Enabling User-Centered Navigation

Slalom Consultant Aaron Hursman

Former Slalom Consultant Aaron Hursman is a user experience architect who applies user-centered design principles and techniques for his cients. He has a background in web development and enterprise applications and enjoys participating in the social web.

Organizing site navigation based on user needs versus based on internal organization structures is a major step towards creating an effective user experience and enhancing findability.  However, it can create some security/ownership complexities.  This is why organizations rarely bother doing it.  They might understand the benefits to their audience, but they can’t stomach what is required to think through these complexities or how to support them.  They would much rather align their content to their internal departments, so they can simply apply security permissions using people from within those departments.  Practically, it can be very difficult to both a) organize content based on user needs/tasks and b) use departments to define content ownership.

In researching this dilemma, I came across some great articles from Step Two Designs:

Based on these articles and my own experiences, here is a practical approach I would recommend to clients:

  1. Identify just a few key roles from each department that will be responsible for content authoring/review
  2. Fill these roles with real people (this will change over time as people leave, change roles, or the organization is restructured)
  3. Create a ‘community of practice’ made up of these people and an intranet manager
  4. Train the members of this community: a) get them intimately familiar with the task-based organization of the site (what goes where & why it is important); b) grant them fairly significant content authoring access (they need shared ownership of the site content); c) help them understand the implications of their raised security permissions (risks & responsibilities)

So, move forward with that site redesign.  Maybe you already knew that you should organize it based on user tasks, but now you know how to make it happen!

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