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Intranet Web - new interface challenges

By Richard Whitehand, October 2001

The title of this editorial is the same as that of an article I wrote in 1997, published on the web exactly four years ago this month.

In 1997, web-based Intranet applications were a new phenomenon, fraught with many user interface design problems. Problems which designers still face today, often made worse by the huge quantity of material now accessible through Intranets in large organisations.

Four years later, the content of the article still applies and is quoted below. (I have, however, taken the liberty of correctly naming the reference to ISO 13407, which back in 1997 was in early draft form).

  • ..."The development of World Wide Web (WWW) interfaces generally tends to be regarded as 'something different' and experience indicates that web developers rarely, if ever, use existing guidelines for traditional software interfaces.
  • Intranets (as opposed to the Internet) are 'Webs' within organisations and can be used for many purposes, from information dissemination, filling in travel expense forms, to full interactive applications for project work, etc.
  • These 'intranet webs', due to their work-related nature, are covered by standards such as ISO 9241 (Ergonomics of Office Work with Visual Display Terminals) and ISO 13407 (Human-centred design processes for interactive systems). Thus recommendations and guidelines in these standards should be applicable to intranet sites.
  • However, whilst the principles inherent in current software ergonomics guidelines are relevant, they are oriented towards traditional software interfaces. Also, WWW interfaces introduce many new issues in interaction between computers and users. Hence current guidelines can require interpretation and adaption to be of most use to developers."

Today, few large organisations have properly addressed Intranet development and introduced a common user-centred design approach and/or guidance for interface development. All too often there are a large number of incoherent sub-sites and sections to the Intranet, hugely differing in design and user consideration, with the inevitable negative impact this has on the productivity of staff in the organisations concerned.

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