This article originally appeared as a Design and Usability Tactics e-newsletter.
By Jim Kukral
When you design an informational Web site for a specific audience, you're building a portal. Some types of portals include displays for a Web phone, an e-marketplace, or an intranet.
While I won't be able to touch upon every aspect of good portal design in this column, it's possible to discuss a 30,000-foot view of powerful, useful portal design.
Implementing good portal design
In general, all portals contain similar functionalities that allow the user to collaborate and utilize the available content and applications. The manner in which you implement these functions will affect the usefulness and quality of the finished portal design.
Here are several functionalities and characteristics that define skillfully designed portals:
Subscriptions to content and groups
Portals with specific target audiences often create subscriptions for online content that is distributed to specific groups of users. The expert content solidifies the legitimacy of the portal and provides the user with an excellent experience for the portal brand.
Organization and taxonomy
Defining factors in the successfulness of any portal design are whether the portal is properly organized into content groups and whether the content is easy to find and read. Therefore, you might carefully plan a portal's navigation and directory structure in advance. Failure to organize can spell disaster for information-rich portal sites.
Strong portals allow users to personalize their settings. Personalization can be anything from a custom start-up page or custom directory on login to an automatic notification of new content within a specific group.
Content is king
Portals are only as good as the content they provide. So, regardless of how well you serve up the content through a good portal design, if the content isn't valuable to the visitors, you still fail.
I also think it's important to make it easier for authors and editors to publish content themselves. That said, I recommend building a content management solution (CMS) into your portal design. A good CMS system puts the power of the content publishing into the hands of the actual authors and editors.
Examples of successful portal design
Here are two sites that have portal design down pat.
Jim Kukral has spent the last seven years working in the trenches of Web design, development, and usability for Fortune 500 clients as well as mom-and-pop companies.