Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide


Site Design


Site structure

Site elements I

Site elements II

Intranet design

Site Covers
Intranets: Get in,

get what you want,

and move on.

Most Web sites are designed to be viewed by audiences inside an educational institution or company, and are often not even visible to the larger World Wide Web. While these intranet sites share the same technology as sites designed for the larger Web audience, the design and content of intranet sites should reflect the very different motivations of intranet users.

External sites
External sites are usually aimed at capturing an audience. The overall goal is to maximize contact time, drawing the reader deeper into the site and rewarding the reader's curiosity with interesting or entertaining information. In external Web sites the assumption is that the reader often has little motivation to stay, and must be constantly enticed and rewarded with rich graphics or compelling information to get them to linger within the site.

Intranet sites
Successful intranet sites assemble useful information, organize it into logical systems, and to deliver the information in an efficient manner. You don't want intranet users lingering over their Web browsers, either in frustration at not being able to find what they are looking for, or in idle "surfing" through the local intranet. Allow employees and students to get exactly what they need quickly, and then to move on.

Design standards
In most institutions the use of the World Wide Web has evolved over the last three years from an informal collection of personal or group home pages into a semi-organized collection of sites listed in one or more master "home pages" or "front door" sites. Ironically, universities and companies that adopted the Web early are often the least organized, as each department and group has over the years evolved its own idiosyncratic approach to graphic design, user interface design, and information architecture. But the Web and institutional intranets are no longer just a playground for the local "gearheads." Patchy, heterogenous design standards and a lack of cohesive central planning can cripple any attempt to realize productivity gains through an intranet.

Sun site interface example.

Graphic has been reduced from the original size.   www.sun.com

Navigation: time is money
Sun Microsystem's Internet and intranet sites are models of a consistent, in-depth approach to design for the Web. User surveys show the average Sun employee uses about 12 intranet pages per day, and about two new intranet sub-sites each week. Sun's user interface expert Jakob Nielsen estimates that his redesign of Sun's intranet user interface could save each employee as much as five minutes per week through consistent, company-wide application of design and navigation interface standards. The aggregate savings in Sun employee time may amount to as much as $10 million dollars a year, through avoiding lost productivity and by increasing the efficiency with which employees use the company's intranet sites.

Design standards
All institutions deploying intranets have clear economic and social motivations to develop and propagate a consistent set of design standards for the development of local Web pages and internal information sources. But problems in implementing an institution-wide set of standards are also considerable. Groups and individuals feel they own the "right" to design and publish as they please, and often have more Web expertise and experience than does the senior management. Groups that have used the Web for years already have a considerable investment in their current designs, and will be reluctant to change. University administrations often lack the economic resources to develop institutional standards manuals, and to then motivate academic departments to adopt them. The lack of national or international consensus on what constitutes proper Web design only complicates the matter further.

User-centered design
The list of problems cited above will be familiar to every university or corporate webmaster, and to anyone who has had to sit on a Web or intranet committee. They are all great reasons for doing nothing, but they ignore the most important factor in any intranetthe user. Without reasonable, consistent design standards the average intranet user suffers in confusion, lost productivity, and lost opportunity to fully benefit from the promise of intranet technologies. If you adopt a user-centered approach to intranet design the advantages of consistent graphic design and user interface standards are immediately obvious, and clearly transcend the parochial interests of participating departments, groups, and individuals. If the typical user of an intranet sees more confusion than useful information, no one will benefit.
Without a clear set of design standards your local intranet will continue to evolve as a patchy, confusing set of pages some well-designed, some disastrous, and all just parts of a dysfunctional system. The lack of design standards also limits intranet use by imposing complex design decisions on new users who would like to develop intranet sites, but face the daunting task of developing their own graphic design and interface conventions instead of being able to simply adopt an existing professionally-designed system of intranet standards.


Hildebrand, C. 1997. Face facts: Designing a corporate intranet. Webmaster 1(8): 34-42.

Nielsen, J. Alert Box columns

Sun Microsystems, Inc.

University of Chicago Press. 1982. Chicago manual of style. 13th Ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Xerox Corporation. 1988. Xerox publishing standards. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.
Copyright 1997 P. Lynch and S. Horton,
   all rights reserved. Yale University   Revised January 1997.