Event Recap: Intranets that Surprise & Delight

We were very fortunate to have James Robertson, global intranet expert extraordinaire, live in Vancouver on October 30th. The Vancouver User Experience Group, with sponsorship from ThoughtFarmer, hosted a special evening keynote about designing behind the firewall.

James showing an example of organizing knowledge in a useful way to create delight.Over 100 members of the Vancouver software community came together, including VanUE members, IABC Intranet Special Interest Group members, VFS design students, intranet managers, and ThoughtFarmer employees. It’s exciting to see that so many people are committed to improving software experiences for employees!

James has been consulting on intranet implementations for over 10 years and speaks around the world on intranets and knowledge management. He has published three books on intranets: What Every Intranet Team Should Know,Designing Intranets, and his latest: Essential Intranets. We highly recommend his books to anyone interesting in delivering more business value with their intranet.


The keynote started with a discussion on why internal system design is important, including the so-called phrase of the night: “cubeland is a labyrinth hell where UX goes to die.” James went on to explain that many companies are looking for productivity improvements, but have maximized and exhausted opportunities with people management. Improving individual employee efficiency and removing frustrations with internal systems is key to driving further improvements.

He believes as designers, communicators, and managers, we are responsible for more than just making systems “less painful” — we need to set the goal of creating a positive emotional response if we hope for employees to truly embrace the full capabilities of internal systems.

Highlights from his talk included:

  • Little things make or break your intranet. James pointed out that bad intranets are often an accumulation of small problems. Focusing on making the little things work well makes processes easier for staff and creates positive sentiment towards the intranet.
  • Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Using examples of mobile sites that far exceeded the desktop versions in ease-of-use, James highlighted the importance of simple interfaces and reducing steps to complete tasks. Everyone loved the quote, “You can’t deliver crap on a mobile phone — it doesn’t fit!” Take these principles from mobile and apply them to your desktop site.
  • Stories are often better than numbers. Questions were raised about building your business case for a new intranet and measuring ROI. James emphasized the use of stories in the business case. Use anecdotes that really illustrate staff frustration and pain points, not just numbers about time saving. In terms of measurement, he recommends taking existing business goals and looking for ways the intranet can explicitly impact them.
  • Intranets can’t afford to be ugly. An ugly intranet is one that staff don’t want to use. It shows a lack of care for the intranet, your employees, and your brand. Use visual design to make your intranet beautiful and something staff want to log into every morning!

You can view the full presentation slides here:

Also, a shout out to James, our friends at VanUE, and the Orpheum Annex Theatre for hosting such an amazing event and letting us be a part of it!

Comments are closed.