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User experience and visual appeal of intranets and EXPs

Very happy man in headphones talking to on his laptop.

User experience and visual appeal of intranets and EXPs

In our latest Intranets and Employee Experience Platforms report we evaluated digital products against eight scenarios. The first of these real-world business scenarios is ‘user experience and visual appeal’.

What we explored

We wanted to see the overall experience of using the intranet or platform from an end-user’s perspective. This not only included the branding / look-and-feel that can be achieved with the site, but how people may choose to consume the comms and content. This UX and visual scenario explored:

  • the overall quality of the user experience
  • how easily users can navigate through the site
  • whether the branding options are flexible
  • the overall visual impact of the product.

Note that we don’t dictate a long list of specific features, but instead consider common employee needs. We then ask the vendors to demonstrate how they would address the scenario in whatever way they see as the best approach.

What we found

It’s very unusual for the comms and intranet platforms we review to deliver a poor user experience. If we find a product delivers a particularly poor experience, we typically don’t invite them to participate in subsequent reports, which means the average score for this scenario is high at 3.9 out of 5.

We have highlighted where something is clunky or doesn’t behave as we’d expect though. Likewise, most products are easy to use but the comprehensiveness of the platforms varies and has an impact on the user experience – we have commented on this where it is evident.

It’s then in the nuances of this scenario where we see real differences. For example, most products support multi-brand organisations, however to what extent branding or other design choices are offered does vary. Many products, like SharePoint, offer simple logos and colours, while a few offer highly flexible design choices that result in tailored and very attractive sites, such as Akumina. Most fall somewhere in between, giving some semblance of design options while not being fully flexible.

Navigation is another area where approaches vary. Most intranet systems offer some form of multi-level navigation, such as a mega menu, while a few have simpler single-level navigation. A handful have navigation that’s not configurable, in that they reflect pre-defined spaces such as ‘pages’ or ‘communities’ that display lists of what sub-spaces people can access. While this approach works well it may not meet the needs of those who want greater control.

Fresh intranet (with SharePoint showing at very top) showiing five image 'tiles' as a drop-down mega menu.

Fresh includes a variety of attractive navigation approaches, such as this one showing ‘tiles’ to take people to subsites.

The final area of nuance in this scenario surrounds notifications. This sounds minor, but when you consider even Outlook has its own notification bell now, there is a great risk of overwhelming employees if these aren’t carefully thought through. Most products do an OK job with notifications, but we’d like to see more capabilities like ‘save for later’ so that people can manage their activities more effectively.

How SharePoint and Viva fared in this UX scenario

From a user point of view, modern SharePoint is capable of some very attractive page designs that use images, space, and highlights effectively – and generally the experience is good. However, navigation in SharePoint can be a challenge overall, as can navigation when one application is embedded within another (such as SharePoint within Teams via Viva Connections). Notifications are either missing or spread in different applications and we’d like to see a more coherent approach. Branding approaches are simple and it’s tricky to apply consistently without a third-party tool.

Overall platform performance

A simple scoring table, showing 21 products and then their scores out of 5 for the category of "UX and visual appeal). See the full report (free) for details.

Here are the scores for this UX scenario as a simple table.

Download our free report now to find out each product’s strengths and where there are improvements to be made across eight scenarios.

Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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