my world of work and user experiences

October 31, 2011

Just ask the users

Filed under: Usability — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:46

We are about to start developing a new version of our intranet, where we use ‘intranet’ in the broad sense of the word: internal network for communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing and process support. The current version of the intranet is over six years old, so it is about time….

As we do have an existing intranet and we do have employees currently using that, we naturally asked them what they use, like and dislike about it. So we sent out a survey.


We wanted to get results quickly, as input for discussion. And we had no budget for outside help. So we kept things as simple yet effective as possible.

  • A standard SharePoint survey list template.
    Quick to set up and users could easily access it, and we knew for sure it would work on the old IE6 browsers that are still all over the company.
  • As simple and “free” as possible for the user:
    • Four ‘rating scale’ questions: rate several intranet features on a Likert scale from 1 to 5
    • Two multiple choice questions about what they use and what they want
    • Three fields where they could optionally add comments in a free text field
    • Users could answer anonymously, a point we stressed in the invitation.
  • Language versions: We created different versions
    We were afraid that the users who are less fluent in English would not respond to an English language survey, but we wanted to capture their opinions. We had no time or budget for official translators, so I translated the survey and invitation myself, helped by Google Translate and some nice native speaker colleagues.
    Note: Don’t rely on Google Translate! It gives you a nice starting point, but it also give you hideous mistakes in every sentence.

    • The main survey in the company language (English), sent to random users in the UK, Australia, The Netherlands and Belgium.
    • Separate versions in the main “alternative” languages (French, German and Spanish), sent to random users in those countries.
  • Invitation: We sent an e-mail inviting their participation in the different languages (with the names in the hidden Bcc field), in which we explained why we needed their input.


We’ve learned from the results, not only about the way to improve the intranet but also about doing surveys.

  • Quick and dirty works
    We could set up a survey, get responses and interpret them roughly within a week and a half.
  • Free text fields work
    The multiple-choice questions give us quantitative results. But the free text fields told us a lot as well: not only what they say, but also their tone of voice, tells us what they feel strongly about and what frustrates them most. And several users gave us great ideas, thoughtful analyses of the problems they encountered and their preferred solutions.
  • Language versions work
    We worried that the users in the non-English speaking countries would not be using the intranet and therefore be unwilling to respond to the survey. But we received about 30% response from them, including a lot of free text comments, the same as for the ‘standard’ survey. Was that because we asked them in their own language?

Tidbits from the results

  • Search needs to be improved
    Our search has technical problem and it is pretty bad. And the search is always a hot topic in Nielsen’s Intranet Design Annuals (see this previous post). So it is not a surprise that our users are very vocal about the need for improvement.
    “The search functions of is an absolute nightmare.”
    “I do not use the search functionality at the moment, because I simply never can find what I’m looking for”
  • The intranet needs to be faster
    No matter how useful the intranet is and how appealing and user-friendly the pages look, the user will be unhappy if it takes too long before the pages is loaded. If it is too slow, they will get completely frustrated, or just stop using it.
    “If I have to wait for a page to open for at least 15 seconds (or more!), I would only use the intranet if I had no other option, like now. ”
  • Language issues
    As we feared (and as I blogged before), the non-English speaking users would definitely prefer to get an intranet in their own language. We had no multiple-choice question about that, but several people in each language group gave this comment. Including a Dutch participant, who were supposed to be able to handle English without any problems…
    “¡ Intranet en castellano ! ”
    “Meine Anregung wäre, das man alle Seiten in deutscher Übersetzung wählen kann. “

    “Je sais que ce n’est pas forcement evident, mais il faudrait que les communications vraiment importantes devrait être traduite en français.”
    “Please in Dutch should be easey “
  • But we know why we work so hard to improve the intranet
    Fortunately, the results are also encouraging: most people use the intranet multiple times a day and they think it is important for the business, though they all see a lot of room for improvement.
    “Don’t get me wrong, I use all the above a lot, not having these tools available will be a real nightmare. ”

Ok, we have received a lot of useful feedback. Let’s get started with that redesign!

1 Comment »

  1. […] accuracy, but for a sense of the intranet’s usability, what works for the users . In a previous post, I discussed a survey we set up when we started developing a new intranet. That survey was […]

    Pingback by » Just asking our users with a SharePoint Online survey — June 6, 2012 @ 08:23

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress