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Lightweight user research or guerrilla UX

ClearBox Consulting > UX  > Lightweight user research or guerrilla UX
'Explore' on a pennant flag.

Lightweight user research or guerrilla UX

Be sure to perform regular research, even if your budget is low. Your intranet must serve the needs of colleagues and meet their expectations, not just your stakeholders.

Take a look at the fifth and final video (4 minutes), produced by Igloo Software (you may need to register), taken from a recent webinar I led for them as a series of intranet mini-projects.

Read on to learn how you can do lightweight research to make your intranet meet expectations.

Guerrilla UX.
Video: Guerilla UX.

There can be no good user experience without user research; but if you need to keep costs close to zero, you’ll want to do your own lightweight research.

I suggest you focus on one section of your intranet at a time. Your research tools are:

  • user observation
  • tree tests
  • doughnuts.

Pick ten tasks

Focusing on one section of the intranet, pick ten tasks that people come to this area for – the ten top purposes of this section. Some tasks will be obvious, but you can get inspiration from your search logs, and from brainstorming with a small group of users about what they expect the section offers (use the doughnuts).

A task, for example, might be to check how many days of leave you have left. One tip: don’t use the word ‘leave’ if the intranet menus use the same word; use a synonym instead, like ‘holiday’ so that the task doesn’t directly provide its own answer within your wording.

Once you’ve defined your top ten tasks for this section, it’s time to do some guerrilla research in your cafeteria (or reception, or main corridor).

Guerrilla testing

Using a tablet or laptop to show the intranet, stop people and ask for five minutes of their time and get them to perform five of the tasks. Give them the tablet; don’t help, hint, or explain – your job is to watch and learn. Ideally, they would talk out loud to say what they’re thinking. You can encourage them to continue, but don’t help them. You’ll learn a lot from circuitous routes and abject failures.

Once you’ve done this with as many people as you can stand, you’ll probably have lots of ideas about simplifying vocabulary, reducing nested navigation menus, and highlighting priority tasks. The next step is to do tree testing.

Tree tests

Design your new menu structure on paper, or maybe in Excel. Now get an account at Optimal Workshop.

Optimal Workshop offers four or five UX tools, but for now take a look at the Treejack tool. See if the free trial is enough for you, or check the monthly cost.

Work through the Treejack interface, adding your ten tasks and your draft menu structure.

Here’s a treejack demo, showing the end result.

Navigation tree test.
Navigation test.

Once you’re happy with how things work, you can recruit around 30 people (ideally, 50) from across your organisation to take part. You can use your intranet, enterprise social network, and even email to invite people.

Tree testing uncovers where people expect to find the solution to the task you’ve posed. The results show you where people clicked on your draft menus, and showing the route that they navigated until they felt they’d reached the right place. So the results show you people’s expectations, and it’s your job to make the menus match.

Tree test result routes.
Result routes.


You should refine your draft menus and do another tree test until you feel happy that your menus meet people’s expectations. Three rounds of testing is common.

Now you can redesign the intranet section’s navigation menus, and move content around to be in the most appropriate place. Remember, content should be published where end users expect to find it, not where the publisher thinks is most convenient for themselves.

Don’t forget to reward those who helped you with doughnuts. Go back to everyone and let them know that you listened, and show them the results.

Now you’re ready to tackle the next section of the intranet.

Take a look at our series on writing for the intranet, download our free ‘Creating intranet content’ guide, and consider our ‘Writing for your intranet’ in-house training workshop.

This is the fifth topic in a five-part series of intranet mini-projects you can repeatably perform to improve your intranet and employee experience.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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