SharePoint Designs – Keep it simple, but don’t go cheap

Let’s face it – OOB SharePoint has very ugly UI.  It is plain, boring and colorless.  I am by no means a design person (quite frankly, if it weren’t for my house having it’s own ‘out of box’ design too it, it would be relatively plain and boring itself).  I am one of those many people that can only tell you what I like/don’t like once it is in place.  Thankfully we have designers that thrive off of making sites (and houses) colorful, attractive and appealing to the naked eye.  The one problem, however, is that both clients and designers alike can get a little too excited about design without thinking about maintenence once the design is in place.  Perfect case in point – putting rounded corners on web parts.  I am not sure what started the trend – it is definitely prettier – but this is probably the most  common request I get across the board.  This looks great when first built, but the problem is it isn’t extensible.  As soon as you want to add content to these boxes,therefore  expanding the part, it breaks the site build.  While not impossible to do (knowing HTML/CSS this can be managed), the typical end user finds this impossible to manage and you lose an important part of what SharePoint is here to do; you suddenly require a developer to make the updates rather than doing it yourself.

Another request, while understandable, is to keep the design implementation as cheap as possible (of course, this is after the design has been determined).  Oftentimes this can be done by using content editor web parts.  This seems like an obvious solution, and sounds simple on it’s surface to update (it allows the user to insert content of almost any type – links, images, text, photos, etc) and all the site builder/dev needs to do is stylize the part.  The problem again is in order to keep this part looking nice the end user must know HTML.  Also, they will have to always go into the web part to edit, and they will have to be very careful with the size of the content they are adding so as to not cause the site build, again, to ‘break’.  I would recommend one of two alternatives:

1. Use a design that compliments the OOB web parts (i.e. a lone video viewer web part, a seperate links web part, announcements web part, etc)  this can still be stylized, but it works with SharePoint rather than trying to invent your own combined part.

2. Use lists that pull in data to the parts.  While more expensive, this is much much easier to the end user and a much more sustainable, and clean solution.  This is a dream come true to the end user.  We have used this solution anywhere from pulling data into Featured News silverlight parts to modified Team Announcements on a home page.  What this means is:  the developer/site builder will implement styles on the pages so you can have your fancy design.  The site/page owner will go to the list as indicated by the dev.  They will simply select ‘add new item’ on their list.  Based on the design, they will then add whatever content is needed (photo, description, title, etc) and save.  The end user never actually touches the part! This process will populate the ‘fancy webpart’ on it’s own.  No worries on breaking the design, no knowledge of HTML and no formatting necessary.

Also note, what I have seen happen many times with trying to take the ‘cheaper route’ of content editor parts or even hard coding HTML on the page, is that this actually ends up being a more expensive solution, because they end up realizing that they can’t update and need to find a dev to make the udpates for them.  Alternatively, they ask to have the entire page re-done, the ‘right’ way.

Three of the biggest recommendations I hope you can take from this when brainstorming on design/budget for your SharePoint site:

  • Do NOT use rounded corners on your design
  • Avoid Content Editor web parts unless you know HTML
  • Cheaper initially does not always mean cheaper in the end

You can see all sorts of examples on our company site

I hope this proves helpful and best of luck on your site coming to life!

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