Not everyone always agrees on the essence of design. At Debble we feel it is super important to make design a top priority and in this blog I will tell you why you need to think about design when implementing an intranet. In addition I will give you some important tips.
Design, why is it so important?
When you don’t think about (User Experience and User Interface) design users will get frustrated with your product which affects the usage, adoption and even productivity. A perfect example is standard SharePoint. OK, Microsoft is improving its design (look at the modern pages). But think about older SharePoint versions, a business user normally can’t get around in SharePoint without extensive training. You often see this happening with major software products. It starts small but then they add all those extra functionalities, and that’s where it goes wrong and users get lost. So in short, design is important because it helps your users get around. It helps them do their work and saves them time, it helps them adopting the portal. Good design makes a product a lot more fun to use!
So, design. What is it exactly?
When you are talking about design you are actually talking about resolving a (user) problem. In design it is all about the user. So if you are designing for a public website, an intranet or any other system for that matter, the end user is your client.
"It is always function over form.
Often people feel design is about the actual look and feel of a product. But guess what? They are wrong. Of course it is great to have an amazing design in your intranet (let’s use intranet as an example), but when your users can’t get around in your portal, look and feel is pointless. Period. So, what is design about? Design is about helping your users get around in your portal. It is about the user experience. You have to think about what the user should do in your portal and how you are going to support it with design elements. It is about putting the right text, images and icons in the right place. A simple example; two people are buying the same, awesome looking mug. One of them wants to use the mug as a piece of art, the other one as a coffee mug. Now I am telling you the mug is perfect as a piece of art but can’t be used for drinking coffee. Do you know where I am getting at? The mug has a hole in it. So when it fits the needs for one, it is useless for the other. With this example I wanted to demonstrate that look and feel is important but only when it has a purpose.
How do I deal with that SharePoint thing?
To be honest, as a designer I am not the biggest SharePoint fan. But I will admit, it is a powerful solution with lots of functionalities. And that’s exactly the reason why we work with SharePoint and Office 365. We make full use of SharePoint and Office 365 functionalities and within that standard we enhance the interface. An example of what we have done is enhancing the interface of creating a news item. We heard users were experiencing difficulties with publishing content on the homepage when creating a news item. They needed to navigate to a different location to execute this action. I designed a situation in which users are able to publish content on the homepage with one click of a button. All of this is available on the same page in which users create their news item.
Designing is real teamwork
As a team we are constantly working on improving the product. We work with scrum and prioritize the items by user needs. Customers give us feedback which we prioritize, design, develop and implement. Of course this process is a circle in which we are constantly in contact about the results. Sometimes the limitations of SharePoint are a little hurdle but until now we have always found a way, even in standard SharePoint and Office 365. A little note, sometimes I see things in SharePoint that really need improvement. In that situation I strongly advise my team to make that small SharePoint design element a priority 1.
"UX isn’t a layer or component of a product or service. It’s really about the design of whole systems and their interconnections.
A few examples of design improvements
You might be curious about what we have done within Debble to improve the user interface. Have a look at the examples below and see what little differences can do.
Collaboration and department pages
You possibly think the banner on the top of collaboration and department pages is to enhance the user interface design? It’s more than that. We created this banner to deliver a unified user experience. It doesn’t matter whether a user working on a news article at the Marketing department page or looking at documents. Because of the banner users know they are still at the same department. So even though it looks nice it has a very important function.
As mentioned earlier we enhanced the interface for creating news. In this image you can perfectly see what elements we added to create a unified and user friendly experience. For example users can start typing their text right away. Other improvements are the date picker, drag and drop for ordering news and publishing the article by just clicking on ‘publish’ instead of going to the SharePoint ribbon. Cool right?
The last design example I will give you is about an integral experience. You might recognize this wizard layout from standard Office 365. We brought it to the Debble product to make the entire platform as logic as possible for users.
5 super tips:
Think about what your user needs to do at a certain page. This is the fundament for your page layout.
It is always function over form. Only design elements that have a purpose, don’t just create something because it looks awesome.
Stick to existing patterns. An example is a login button. On almost every page it's found on the top right side, so users will expect this from other sites as well. When you do diverge from a certain pattern you need to have a good reason for it.
Don’t be afraid to innovate in design but don’t just do it to innovate. Again, keep your users in mind.
Be consistent in your visual language and create guidelines when needed.
So in short, design is about bringing your user a unified experience which helps them to complete the tasks your product is designed for. Think about if you are you going to make a piece of art to look at, or a product people can actually use?
Questions and queries
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