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pixel.gif (807 bytes) Creating quality intranet content
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THERE ARE MANY excellent usability guides on the World Wide Web. Fortunately they agree on more points than they disagree and their advice is typically both well-researched and down to earth. Having conducted a review of these guides, I was able to draw up my own list of web page design rules that apply well to intranets and are accessible to ordinary (non-professional) designers. Here they are then, my seven goals for intranet document design:

Creating content that counts
Content is king. Of all the goals, content comes first, because without it, the rest are academic. 'Content that counts' is content that meets an identified audience need. It's accurate, up-to-date, relevant and on time. It's pitched at the right level and uses the right language for your audience. It contains all the necessary information, but only as much as is absolutely necessary.

On-line publishers need to know:

  • why it's important for information to have a single identified owner
  • what you need to know about the potential audiences for your content
  • what it means to provide the right information at the right time
  • how to judge the amount of information to include
  • why it's important to maintain a dialogue with your audience

Making your pages easy to find
However good your content, your efforts will have been entirely in vain if your audience can not find it. It may seem easy to bring readers and documents together, but on screen all content is invisible until you find it - unlike the more obvious physical presence of paper.

On-line publishers need to know:

  • how to organise your content into meaningful sections
  • how to ensure your content is found by search engines
  • the importance of titling and tagging your web pages properly
  • the importance of getting listed in indexes and directories
  • the benefits from 'reciprocal linking' with other sites

Getting the reader’s attention
You've got great content. The user has even found your page amongst all the available options on your intranet. What are your chances of holding the user long enough to read what you've got to say? Not great, if you can't grab their attention.

On-line publishers need to know:

  • the dangers of frustrating the user with long delays and how to avoid them
  • why simplicity and consistency do not lead to boring pages
  • the many ways of creating contrast to grab attention
  • the importance of making the user aware of what's new or changed
  • why the first paragraph of every page is so important

Keeping the reader orientated
Once you've got your reader's attention, you need to maintain it as they try to find the information they need. It is much easier on screen than it is on paper for a reader to become lost or disorientated. Fortunately, with good design these problems can be avoided.

On-line publishers need to know:

  • why it's important not to bury your information in too deep a hierarchy of menus
  • identifying the who, what, where and when of your web pages
  • the negative effect that scrolling has on the reader and how to get around it
  • why and how to obtain consistency in your design
  • how design features can help to clarify differences in function and meaning

Ensuring readability
We know that users find it slower to read off screen than off paper. For that reason we need to do all we can to make our web pages as readable as possible. Often designs that work well on paper are applied to the screen without consideration for the obvious differences. Worse, many web pages employ designs that would not work on any medium.

On-line publishers need to know:

  • why it's important to constrain the width of lines of text
  • how to select the right fonts for use on-screen
  • how colour affects legibility
  • how to size text correctly
  • ways to add emphasis to text without affecting readability

Making your pages easy to skim
Readers skim web pages rather than reading them word-for-word. Your job is not to work against this phenomenon but to make it easier. With a commercial web site, it is in your interest to hold the user at your site long enough to sell them something. On an intranet, you have a different goal: to provide the user with the information they want as quickly as possible. And to do this, the user must be able to move through your material easily.

On-line publishers need to know:

  • how to let the user know what to expect before they get there
  • the importance of summaries
  • how and why to chunk information
  • how to make your point early
  • why lists work better than prose

Providing connectivity
Connections create the web. Without connections, the spider would have nowhere to travel. With a variety of links, you can provide the user with all the advantages of on-screen reading.

On-line publishers need to know:

  • how to structure long web pages
  • how to provide navigation facilities within long pages
  • how to provide links within a sequence of pages
  • how to provide links between different levels within your site
  • how and where to provide links to further information

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1998. All rights reserved.                                 Last revised 2/11/98.