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Five things your designer needs to know about SharePoint

If you are a User Experience Designer working in the SharePoint world, chances are you have been asked whether you can make “SharePoint not look like SharePoint”. There is still scepticism relating to the use of SharePoint for public websites and how much control we have over branding as it applies to the user interface. The truth is, SharePoint is a great platform for delivering public facing websites which have that highly sought after ‘wow factor’.

ERMA Website


The following pointers provides some insight and a few tips and tricks to help you get started.

1. The role of the designer

As a designer you play an extremely crucial role. Not only are you tasked with creating stunning branded user interfaces that are usable, accessible and a pleasure to use, you also act as a conduit between the business, end users and developers. Designers must more than ever be evangelists for User Experience Design (UXD).

There is more than enough information available regarding UXD, however there are not many resources of this content as it applies to SharePoint. One of the reasons for this is that originally SharePoint was focused on collaboration. The challenges of working with SharePoint in its infancy combined with the design customisation limitations made it very difficult to focus on User Experience Design(UXD). SharePoint 2010 has dramatically changed this and we finally have the platform to incorporate UXD.

2. Know your customers

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before. A successful user interface focuses on customers and their tasks. This is pivotal, and too many developers do not have the skills or insight to create a good user experience. For a SharePoint project, the inclusion of a designer is a must.

3. The design process

You can follow one of any number of processes when designing the presentation layer for SharePoint. You will already have one. However, I would suggest that you consider an Agile approach. For most people the user interface is the product. The bottom line is that they don’t care about fantastic lines of code or the size of your server farms. All they want to see is the user interface.

4. The business context

In order to get the most out of SharePoint you must first establish the business context and what level of investment you are designing for – i.e. low (out-of-the-box), medium (new theme and CSS) or high (full custom interface). You can then tailor your design effort (and budget) accordingly. You need to define if what the client is asking for is actually what they need – i.e. “I want SharePoint but I don’t want it to look like SharePoint”.

4. Making SharePoint Look Good

Typically the greater the investment, the fewer restrictions there are around what you can achieve from a branding perspective. At the high end of the spectrum a fully customised SharePoint front-end (i.e. custom master

page, page layouts, theme/CSS and web parts) is no different than designing for any website on any platform. All the standard best practice usability principles apply. At the end of the day what SharePoint produces is HTML and CSS, which as designers and developers, we have direct control over. Designers no longer need to flee at the mere mention of “SharePoint”. With the proper knowledge and tools, designing for SharePoint is no different than designing for any website or application. The bottom line is that you need to establish the business context and design accordingly.


Find out how Intergen’s User-Centred Design approach can benefit your web or application project.

Contact Mark Delaney at mark.delaney@intergen.co.nz

This article first appeared in out SMARTS magazine. Sign up for your copy here.

Posted by: Mark Delaney | 13 July 2011

Tags: SharePoint, SMARTS

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