Imagine: you’ve been waiting for months to pitch a new, streamlined intranet design to a business leader.

You finally sit down to talk and your heart sinks as they start to outline how scrolling marquees are going to revolutionise their business function.

What if you could point to an example which explains why perhaps their suggestion isn’t such a great idea?

Why Intranet Management is so difficult

I sympathised with Luke Oatham as I read his excellent blog post on “The horrors of devolved publishing”, but it was the throwaway comment at the end which caught my eye:

“I’ll never forget in the early days, the proud publisher who posted an animated gif of his revolving head…”

I’ve seen a lot of intranets. Most are good. Some are excellent. And they’re all managed by highly-skilled, professional people who understand the field to a depth which few others appreciate.

Responsible for a complex, constantly evolving set of tools which touch every area of an organisation, they’re expected to be a step ahead – identifying future technology to fulfil the organisation’s strategy, while tactically supporting its day-to-day work with the existing intranet tools.

And yet, they’re repeatedly forced to listen patiently as members of their organisation line up to explain why their site can’t follow the design standards, why it must work “like Google and the iPod”, have a four minute Flash intro which can’t be skipped and picture of the regional director on the homepage smiling with his thumbs in the air.

The perfect intranet site.

How we learn from experience

It’s just over four years since we started Intranetters – a community of practice for intranet managers – and I first spoke at a conference, the Melcrum Social Media Forum. More conferences followed – J. Boye, Ark Group, KMUK, Econique Business Masters to name just a few – and more Intranetters events and I’ve met many, many people who work with intranets.

I’ve enjoyed all these events, but they all have one thing in common. When the doors close, the stories start. The clients with their ridiculous requests, the misapprehensions, the misconceptions and above all the failure to understand the people, the tools and just what the purpose of an intranet is.

If I sat down one evening to redesign my car, then popped in to the local garage the following morning with my drawing on an envelope and asked them to make a few “tweaks”. Because everyone uses the internet, they believe they understand what makes a great user experience. Unfortunately, this often means Flash intros, mystery meat navigation and animated gifs. As James Robertson of Step Two Designs told Intranetters in 2010, if people aren’t listening to the advice of intranet managers, they’re undervaluing their expertise.

What more can we do?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Dave Snowden and his KM principles, it’s that “tolerated failure imprints learning better than success.
There are excellent resources on the web which highlight good intranet design and poor internet webpage design…

…but I’ve yet to see anything specifically directed at bad intranet design.

So why not create one?

What are the worst ideas you’ve heard and seen? The pointless animations guaranteed to increase “hits”, the awful styles, the unusable navigation…

Send me stories, pictures, wireframes, screenshots… tell me why these ideas were supposed to work. Did you implement them? Or were you able to dissuade the client from a career-limiting mistake.

You can submit anonymously, remove logos… email and I’ll include the best ones at Intranet Disasters.

Categories: Intranet


Tara Clark · July 12, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Our clients have done an amazing job of building out their intranets with content and have even created really unique applications and widgets that inspire and engage their users. However, a common thing that intranet managers do is overload their sites with content. The site should be organized and easy to navigate around for the users. Less is more. It’s a good idea to centralize information for a particular group by using department sites and to link to pages or content, rather then pasting a bunch of words on a page. Catchy titles work in blog posts and articles, why not use them throughout your site to attract attention to users as well?


Adam Pope · July 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

One of our forum administrators disabled the ability for users to create news threads (they could still reply). Then he set up seven new threads by subject; including ‘miscellaneous’. Conversations began and it was fine for a few months.

Six years later, however, each thread has over 800 replies, takes 3-4 minutes to load, is impossible to navigate effectively, and gets returned almost every search. The miscellaneous thread is the worst…

Fortunately it was easy to fix by allowing users to create their own threads again.

Do you want screenshots for the book? Can I present him with an award?

Soozi Hadj Lazib · July 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I love this post. Exactly what I keep saying to (senior management’s) deaf ears – WE are the experts so let us get on with it.

At my firm we’re launching a new intranet where unfortunately the ideas of those managers have won out over those of the KM experts.

For instance, navigation which points to the top level departments rather than at the team level (‘because the department heads want it that way’)

    Richard Hare · July 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    We struggled with that until we convinced a senior manager in HR that all their links should be arranged logically for the people who use the intranet rather than by owner.

    We were able to demonstrate the advantages in user testing with video which is be a powerful tool in this situation.

Ellen van Aken · July 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

Great idea, and actually I have also been influenced by Luke’s post into writing my own horror stories! Great that someone is going to collect them.
My most recent blog post deals with interns on your intranet – why do people think an intern is automatically able to set up a good site?
More stories to follow, not always visual design-related though. You may want to subscribe 🙂

James N · January 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I’m sure you’ll find some interesting stories at to start you off 🙂

Nigel Williams · March 28, 2012 at 5:42 pm

We’ve been running an Intranet improvements suggestions competition and one of the entries has stated “as INTERNET Manager can you change the BBC website back to its old layout”.

Despite agreeing with this I’m not sure how far our user thinks my powers stretch!

Also senior execs who say “just do Facebook” should be herded on a small island somewhere far away from sane people.

IntranetLounge · July 8, 2011 at 9:31 pm

What is the WORST idea for an intranet you ever heard? | Is This Wisdom?…

This article has been submitted to IntranetLounge, a website with a collection of links to the best articles about intranets…

Top 12 intranet blogs of 2011 written by Intranet managers and independent consultants « Interact Intranet is Intelligent Intranet Software · January 11, 2012 at 10:55 am

[…] What is the worst idea for an intranet you have ever heard – By Richard Hare […]

Top 12 intranet blogs of 2011 written by Intranet managers and independent consultants » Interact Intranet is Intelligent Intranet Software · April 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm

[…] What is the worst idea for an intranet you have ever heard – By Richard Hare […]

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