IBM’s intranet information architecture is not good enough for you; nor is Microsoft’s. 

Trap Number One: Looking Outward

When redesigning an intranet or portal, there is a natural inclination by some architects and consultants to reinvent the IA to best reflect what others have done, or simply copying what has worked for "best practice" or "award-winning" intranets. This of course is the most dangerous trap.

It doesn’t matter what Microsoft, IBM or Google has for their intranet, and how they structured their IA, your organization is not theirs. No outside consultant or architect could truly appreciate and know intimately the culture and the formal and informal corporate nomenclature as those who have worked for an organization for years.

An effective information architecture best reflects the most common vernacular of the organization -- the most used or common words for describing things.

Information architecture is essential to a successful site. An IA provides a content blueprint for navigating the intranet. It is the science of labeling and placing information where it can be found and reused easily -- and quickly.

Information architecture (IA) is mostly science with a hint of art. As it relates to the intranet, the IA is best represented by a site map or organization chart of the major information or content categories (parents) and the sub-categories (children) and how they all relate to each other. IA is generally defined as the content structure of a website or intranet, or the structure or framework for how content is categorized and labeled in relation to other content. In short, IA is the art and science of structuring, labeling and categorizing content.

And yet, most intranets fail to understand the most critical component of effective intranet information architecture -- employees need to construct the information architecture. This is not to say they literally take-up the physical architecting, but rather must be involved in the process, and formally engaged for feedback via interviews, testing and card sorting.

An expert should craft the final information architecture, but not without first intimately knowing and understanding the common vernacular, language and specific needs of the employee audience.

Trap Number 2: Getting Cute

Intranetz.jpgAnother poisonous trap: cute labels.

The antidote: old, tired labels that everyone knows should be kept.

@Work, MyPlace, MyWork -- all new age labels for the same old category, HR (Human Resources). Why on Earth, if there’s been an HR section on the intranet for 8 years, would anyone rename it MyWork?

A tried, tested and true label replaced with something a high-priced consultant only dreamed up the night before represents a major mistake. Go with what you know, with what employees know; old labels may seem tired, but if everyone knows and understands it, then it should be left alone.

When redesigning the intranet, stick with what works: tried, tested and simple. And for god’s sake, don’t be cute about information architecture.

Image repurposed from original by Linn Currie (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Toby not only talks the talk, he walks the intranets walk. Read more with Building a Social Intranet