Would you keep paying for Netflix if it looked like your own intranet tool?


UX is just as important for your organisation’s digital offerings as it is for its customer-facing products. Yet many companies, even the ones who design client-facing apps, often overlook the need to create quality tools for their employees, and seldom factor UX into the build as much as they do with external products. The choice to compromise might be because they think they don't have to make as much of an effort, or because they can't see the ROI for an internal-facing product. But this is a fallacy. Just because the ROI isn't clear-cut, doesn't mean internal-facing tools should be any less important.

The ROI on improving internal applications

Ultimately, internal tools need to solve a key business purpose. As the Nielsen Norman Group says: "The proper sequence remains the same as it was four years ago: Business needs drive the required solutions; the solutions then drive the tools you should buy or build."

Unfortunately, the end users aren't usually the buyers of the internal product, so their needs often get overlooked when designing tools that they will actually use. Internal apps are often complex and highly functional, but few consider workflow or intuitive design, for example. Many companies will be placing functionality over UX when designing B2B or internal products. Or they might not even have anyone from UX on that product team in the first place, or involve these people too late in the game. However, when UX is considered an after-thought, that's when a product is going to fall short in terms of usability. And, of course, not all companies have internalised the value of UX maturity and will not be at the same level of the six-stage metric that runs from UX being absent (no UX has been considered) to user-driven (exceptional user-centred design).

A well-designed internal product can both make money and save money. But the ROI doesn't have to just be measured in purely financial terms. Good UX in your company tools can also be directly measured in terms of the time saved in training, in collaboration, more efficient internal processes, the reduction of errors and the maintenance of the tool itself.

It might be a HR metric, too. A company that is higher up the UX maturity ladder is more likely to attract and retain top talent. Indeed, internal and external UX maturity can be viewed as a deciding factor and competitive edge when choosing companies to work for in a particular industry. And in an age when talent acquisition and employee satisfaction and retention is far more important than before, it's vital that businesses factor in what their employees need into their tech as much as possible. Talent is being pickier than ever when it comes to which organisations they work for. Developing a good social intranet, for example, forms an integral part of the employee experience, which is very important in today's competitive job market. More on this below.

So how can you improve the UX in your internal tools? Read on to find out.

Tips on approaching UX/UI for internal tools

  • Take your time with your UX. Try to design for the employee-user in mind. This not only will this help to streamline and optimise processes, it minimises errors in the industry, too. Employees will be better equipped to do their jobs and this in turn will help the company profit and grow. Happy employees = happy businesses.
  • Consider how your internal tool or app will be used and by whom. Employees use tools to get a particular job done. They have a target outcome. Your UX should solve their pain points and make their job easier.
  • Lead with empathy. Have difficult conversations, listen to the answers, and work directly with the end users. Ensure you also understand the vision of all stakeholders, especially management, which is usually future-focused.
  • Understand the needs of the end user. Make sure the person who is writing the business requirements of the project spends time with the end users of the tech to fully understand their workflow and needs. This is where UX design and research really comes into its own.
  • Think about the user journey. Consider the logic and ease of use. As with external tools, minimise clicks, provide a personalised experience, keep designs simple. Make the tool as intuitive as possible.
  • Consult with the user. They're often either in the same building or easy to reach within the company. Let them tell you what they need, involve them in the product cycle and be available to them during alpha testing. Try to recruit users who are most interested in the problem that's being solved.
  • Beta test the product in a wider team. Elicit real, usable feedback and track the usage to see what improvements can be made. This also gives employees the opportunity to see what's being developed and to receive training on the new tool.  
  • Take growth into consideration. Have scalability in mind for the platform, then you can have growth in the future. Also, if you add a new function that helps people now, it might not perform well in the future. Knowing how features will perform in the future can save a lot on development costs.
  • Build in performance analytics from the start. This will measure inefficiency, which will affect business goals.
  • Adopt a user-based approach. Business software can grow into a monster. Redesigning everything can help. Most users are stuck in their own ways of doing things so involving them in the redesign helps them accept and understand the changes.
  • Consider the UI as much as the UX. People want to use beautiful and efficient products. Even if they're using them for work. An easy-to-find CTA, for example, helps users complete a task faster.

Case studies of innovative employee apps and solutions

1. Heineken The Map

When we helped Heineken build an interactive, data-driven career tool called The Map, it had to make sure the UX was on point. The Map was the result of a multidisciplinary collaboration between Hike One, Heineken, front-end experts from De Voorhoede, and data visualisation-specialist Jan-Willem Tulp. We employed an agile delivery strategy to engage employees at every stage of the project.

It started with a Design Thinking workshop with key stakeholders from the finance department, then mapped out the user and business requirements. The first version it tested with employees during the discovery phase was the result of this workshop. It created a data model to show employees' paths and launched it with a pilot group to get some early feedback.

The Map was soon embraced by other departments such as Supply Chain, HR, Procurement, and Marketing, and will eventually be rolled out to all Heineken employees worldwide.

2. Dura Vermeer

The real estate and construction sectors are at a crunch stage in their path towards digital transformation. Adoption of new technologies has been much slower than in other industries but recent events have increased the need to adopt new tools and agile processes. Digital developments in these areas are important and very exciting.

For our client, Dutch construction developer Dura Vermeer, we created a custom-centralised project management tool for to help them manage their operations, logistics and accounts of their construction plans. We believe that, when designed with the genuine needs of the user and business in mind, digital tools can significantly enhance the future of the real estate and construction sector.

We understand the challenges the construction sector faces and we ensure our approach is focused on addressing the necessary operational changes as well as developing new technologies. Before building the tool for Dura Vermeer, we researched all the pain points of the different users, ran design sprints to validate assumptions and created a solid technical proof of concept. UX research and testing ensures the new digital tools get to the heart of the problem, deliver the right solutions, for the right people, at the right time.

3. The value of UX in building social intranets - Canadian agency Klick

The ROI on building an internal social tool can be measured with metrics such as time saved in meetings, collaboration or social events. As Nielsen Norman Group explains, "The Canadian agency Klick, for example, was spending too much money on weekly status meetings. Developing an intranet collaboration solution for these reviews resulted in annual cost savings of more than $300,000. (A very nice ROI, given that the feature cost $53,900 to build.)"

Social intranets have become something of a growing trend in recent years. Companies hope that Internal communications systems will play the role of Twitters of Facebooks and create a sense of community within the workplace. But they can also help with things, such as disseminating company information and resources. However, according to Nielsen Norman Group, it takes around 3-5 years for the community aspect within social intranets to really gain proper momentum. Some employees will participate and contribute more than others, as with the regular internet. Therefore, designing the UX so that everyone can feel they play their part is key. As NN advises, "You can, for example, pre-populate news feeds with relevant information; if you offer users a blank screen to customise, they’ll often experience the social-media equivalent of writer’s block."

Author and UX consultant Christian Crumlish is clear on this: "Allow the place to be what the users want it to be."


Internal apps benefit from good UX just as customer-facing apps do. Some organisations are excelling at creating digital tools for their employees that help them do their job. Others require more help, a complete redesign, or an off-the-shelf solution. At Hike One, our designers use a human-centred design process to build the best products possible for the end-users. Which means your employees are happier and more productive, and hopefully stick around longer. Who knows, maybe we can even design you the new company Netflix?!

Photo in header by Photo by micheile dot com on Unsplash

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