I am still writing 2011 when I sign documents, but useit.com has already announced its 10 best designed intranets for 2012. This makes the 12th year the uber-minimalist site has given praise to intranet sites for their design prowess.

2012 Winners

Intranets get a lot of bad press. They are frequently characterized as slow and incomplete with antiquated technology and even older content. Yet, the intranet is far from dead. Organizations are still deploying intranets with dreams of an information-sharing utopia dancing in their heads. Despite the negativity surrounding intranets, some organizations are doing it right. Well, at least 10 are, according to long running usability site useit.com, which has named the 10 best designed intranet of 2012:

  • CenturyLink Business, a telecommunications company (US)
  • Everything Everywhere, a communications company (UK)
  • Genentech, a biotechnology company (US)
  • LivePerson, Inc., a communications company (US)
  • Logica, a business and technology service company (UK)
  • MAN Diesel & Turbo SE, provider of large-bore diesel engines and turbomachinery for marine and stationary applications (Germany)
  • NCR Corporation, a technology company (US)
  • The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, a marketer of branded consumer products for lawn and garden care (US)
  • Skanska, a project development and construction group (Sweden)
  • Staples, Inc., an office products company (US)

Interestingly, smaller companies dominate the rankings and have done so for the last three years. Six of the ten companies on the list have fewer than 15,000 employees. Despite having smaller budgets, the democratization of technology with options such as open source and the cloud have made it possible for even tiny organizations to create superior user experiences.

What Are These Intranets Doing Right?

The organizations that received design accolades are diverse. However, when it comes to delivering content via their intranet they all understand a few things:

  • Their organizations are constantly changing.
  • They must monitor the intranet to stay abreast of potential problems, and they must adjust the design if it becomes less usable or outdated.
  • The intranet must remain relevant from a content and technology perspective. When users access the intranet, they shouldn’t feel like they are stepping through an Internet time portal.

In addition to a general understanding of what’s required to make a site successful, useit.com also identified several common user interface, design and organization elements among the winning sites. Innovative menuing that helped users locate content easily and modal lightboxes to provide strong content focus were both used in almost all of the winning site designs. Other major themes included:

  • A move back to centralization from team sites and personal communities, which resulted in information silos, redundant content and outdated information
  • A strong focus on content quality
  • Personalization with the ability for the user to select a view perspective
  • Fast access to information about co-workers
  • Social components such as activity streams and profiles
  • Support for personal content

While intranet technology has made strides, calculating their value has not. Many of the companies in the study were only collecting “spotty” data that justified the expense of intranet adoption. Further when it was collected, the information tended to be soft metrics such as better engagement and improved content agility.