end user.
Tom the IT project leader was responsible for delivering the project under tight deadlines and was getting a bit lost with how his team was going to be able to cobble everything together in some cohesive manner for the users. He pulled his technical team into a meeting and after a few hours they had hashed together the following diagram of the portal that they were comfortable in delivering.
After the meeting the design still did not seem correct, but Tom did not have an expert on his team to tackle User Experience and was short on time. Desperate for some guidance he began to search the web about corporate intranets and struck upon an article on the User Experience Bull’s-eye. Fortunately Tom is collocated at headquarters and he was able to quickly pull together a meeting with his project sponsors and a few local franchise owners and within a hour had created the following Bull’s-eye.
Using the User Experience Bull’s-eye
Now that an Experience Bull’s-eye has been constructed it can act as a compass for any user experience related needs. When designing a page or portion of an end user experience we can now use the Experience Bull’s-eye as a guide.
Now, clear decisions can be made rapidly around the placement of items, labels on buttons and links and other components of a project. Best of all – because the Experience Bull’s-eye was collaboratively developed by the project sponsors and other stakeholders, there is little debate about what the most important part of the experience should be. This will let the technical team focus more on development and no longer have to deal with getting marred down in discussions that detract from their development, integration and deployment time.
Let’s now revisit the ABC Retail Chain Store Project with the Bull’s-eye that Tom has just created. Based on the Bull’s-eye the team decided to
Deletions from the Initial Design
- Remove “Human Resources” from the navigation area. It seemed like a good idea to add, but given the priorities in the Bull’s-eye no longer makes sense.
- Remove “Rewards” from the navigation area. It seemed like a good idea to add, but given the priorities in the Bull’s-eye no longer makes sense.
- Remove “Stock Ticker” from the page body. The tech team loved this idea because they had the data and it looked interesting to have it scrolling along the page. Given the direction from the Bull’s-eye it is obvious that this does not contribute to any of the goals for the project and should be removed.
- Remove “Interoffice Personal Buy and Sell”. This seemed like an interesting feature that the tech team liked, letting store employees buy and sell goods with each other. As above – this is technically possible, but does not contribute to the bottom line and should be removed.
Updates to the Design
- Move “Stock Levels” navigation item information to actual data within the “My Store” page. The “Stock Levels / Shelf Management” data is the most critical on the basis of the Bull’s-eye that was designed and should be front and center for the employees to best do their jobs.
- Rename “Stores” to “My Store” in the navigation. It is important to personalize data and user experience given that the franchises will not care about other franchise owner’s stores – only their own.
- “Corporate Announcements” and “Store Announcements” are displayed on the right in order to criticality based on the Bull’s-eye. Management wants a way to communicate with their store owners and managers within the store need to be able to communicate with their employees.
In a project tight on time and short on resources taking a quick pass at understanding how to create a better user experience is critical to creating a portal that is an effective vehicle for communications and data to aid decision making. A small upfront investment will yield significant gains from the result of a more focused user experience. With the Bull’s-eye User Experience approach a minimal amount of time is needed to create a compass that will act as the source of truth throughout a project and lay the foundation for an impactful user experience that directly addresses the purpose of the project, adding the most business value possible.