What's wrong with SharePoint Branding?

Joel Oleson asks an interesting question:

Why don’t we have a community around our masterpages and themes?

It’s a good question. I can download a million and one WordPress themes, but very few SharePoint ones. Why? Well, I like to answer a question with another question, so here’s a few:

  • What’s the market? Who want’s ’em? Well, amongst our customers, corporates mainly. These are the chaps who have expensively developed corporate brands. Off-the-shelf brands and themes aren’t going to meet their expectations.
  • Are there small organisations? How many small/non-corportate SharePoint systems are there? The reason so many WordPress themes get written is that there are a lot of WordPress bloggers out there, and lots of hobbyists. How many SharePoint ones are there? Yes, WSS3 is inexpensive – but to work with it, you’re raising the bar on technical expertise requirements. Most blogging plaforms – simple. SharePoint – colossal. And SharePoint Designer costs money – most of the other’s need NotePad, or have a built in editor. Once you’ve started to get into spending money like that, either companies go with the out of the box branding (“we just want the functionality”) or pay (“it must be our brand”).
  • Why is it so freakin’ complex? Core .css is 81Kb and 4350 lines long. That’s before you start looking at the other CSS files that you typically need to change – like Controls.css, Calendar.css, Portal.css, DatePicker.css, the HTML editor ones, the menus … ! My styles directory holds 220Kb’s of CSS! Compare that to a WordPress blog. I get why designers and hobbyists build WordPress themes – but what sort of masochist is going to write a SharePoint one for fun?
  • Which Master Page? The Default Master? What about the Meeting Workspace Master? And, not wanting to scare anyone, but Application.master and Simple.master, which you can’t change (but can redirect – with code). And your users will see pages that use the Application.master – document upload, recycle bin, viewing all site contents. So a ‘new master page’ is not just one, it’s many, and it takes technical cleverness to replace some of the master pages involved. Most designers are into technical cleverness – nor should they be, it ain’t there job.
  • Themes? Themes are good, but limited – there’s no out-of-box way to apply them to a hierarchy of sites, and they can’t make major structural changes to pages. Sure, they can be used sometimes, but again, takes technical expertise. And they don’t style the Date Picker; for some obscure reason, it’s not coded to support themes.

So, I guess in summary, it’s too complex for the typical design crowd, and way beyond the general Web Dev hobbyist community. Most of the designers who can do this sort of work are already doing so – for large companies who pay to have their brand, and don’t want an off the shelf one. I mean, I reckon I can rebrand a SharePoint site pretty completely – though I’ve never tried My Sites (another complexity!), and by the time I’ve done the images, the styles, changes to the master pages, tested it all, wrapped in a feature, you’re looking at, well, days, probably more than a man week, for someone who knows what they’re doing, isn’t aiming for accessibility, and is clear about their objective.

All in all, it’s harder than it oughta be.

What's wrong with SharePoint Branding?

4 thoughts on “What's wrong with SharePoint Branding?

  1. erugalatha says:

    SharePoint branding sucks … I don’t care what Heather Solomon thinks!
    1 man week? For a complete branding exercise in SharePoint? You’re talking at least a month in reality. For examples, check out Hawaiian Airlines or Glu.com … somebody lost a lot of sleep branding those sites but they did an excellent job. It was probably ridiculously difficult though.

  2. Oh yes, totally! I’m not talking about those big WCM projects – I reckon a week or so to have something that looks like SharePoint, but with different colours. Think ‘like themes’.

    A full Web Content Management project – totally different kettle of fish. Blood, tears, sweat and gray hair. Months of time, too.

  3. John Moore says:

    Branding in SharePoint is definitely far more painful to implement than in an application like WordPress. However, for the majority of SharePoint implementations it is sufficient as most are internal facing or light-weight semi-private portals.

    If Microsoft wants SharePoint to be considered more often for consumer facing applications it will need to focus on this area. Generating a template editor that enables users to easily brand their sites should not be difficult and it would provide immense value to customers, and to Microsoft.

    John Moore

  4. Well… yes. Mostly. It is interesting that to make WCM sites most of the implementations I’ve read about/been to presentations about have had to gut SharePoint or heavily modify it with Control Adapters, etc.. So your point about customer facing stuff rings true.

    But as for internal facing stuff… yes, it can be done. It ought to be easy though.

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