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How Do You Redesign a ‘Dinosaur’? Redesigning an Intranet Site: the Beginning Stages

Many content managers in the digital world understand the irrepressible desire to improve, fix, edit, add, and move things around. Indeed, it’s our job to nurture this ongoing process to create, update, test, update again. And, repeat! But, what about those sites or pages that seem to never crawl up to the ‘high-priority’ list and have been perhaps a little, ehh… neglected. For our Web team, this was our Center’s staff Intranet site.

Screen capture of the NCCIH Intranet homepage.

Our Web team recognized that the Intranet was in need of attention. It’d been about 10 years since its initial launch and over the years, minimal design or layout changes–including navigation–had been made to the site. Of course, we kept the site’s content updated and we’d built out some new forms and apps. But, the ‘bones’ of the site had remained the same.

I’d been an enthusiastic proponent of an Intranet redesign over the years, but when finally receiving the ‘go-ahead’, I suddenly felt a bit terrified. I felt like an archaeologist, looking upon an excavation site, ancient bones either scattered about, or peeking out from deep within the ground. I was excited to finally dig, brush off, clean, and ponder handling such a delicate assembly. Scattered in the Intranet ‘dust’ were dozens and dozens of internal links, external links, Word documents and PDFs, databases, and applications. Where would I even begin?!

Archaeologist and student excavating.

Shh… Listen! I Hear Something… ****

In actuality, the redesign process started long before I received the official ‘go-ahead’. I’d been listening. When colleagues provided feedback on the Intranet site, or commented on staff resources at All-Hands meetings, I listened. When I received emails asking about the whereabouts of a form or resource, I listened! And I took notes: I’d collected comments and feedback from staff over months, as well as jotted down my own ideas about what would be cool for an updated site. How about a little crowdsourcing? I listened to my colleagues via listservs and meetings around all the Federal agencies. Over time, a ‘wish list’ emerged.

What Do These Bones Look Like to You? A Staff-Wide Survey

Next, I put together a brief 15-question survey to distribute to staff. We created a Drupal-based survey and made this available to staff for about a month. I posted it to the Intranet homepage and promoted it through emails. I knew that the response rate alone would be a good gauge for general interest in the Intranet site. About half of our staff responded and shared feedback.

Questions included:

  • frequency of visits to the site;
  • top resources staff used to complete job-related tasks;
  • completion success of top tasks;
  • top-visited resources on the intranet;
  • and frequency of use of homepage links.

The survey clarified staff wants and needs. And, it provided us with an overall impression of the intranet that would drive us forward to the next step. We needed to drill down even further and confirm we were on the right track and make sure top tasks were rising to the top. So, we carefully extracted the bones to take a closer look, sifting and sorting, cleaning and prepping.

Sorting and Sifting: Card Sort Exercise

We decided to use a card sorting exercise and chose an online tool called UsabiliTEST. Participants included members of our Web team, as well as a management analyst from our Executive Office. We all went to work, creating headings, dragging ‘n dropping, and pondering resources to make sure we ‘dropped’ them in all the right buckets.

Five metal buckets in a row.

I expected to see some scattered results since we had multiple participants, all with their own thoughts and ideas about how the site should look. Instead, what I saw was common ground and understanding of how our content should be organized. This was one of the most rewarding moments in the process so far – I could see the structure of a new site coming together! We were now ready to assemble.

Erecting a Structure: Wireframes

After compiling the results and reviewing the top-level headings from this exercise, I could see the structure of a real-life dinosaur… I mean, a fresh and useful Intranet site! Next, we handed over all our data to a Web designer, who in turn did her magic and created our first prototypes, or wireframes. I discovered that by allowing the ‘bones’ to come together through a disciplined and scientific way, that I didn’t need to puzzle about it too much. The formative process had worked and we were on our way to a redesign.

We’re still working on fine-tuning those wireframes and then we’ll tackle some more fun stuff, like determining the design elements and more usability testing. I hope to update folks interested in this process in an upcoming blog post! Stay tuned, and in the meantime, happy excavating!

Karla Blaine has been a Web and Intranet Content Manager for the past 10 years at the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

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