4 Steps to Planning a Great Portal Design

serviceportal Service Portal

Every great portal begins with a well thought through plan. The planning stage is critical to gaining alignment on key functionality as well as gathering insight into what actual users are looking for. Here are a few tips we use to get started the right way.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
-Benjamin Franklin

Step 1 – Clarify your requirements early on

Why? Because changes on paper are the easiest to make.

Benefits of requirements gathering:

  • Gets your whole team involved from the beginning
  • Documents the scale of the project
  • Easier to tackle potential roadblocks early in the project

Things to consider while gathering requirements:

  • How will you gather insights from actual users to help define your goals?
  • Will you need to upgrade your instance to the latest version of ServiceNow?
  • Will you add other departments to your portal?
  • Do you have the infrastructure in place to handle enhancements? (Ex: live chat)
  • How many people will access the portal on tablets and mobile devices?

Step 2 – Make your goals about fulfilling needs

Why? Because good goals inspire change.

Benefits of setting goals:

  • Shifts focus from problems to needs
  • Motivates the whole team to work towards the same results
  • Aligns stakeholders and reduces the amount of subjective feedback later in the project
Bad Goal ExampleGood Goal Example
“Our IT department is overwhelmed with calls so we need to get higher adoption of the portal.”“Most of our users cannot work without the items they have requested. Instead of users calling the IT help desk for the status of their request, we need to speed up the process by making it easy to check statuses on the homepage of the portal”
“The computers are hard to find on the portal. Make it easier to find computers”“Users are having a hard time understanding how to order a computer so we need to create a step-by-step flow from the homepage that makes it very clear where to begin and how many steps there are to complete an order.”

Step 3 – Build empathy with your users through research

Why? Because otherwise you are just guessing.

Benefits of user research:

  • Reveals patterns and unknown insights
  • Defines objectives and tests hypotheses
  • Exposes alternatives and informs conclusions
Research TypeDescription
User Interviews
  • Produces qualitative data
  • Gets into the minds of actual users to understand what drives their specific actions
  • Can take place remotely via phone or web-based video, or in person
Focus Groups
  • Allows for multiple perspectives to be heard regarding the same topics
  • Can take place remotely via phone or web-based video, or in person
  • Inexpensive method you can use to gain insight quickly
  • Can be sent to a large pool of users to gain quantitative information

Caution: Don’t ask the wrong questions.

When doing research, be careful of asking the wrong questions. People don’t always know what they want if it doesn’t exist yet. If all of your user questions require someone to imagine what could make the experience better, they typically will not know how to respond.

Step 4 – Make it visual, but keep it simple

Why? Blockframes and wireframes make design changes more efficient

Benefits of Blockframes and Wireframes:

  • Lowers the bar of design so everyone can participate
  • Removes subjectivity so you can focus on the flow and hierarchy
  • Encourages collaboration and easy iteration



A blockframe is a simplified representation of a portal that consists of large colored blocks that represent content areas.

  • Quick and easy way to flesh out your vision without getting caught up in the details
  • Can serve as an extension of your requirements gathering phase as a visual checklist


A wireframe is a low-fidelity visual representation (typically done in grayscale ) of a portal’s layout, sometimes referred to as a skeleton, or a blueprint.

  • Represents the basic page layout and navigational scheme
  • Shows more detail than a blockframe
  • Can also be easily modified and changed


  1. That’s great information. We are using focus groups for our portal. But as you mentioned we didn’t build it yet. We are asking questions based on mock ups. I think that is not a good idea. We are now facing problems with our scrum management process. Wish I can get some good articles based on the scrum/agile process.

    1. Do a Google search and you will find plenty of great articles on Scrum / Agile… but not sure I understand how that ties back to using mock ups? We create fully interactive mockups using Invision and receive great actionable feedback, however the key is asking the right questions.

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