Pimp my SharePoint Part II – Beyond Just Colours

Previously I’ve written about branding in SharePoint and the technologies involved. However, there is more to branding than just the technologies used and the colours you want, which was what that post focussed on. Really, it’s more a question of style and content than just colour and pictures. This makes it all a good deal more complicated though, which emphasises the need for proper management of the work and for it to be treated as a proper project.

To recap on the technologies used in MOSS branding, briefly:

  • Master Pages – can change everything
  • Themes – can change the colour of elements and the background images.
  • Web Parts – can change the layouts of pages and some of the appearance.
  • Combination thereof.

The two main technologies discussed in branding are Master Pages and Themes, and a good description is:

[Themes are] Akin to painting a house new colors and changing the pictures on the walls. [Master Pages are] Akin to remodelling the whole house
Heather Solomon

Well, recent experience of branding and some interesting slides by Heather Solomon have driven home some other points. Note that these apply to MOSS but not WSS (which only has ‘basic’ pages). The ultra high level view of what I’ve learnt is:

  • Just saying ‘X days to do branding’ is not a good idea.
  • Branding encompasses more than I’d previously really thought about, both in a business and technology senses.
  • It’s more of a ‘Pick and Mix’ affair than ‘small, medium or large’
  • Specification and scope is vitally important.
  • Therefore, branding should be treated as a proper project in its own right, with requirements, specification, design and testing phases.

More to styling than just Themes and Master Pages.

First off, in MOSS some of the out of the box page content types have some ‘interesting’ page layouts. To understand this, we need to understand those terms.

Page content types define, well, the content type of a page – that is, the content that a page will hold. For example, a ‘News’ page content type might define a headline, subtitle, body and image fields. A ‘Product’ page content type might define a title, description, image and cost fields. And a ‘Job Advert’ page content type might define title, description, contact and approximate salary. Essentially, a page content type is the set of data that an author might fill in when authoring a page.

These page content types then have one or more page layouts. These layouts define many things, but at a high level, they define the layout of the page. For example, you might have a layout for a ‘News’ page content type with an image on the left of the page, and another with the image on the right. The page content is the same – but the layouts are different.

Page layouts can also define styles, and thus affect branding. This makes sense really; layout is also a part of branding and style.

For example, out of the box SharePoint comes with 2 page content types – ‘Welcome Page’ And ‘Article Page’ – and a number of page layouts for each of them. Some of those page layouts define styles that change the borders of the main content area. A normal page title area would look something like:

Normal Page Title Area

Typically, there would be an icon and a title shown in this places marked on this image:

Normal Page Title Area with Notes

However, some pages do away with the title area (marked out in green). They do this by inserting their own styles to reduce the area for the title to being nothing. This results in:

Alternate Page Title Area

The green dotted line is actually where the title area should be. Notice that the ‘View All Site Content’ link is just below the top navigation tabs, as is the top of the main Page Content area.

Thus, from a technical point of view, one can’t really consider the styling of MOSS without considering page layouts and, therefore, page content types.

Branding isn’t just a question of colours, it’s about style

This leads nicely on to the second point that has come out – what are you trying to do with the site? When we talk about branding we talk about colours and logos – but the purpose of a site is to communicate. How information is laid out and presented is the important part of branding; without that your site won’t be usable, and it will fail.

Without content, you don’t have a need for a branded web site
Heather Solomon again

So, before building a site the most important question we have to ask “What is our content?” Only after planning that can a site’s requirements become clearer. Then taxonomy can be designed, navigational structure worked out, and then pages and page layouts designed.

That’s a lot to do, so know what you’re doing…

All of which sounds like a lot of work, and this leads around to the third point – that this sort of work needs to be planned and managed. Requirements need to be gathered, scopes defined, specs written, pages and layouts designed, and then (finally) things built and tested. Just drawing a page and then handing it over to be implemented isn’t enough; this sort of work needs to go through a full project lifecycle (even if it is just to limit the scope of customisations to a small area). For example, a full customisation would involve would involve a new ‘default’ master page, and separate customisation for administration pages, meeting workspaces, blogs, my sites, and wiki sites each. To do all of that would be a Herculean effort (and cost). To reduce this cost, be specific about scope, and manage requirements, specifications and changes.

That’s quite a lot to do!

Conclusions

Previously I’ve tried to define ‘levels’ of customisation required for a rebranding, it is a bit more awkward than that – more of a ‘pick and mix’ than a ‘small, medium, large’. Consequently, you do need to make sure that your branding work is properly planned and managed.

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Pimp my SharePoint Part II – Beyond Just Colours

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