Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Link List Color on Intranets

Nielsen on the color of links ...

Lists of links are an intermediate case between content-embedded links and menu items. Showing listed links in blue or in the site's main link color is the recommended design — and the one most intranets follow.

Web Design vs. Intranet Design
Existing guidelines already tell us how to present regular links; these guidelines also say that link lists can work well without underlining the links. But what about the color of links in lists?

Of course, as a usability specialist, my first answer could be: go ahead and test this design with your own users. The design that provides the best usability is always contextual and determined by two factors: your users and their tasks.

Comparing these two factors in context shows why it's often a bad idea to determine your intranet design by looking at major websites.

First, the users are very different:

* On the public Web, the users are anybody who happens to come by. This is particularly true for the biggest and most famous websites, which must target a broad consumer audience to meet their traffic numbers. In fact, this bias toward the general public is one reason there are separate usability guidelines for B2B sites, which target a much narrower set of business experts.
* On your intranet, the users are your employees, a carefully vetted group of people who know more about your business than the general public and care more about your company (because they work there). Our testing shows, however, that it's a mistake to believe that employees know everything about the business or the company. Intranet designs often fail when they presume too much knowledge. Still, there's a big difference between employees and casual browsers who enter a website from search engines and typically leave within two minutes.

Second, the tasks are very different:

* On the public Web, potential customers compare your company to others they've found on the same SERP, trying to decide where to do business (or simply whom to contact for follow-up information on B2B sites that don't close the sale on the site itself).
* On intranets, employees do their jobs, using mission-critical applications and searching for either established company policy (say, the HR pages with maternity-leave rules) or information that's important to their current project (say, looking up a client's past purchase history).

The difference between random bozos on the Web and highly paid business professionals on your intranet is one reason that community features often work better within enterprise systems than on websites.

Given the differences in users and tasks, it's better to test your intranet than to draw lessons from even the biggest and most famous public websites.
Existing Intranet Guidelines
I realize that readers don't like it when I recommend that they test their own designs; people prefer to be told what works. So, let's try to find out as much as we can from existing research.

First, we have data from our tests of 27 company intranets. One of the resulting reports contains the usability guidelines for intranet navigation. As guideline #42 makes clear, it's essential to ensure a strong visual indication of where users can click. The report offers many screenshots of intranet designs that caused employees to miss features because they violated the guideline and didn't look clickable.

Given this first dip into the data, I'm tempted to recommend that you choose the color blue for list links. But, because no guideline states exactly that, we'll look deeper. The guideline simply says that clickability should be notable, and a heading might be enough to ensure this.

For more detail, let's look at our study of intranet information architecture (IA) , which includes detailed screenshots of 56 intranet navigation designs. The following pie chart shows how the 56 intranets colored their link lists:"    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

Link color in Lists - Usability, User Interface Design

Link color in Lists


Anonymous Pankaj said...

very informative article. its a question many intranet designers would ignore, but has an impact on day to day intranet usage.

8:12 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< Home