Applying your corporate branding to your intranet design seems obvious. You want the intranet to reflect your organisation’s brand and also make everybody feel part of one company. The brand is usually well-defined and thought out.
But actually the process of applying the design is rarely as straightforward as it should be. This post explores some of the considerations and decisions you may need to make.
Were your brand guidelines designed for the intranet?
Most large companies have detailed brand guidelines which include a corporate visual identity. This may cover elements such as logos, use of images, colour palette, fonts and so on. It should cover how official corporate communications look and are formatted or designed including publications, presentations and digital channels.
When branding and design guidelines are created for digital channels it is usually for the corporate website, sometimes for other prominent external-facing digital channels. However brand guidelines are hardly ever created specifically for an intranet, or indeed modified for the intranet. And there is even less chance of there being any guidelines specifically for other internal digital channels such as an enterprise social network. Even in large global companies with powerful brands there are not always up to date design guidelines for the intranet.
There are three principal problems trying to apply website design guidelines to intranets. These are:
- The audience for websites and intranets tend to be different with different needs
- The guidelines have usually been made in complete isolation to the technical capabilities and constraints of the intranet platform
- The guidelines have also been made in total isolation to the wider set of applications which are accessed or experienced through the intranet or make up the wider ‘digital workplace’
At worst you may have design guidelines which:
- Cannot be applied or cannot be consistently applied because of technical limitations
- Are out of sync with how you want to communicate with your users
- Create a fragmented user experience jumping from a branded part of the site to a non-branded application
Global vs local brand
Another issue in branding intranets is trying to get a balance between global brands and those of particular divisions. In some companies the identity of these divisions may be stronger than the global holding company.
This raises the question as to how global organisations should reference these sub-brands. This is less complicated where there are separate intranets for the main entity and sub-division where both brandings can be reflected.
However in many modern intranets personalisation allows for global and local content to be viewed together on the same page with the choice of content driven by a user’s location, region or function. In this case there are no hard and fast rules, and the choice of branding really depends on the over-arching strategy of your intranet. If you’re trying to build a one company culture for example, then you might want to go with your global brand. If the balance with the sub-brand is strong and you want that preserved, you may want to emphasize that.
Knowing where you are
Sometimes using the same templates and design for internal and external facing digital channels has its disadvantages. This is particularly the case where collaboration platforms are used internally and externally. Although it seems unlikely that a user will accidentally post sensitive material intended only for an internal audience which is then exposed to clients, if there is a perceived risk because environments look the same it can affect user confidence and therefore adoption.
The digital workplace
Another related issue is whether it is important to brand every application within your digital workplace. This may involve third party applications, some of which are held in the cloud. As a rule these are much harder to skin exactly how you want and you may be restricted to using a logo or header. Customisation may not be an option.
In practice users are used to working in applications which are only branded as a product so again pragmatism rules again. At a minimum the application should let the user know they are working in the environment that is being provided by the company. This reduces risk caused by confusion where the same applications might also have instances of non-business or external-facing use, for example in tools like Yammer.
Is all this really that important?
One key question is actually how important it is to adhere to the design guidelines? Of course you may already have fairly loose governance in this area so actually veering away from the branding is common practice. Alternatively you may have a brand police who must inspect the minutiae of everything before it goes live. One (sometimes uncomfortable) question to ask is do the users actually care that much?
How to tackle these issues
This post perhaps takes the perhaps lazy position of posing more questions than supplying answers, but that’s partly because there are no magic solutions or best practices for these issues. Here are however some thoughts on how to tackle the issues around branding your intranet.
Base any decisions on your strategy
In general the importance of adherence to corporate branding depends on what you are trying to achieve strategically. For example, branding will be more important if you are specifically trying to drive a one company culture, perhaps after a merger or if a holding company is strengthening its brand.
However there are even some examples where internal channels are deliberately branded in a non-corporate way to emphasise that a channel is owned by employees or is a break from the past.
Whatever you do make sure branding decisions reflect the bigger picture and your associated priorities.
Take a pragmatic view
Broadly most intranet teams take a pragmatic view. They will skin the intranet in official corporate branding to the best of their ability. However they also may make some concessions to the technical constraints of the platform, and sometimes to budget, if they are likely to accrue significant additional costs to skin the intranet.
Taking a pragmatic view usually means working out the minimum branding that is acceptable and the maximum that is possible. If those two points don’t overlap then you may have to compromise.
Develop specific guidelines which are scalable
Once you’ve worked out what you’re doing, document it. Add intranet specific guidelines which reference your actual platform and haven’t been developed in isolation. Make these available to your site managers and publishing community.
Ideally add guidelines for those developing new applications or using cloud solutions. For these, take a scalable view which has different elements to include but takes into account the different opportunities to skin different solutions. Don’t just produce a “one size fits all” approach to branding cloud applications as it will be a waste of time.
Also remember that some online environments, particularly in Office 365, are becoming viewed as common systems like Excel or PowerPoint, and may really not need to be branded extensively.
Don’t forget the content
A lot of what we’ve been talking about concerns overall branding and templates, but a lot of branding is also relevant at the content level. That not only covers look and feel and use of images, but also tone and writing style. Don’t forget this in any guidelines you produce.
Applying corporate design to intranets isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. It needs to be considered and usually some kind of balanced view and pragmatic view applied. Whatever you choose to do, good luck!