Thursday, January 25, 2007

Grouping and Ordering Links

On well-designed portals, links are divided into groups, each representing a logical division, based on how users perceive the content. These groups may not be the same as the organization's official departments or divisions. Instead, they represent how the employees perceive the various content and functions to be relative to other content on the intranet.

For example, billing might be handled by the accounting group within the finance department. While it might seem proper to locate the function for checking a customer's billing information under "Finance -> Accounting", employees needing this function may think of it as under "Sales -> Customers" because of how they perceive the sales process to work.

Card sorting is an effective technique for understanding how to group the links. However, teams shouldn't be surprised if employees have trouble organizing content they rarely use or need. (In some of our recent projects, card sorts resulted in employees creating rather large "I Don't Know" or "Miscellaneous" piles, indicating there was much about the intranet content they didn't know how to classify.) In these cases, teams need to ensure the portal's design really explains how employees find the content they may only need once in their career.

Link order is also very important. Well-designed portals put the most important links at the very top and order the remaining links by priority and need. In our studies, poorly-designed portals often resort to alphabetical order, which confuses employees as they expect related links to be group together with the most critical functions near the top.