Planning Intranet Navigation and Information Architecture

By Paul Marcotte
May 11, 2015
4 min read
information architecture

So you’ve just installed your brand new intranet solution and now it’s time to plan the layout and navigation. Where do you begin? Let’s start with an understanding of the difference between navigation and information architecture.

Information Architecture vs. Navigation

According to Wikipedia, information architecture is “the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and find-ability”.

Navigation, on the other hand, is the process of moving from one place to another.

Using the example of building a home, the initial architectural design questions would likely consider the following:

  • How many floors will the home have?
  • How many rooms per floor?

Additionally, the design would consider how you move or navigate throughout the home:

  • How many doorways between rooms?
  • Where will the stairs and hallways be located?

Planning Navigation & Information Architecture

Planning intranet navigation and information architecture are very similar to that of a house. When planning an intranet, one can ask very similar questions, such as:

  • How many Sites will the intranet need?
  • How many Applications will each Site need?
  • How many Pages will each Site need?

We can loosely correlate information architecture for an intranet as the process that solves the question above, or the overall organization of content. Similarly, we can correlate the process of designing intranet navigation with answering questions about how to get from the front door (home page) to the bathroom, or back patio.

Make Navigation & Architecture Intuitive

A good starting point when planning your intranet is to determine the overall site structure and how to logically organize the content within. When you have the architecture plan in place, then navigation planning can happen. The great thing about website navigation is that it needn’t follow the architectural organization as planned.

If an important form is located within a specific application within a specific site, we can link to it globally from the home page, making it accessible to users within one click, instead of three. The point of planning your information architecture and intranet navigation beforehand is to ensure it is as intuitive as possible, so does not require much time or effort for your users to figure out.

Expand Navigation Real-Estate

There also comes a time when the original blueprint or design you laid out for your house starts to feel too small and you become constrained. This can also happen on your intranet. Luckily, with the introduction of Mega Menus Navigation, you are able to increase the real estate of your traditional menu by up to 4 times the original navigation.

Of course, with this opportunity comes the great responsibility to keep your navigation simple and intuitive. You don’t want to link to every page and resource on your intranet just because you can. Review your intranet statistics and analytics to understand which areas of the intranet your employees use the most or even expose areas of our intranet that are not heavily utilized that could benefit your employees further.

Effective Navigation & Information Architecture

Good information architecture and good navigation complement each other in a synergistic way. While both aspects are important to a successful intranet, neither piece necessarily drives the other. In fact, as you build out your intranet you should decouple the planning for each in a way that keeps the organization’s information architecture choices separate from the navigation decisions.

Ultimately, the goal is to hide the implementation choices for your information architecture behind a well-planned menu/navigation system. If you have experience with intranet navigation or information architecture, we’d love to hear about it. Please share your comments below.

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By Paul Marcotte

Paul Marcotte is a lead software developer with close to two decades of experience in a variety of programming languages and technologies. He is passionate about software design patterns, development best practices, and software architecture. He also has a bachelor of commerce degree and is passionate about the big picture of how software helps businesses and users to thrive.