Case: Iris Intranet

Winner of the Intranet Design Annual, the Iris intranet emphasizes that it has been “designed by humans for humans”. At Intranätverk 2014, intranet strategist Arthur Turksma shared some design principles that certainly will improve every intranet. At least they helped Arthur and his colleagues to reach their goal: to have happy users.

One of the main reasons behind the success of Iris is, according to Arthur, that it’s done in a different way. The intranet has received praise from, among others, Jakob Nielsen, who said that it’s a “breath of fresh air”. During the journey to make Iris, Arthur and his colleagues discovered a few design principles, which came together within the intranet. The first design principle goes under the name of “intranet design thinking”. Arthur explains that it’s been around for about 15 years now and the main reason for using it is that it’s a very simple but still effective model.

Don’t do surveys

Surveys might be a typical way to begin the reconstruction of an intranet but, according to Arthur, they’re actually pretty useless. Why? Because people don’t know what they want. Since their expertise often lies in other fields, such as finances or sales, they’re not really aware of how to build a good intranet. Instead of using surveys, Arthur and his colleagues basically shadow people while they work. By walking along with them, they notice what kind of interactions occur, what kind of information the employees need every day as well as how a typical day looks. And, most importantly, how they can make the day easier for them by using the intranet. After that it’s basically about defining which issues that are most important and how they should be solved in the best possible way. Arthur explains that in this stage it’s vital to tackle each problem individually by building prototypes and testing them. Equally important is to always keep in mind that it’s all about the people – what they desire. This is a principle that does not only apply to the intranet but the organization in general. It’s all about being more effective in the workplace.

Arthur Turksma presenting at Intranätverk 2014
Arthur Turksma presenting at Intranätverk 2014

2nd and 3rd principle

The second principle that Arthur uses is that, on the intranet, people should be able to communicate by doing. This is about looking at the actual day of employees within the company; understanding their demands, moderating their behavior and ultimately connect that to their primary process. So the intranet is not something you consult next to your work, it’s something you consult during your work. “Context awareness” is the third principle. Arthur explains that although the content itself is important, it must be aligned to the location, activity, function, time and subject. Otherwise you risk not getting the attention of the people in mind. Basically, the content has to vary depending on the target audience. This is a task that might sound easy but Arthur points out that it could be quite a challenge.

“Data is the oxygen of the age of context”

One of Arthur’s favorite books at the moment is ”The Age of Context” by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. The book has a pretty vital message according to him. It basically states that it’s all about data – knowing what’s important to serve somebody at a certain time.

4th and 5th principle

The fourth design principle is to “design for all devices”. Arthur explains that you should be able to use the intranet no matter what location. An important factor here is that the intranet needs to be responsive. This is not only about scaling it down but also thinking about what’s important. For instance, a smartphone is probably not used to look up pension plans etc. Instead, it should support your work at the time. A tricky principle, according to Arthur, is the fifth one called “design for all humans”. Why is it tricky? Because human behavior in general is very predictable. And by predictable Arthur means that even though we all think that we’re different from each other, we’re all more or less the same. A basic standpoint is to design the intranet so that people like to use it instead of dragging them in. This could be done by engaging the employees in the process by asking them questions and paying attention to them.

Add a “like button”

Another book of interest to Arthur is one about the Progress Principle. When he read the book a couple of years ago, the main thing that caught his attention was how people are driven forward: by telling what they’re doing and sharing information. What’s the motivating factor behind this? Progress. It doesn’t matter whether the progress is big or small – just showing that they’ve taken a step forward is very satisfying for everyone. Therefore, a simple thing as a “like button” could mean a great deal to the employees. It’s basically about encouraging people to report their progress, an area in which the intranet could be very useful. Equally as important as progress is giving the employees a purpose. Arthur explains that people want to have control of what they’re doing and constantly enhance their capabilities. It’s therefore very important to explain the reason behind a specific task or otherwise there’s a great risk nobody will do it.

Find out more

“Information finds you”, “work should be fun”, and “less is more”. These are the last three principles brought to our attention by Arthur. If you’re interested in finding out more about them, please have a look at Arthur’s presentation at Intranätverk 2014 in this video.

By following these principles, Arthur and his colleagues have reached their goal with the Iris intranet: to have happy users. And isn’t that what we all want in the end?

Bio Arthur Turksma

Online architect, design thinker and intranet strategist. During his Architecture and Building Informatics studies, Arthur started one of the first 300 websites in the world (we’re talking 1992 here). He continued at the Eindhoven University of Technology as an assistant professor for several years. In 1997, he co-founded triptic, an agency for online communications. Throughout all these years in the digital world, Arthur has been translating technology to ways to improve (work) life. This led him into the intranet world with Iris, context-driven and designed to help you work smarter, faster and better. Continuously looking further, Arthur was the initiator of TEDxBrainport, and, as if his schedule isn’t packed enough, he’s also part of the Creative Industries committee for The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).