SharePoint is many things, but out of the box, beautiful isn’t one of them. The boxy design and shades of blue isn’t ugly per-se, but do little to inspire adoption and enthusiasm.
It used to be said that it was too hard to make SharePoint beautiful, but the following selection of examples show otherwise (you can read more about making SharePoint beautiful in our latest report, Best practices for SharePoint intranets):
(Whether you think all — or any! — of these designs is “beautiful” is naturally a matter of taste. The key thing is that each has a clear design and brand, beyond the out-of-the-box SharePoint look-and-feel.)
SharePoint 2010 provides much better tools for tailoring the design of sites, including a range of point-and-click options. These are OK, but limited, and most intranet teams will want to go beyond this.
Lynne Warneke, an experienced SharePoint implementer, outlines the situation:
Plan carefully and budget accordingly! Branding SharePoint 2010 is ‘easier’ than branding the previous version, 2007, but it’s still a complex and involved process if you want a unique visual design that’s a significant departure from the out-of-the-box look & feel. And, as with all things involving SharePoint customisation, there’s a right way, and a wrong way.
When deploying a new intranet on SharePoint, and developing a visual design, therefore:
- Start with clear brand goals. Start by defining the overall intranet brand, and use this as the foundation for the design process.
- Understand the technology platform.SharePoint has its own way of managing delivering sites, that is more complex and technical than many web content management systems. Like all technologies, the best outcomes are gained by understanding the product well, building on the strengths and avoiding the weaknesses.
- Get the right designer.Visual designs must be designed with SharePoint in mind, so they fit with the technology platform, and don’t introduce bottlenecks and performance issues. (There is little value in a beautiful design that costs a million dollars to implement.)
- Get designers and technologists in the same room.Typical website and intranet design processes involved getting a designer to produce a Photoshop file or HTML template, and then “throwing it over the wall” to the developers. This works poorly for SharePoint, so get both groups in the same room from the outset.
- Target effort for the greatest impact.As shown by the examples above, even fairly small changes to the basic template can have a large apparent effect. These include changing the top banner, updating the colours, and tweaking the standard layout elements.
- Manage the effort.Obsessively tweaking the smallest design elements can be hugely costly and time-consuming in SharePoint, and can impact on upgrade options. So be clear about when to “call it quits” on getting the perfect design.
- Ensure designs are accessible. Within the limits of SharePoint itself, all intranet designs should meet accessibility standards, including basic considerations such as colour contrast.
To wrap up with more advice from Lynne Warneke:
In conclusion, make sure you are working from the outset with people who know what they’re doing with SharePoint, heed their advice, be prepared to accept the application’s idiosyncrasies and work within its ‘limitations’, have enough budget to realise your vision, and within all the constraints, do have fun turning SharePoint’s corporate charcoal interface into something that will appeal to your intranet users. From experience I have learned that a more beautiful SharePoint can positively impact user adoption.