Waffling on SharePoint Design

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I know a handful of folks in the SharePoint community who are, undoubtedly, experts on SharePoint branding and design, and Randy Drisgill (@drisgill) and John Ross (@johnrossjr) are two of the definite leaders (with a shout out to my good friend Eric Overfield, as well!). SharePoint’s design– and thoughtful planning of the user experience – continues to be one of the major factors impacting end user satisfaction with the platform, and so knowing that Randy and John had been working on a SharePoint 2013 book (with Paul Stubbs, I should mention), I was eager to get my hands on a copy.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to read a technical book that is secretly an ode to waffles?

imageNow, to be clear, I may be a SharePoint MVP, but I am not a developer or an engineer of any kind, but consider myself more of a power user and occasional admin. My background is technical project management and product management, but I’ve worked with SharePoint long enough to put some of their design guidance to work.  I should also point out that while reviewing this book, yes, I made and consumed the waffles shown. Because that’s how I roll.

If you’re looking for a desktop reference on SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online branding, then you need to purchase a copy of SharePoint 2013 Branding and User Interface Design. First off, as a former industrial design major, I was pleased at how colorful and visual they had made the layout. If you’ve read many technical books, you know how dry and visually unappealing they can be. This book is organized as both a step-by-step guide to accomplishing specific design tasks, but it also provides you with the terminology and background details you need to navigate the platform.

The book is divided into four sections, covering the basics of branding using the SharePoint interface, planning for WP_20140103_001your design (requirements, wireframes, the new Design Manager, and how CSS works in the platform), advanced topics like creating master pages and composed looks from scratch, and then other branding concepts, such as HTML5 and responsive web design.

I’ve seen literally hundreds of SharePoint sites, and believe me, people need this book. Randy, John and Paul cover all of the important updates within the 2013 release, including how to take advantage of the new Design Manager, how to utilize cross-site publishing, how to create device channels to support multiple devices WP_20140103_003and user experiences, how to set up content catalogs to streamline how users author and edit content, and how to make the most of the powerful new Content Search Web Part. Another topic they tackle is some of the nuances of branding for the SharePoint Online (SPO) platform – with many of these same principles applying to SPO, but as they mention, some aspects can be a moving target as Office365 has an “evergreen” update model that could impact how the platform works. However, SharePoint on prem and online come from the same code base, and while they may be different sales SKUs, they are fundamentally the same product, and much of what you learn in books like this can be applied across both platforms.

Now, migration of what you develop for one does not necessarily map to the other – but that is a topic which the boys did not tackle here.

The primary benefit of spending the time and resources on good design is more than an argument in favor of clean aesthetics and pretty team sites. There are plenty of well-designed SharePoint sites (at least visually) that suffer from the same end user adoption and engagement issues that many of us experience. But good design is also about automation and consistency, so that you are better prepared for the organizational and information architectural changes that are bound to happen over the next year, allowing you to quickly make tweaks – or major changes – to your SharePoint environment to keep up with these inevitable changes.

Thanks to Randy and John for the copy – I’ve already put it to good use! Appreciate it, guys.

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Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.