Designing employee experience

With the Nielsen Norman Group announcing that an unprecedented four Unily intranets feature in their 10 best intranets of 2021, episode 7 of the Unily podcast discusses all things design. Paul Seda is joined by returning star Senior Consultant Alex Gabelli, and two newcomers – Product Manager Katie Johnson and Senior UI Developer Lewis Munt – to share their thoughts about designing the best employee experience.

Creating award-winning intranet designs

As Johnson & Johnson, Baker Hughes, Cathay Pacific, and Commonwealth Care Alliance were all announced as winners of the coveted NN/g best intranet awards, this week's podcast sparked a conversation about what it takes to design an award-winning intranet.

Designing the best employee experience is about more than making sure your brand is reflected throughout your intranet, and it’s essential to nail the basic fundamentals in order to achieve the type of experience that will bring home awards.

Defining design

Design itself is a combination of UI and UX – making things look right and work properly, to give the user the best possible journey through the site. It encompasses both the visual appearance and the functionality.

"UX is the experience a user gets when using that product or functionality from start to finish. UI is thinking about how you'll decorate it to make the end product look pretty. It’s the tip of the iceberg of the overall design experience."

Katie Johnson

If the product looks great but doesn't work properly, it’s not fit for purpose. But the same can be said for something that works but isn’t very attractive – people won’t want to engage with it, even if it works well on a basic level. Lewis Munt reiterates the importance of getting both of these critical elements right, leading Paul Seda to ask whether one informs the other, or if this is a cyclical process. Does form follow function?

"You need both and they both need to work well together. There’s no point having a button that does something if it doesn’t look like it does something."

Lewis Munt

Design to solve problems

With such a design-heavy panel on this week’s podcast, the conversation inevitably moves onto client requests and how much thought goes into designing the best employee experience. As a customer, the logo, brand colors, fonts, and a hero banner are often the priorities, but Alex Gabelli highlights that these things are only a small part of the process. While the individual elements are paramount, how they all work with each other is arguably more important.

"Design is about problem solving. We need to bring all the pieces together so that the messaging is clear, the journey is clear, and things are signposted. There are a lot of different elements that all make up design."

Alex Gabelli

Although the challenges vary, when it comes to designing a new EXP, every client runs into the same sort of challenges. Usability and knowledge finding are common issues for employees, and the design teams at Unily are well versed in predicting and overcoming these problems before they can arise. Katie Johnson talks about bringing together all the solutions to potential challenges in advance. However, with Alex coming into the design journey at a slightly later stage, she sees the opportunities within these challenges to level up the overall employee experience.

Intranets vs websites

Often within intranet platform designs, the messaging is that the final product needs to look amazing and perfectly reflect the customer-facing website, but Paul questions if that’s such a good idea. The intranet already has a captive audience with its employees, so trying to implement features that make it stand out isn’t required; the functionality is what's critical to drive adoption.

When it comes to effective design, simplicity is key. Bells and whistles are great for websites designed to be marketing tools, but when your employees are using the platform to help them do their job, all the extras often become a distraction.

"Most websites are marketing tools. But we’re doing something different; we’re helping people to do their job. You can make something look visually striking but that can’t be at the cost of usability."

Lewis Munt

Difficulties during the design process

The design process needs to involve conversations around requirements from the beginning. Katie and Lewis highlight the discussions they frequently have with each other to try and find a middle ground. While Lewis points out that it’s easier to predict pain points when things get designed out in advance, Katie explains the importance of iteration because new features will launch and develop over time. Paul then draws attention to the difficulties that surround intranet design and constantly trying to strike the right balance.

"Intranet design is really hard because you’re designing for all the people. When you’re dealing with millions of users like Unily does, it’s impossible to try and design something that’s perfect for everyone."

Paul Seda

Trends vs style

Trends come and go, and the design language should be updated to reflect trends where appropriate. Katie explains that an increase in white space started out as a trend, but the impact it has on improving the UI means it’s something that is now given a lot more consideration during the design process.

Screen sizes have changed dramatically over the last decade, in line with the rise of mobile and tablet devices. Coupled with changing resolutions means that things like white space or minimalistic design, which were initially just short-term trends, actually become important considerations and end up getting incorporated into the design language.

Accessibility can’t be ignored

Intranet design itself needs to consider every user, each of who will have slightly different requirements. Along with form and function, accessibility is another key consideration throughout the process. Paul alludes to the fact that accessibility is not a trend, it’s absolutely a style and the focus needs to be on designing with it in mind at all times. Alex explains that in order to design the best employee experience, she encourages her clients to think about every user when creating their platforms, so that they can all navigate their intranets with ease, and enjoy using them.

"Nothing is so exclusive that anyone is excluded. We want everyone who is using their intranet to be comfortable with it and able to use it how they want to."

Alex Gabelli

Learn more about designing the best employee experience

If you’re interested to hear more about designing great employee experience and finding out more of the team's insights, check out the full podcast episode, now available to download through Spotify. To find out how we can help with your intranet design, contact our digital workplace experts today.

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