“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Will Rogers, comedian and social commentator


First impressions count, especially with your Digital Workplace. If design and usability are not prioritised, people will not be motivated to engage with it and might miss essential content and functionality that is available, leading to further disengagement. Your intranet will be compared with the user friendly, often beautiful consumer electronics we all use every day – how does it measure up?

Key principles to follow with Digital Workplace designs:

  1. Use negative space and avoid including too much content: people scan rather than read on screen.
  2. Give content appropriate weighting, so that the important information clearly stands out.
  3. Create visual balance on each page, keeping in mind image sizes and their proximity to both text and to each other.
  4. Use design elements consistently, so people immediately understand what each element represents.
  5. Consider a mobile version where links have plenty of space around them and users can scroll and swipe to navigate.

Fonts, colours, layouts, backgrounds, underlines, italics, bold, hover effects and click effects are just some of the design elements you need to consider. And once you’ve made a decision, you need to keep the elements consistent throughout the site.

One common challenge is that designers rarely understand SharePoint, so their designs may cause problems for developers. If you are using designers, don’t let them start work before they meet with a Technology Consultant who understands the platform for which they are designing. Set the ground rules and do your designer a favour by realising that “design by committee” is probably their worst nightmare. So try to limit input and feedback on the design to a small group of people. Alternatively, if you’re purchasing a ready-to-go Digital Workplace like Injio, you can select one of the available templates and either use it as is, or adjust it to suit your needs.

Digital Workplace usability

“When we’re using the Web, every question mark adds to our cognitive workload, distracting our attention from the task at hand… Using a site that doesn’t make us think about unimportant things feels effortless, whereas puzzling over things that don’t matter to us tends to sap our energy and enthusiasm – and time.”

Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think


When you’re creating a Digital Workplace, you also need to remove the need for people to think. That means making it easy to navigate, which of course ties back to its Information Architecture. However, even if you have good IA, it’s still possible to make a complete mess of usability. To avoid this, your Digital Workplace needs signals that are easy for end users to interpret, so don’t ignore basic web usability principles such as:

  1. Value: Show readers the value they’ll derive from whatever they’re engaging with.
  2. Simplicity: Reduce clutter and remove any unnecessary elements.
  3. Visibility: Show people the features they need to see and reduce focus on everything else.
  4. Self-driven: Create a solution that people can figure out without needing help.
  5. Sequencing: Lay content out with a clear beginning, middle and end so users know exactly where they are in a process.

One area that significantly impacts usability is Search. Nielsen Norman has identified poor search as the greatest single cause of reduced usability across intranets, accounting for an estimated 43% of the difference in employee productivity between intranets with high and low usability.

So it should come as no surprise that our next Pillar of successful Digital Workplaces is… Search. Stay tuned for this very important post next week!

Usability and Design is just one of the 9 Pillars or Digital Workplace Success featured in my new book: Digital Transformation from the Inside Out.  Click here for your free 3-chapter extract or use Discount code: ‘Collab365’ for 20% off the book.

Review the other posts in this exclusive community series:

Pillar 9: User adoption
Pillar 8: Governance
Pillar 7: Social Technology Strategy
Pillar 6: Document Management
Pillar 5: Search
Pillar 4: Usability and Design (this post)
Pillar 3: Information Architecture
Pillar 2: The Right Team
Pillar 1: Executive Support


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