SharePoint, This Old House Style - Interior Design, DecoratingWelcome back! This blog series is devoted to pointing out some of the key enhancements that SharePoint picked up in the last 10 years.

If you’re still treating SharePoint like the web based file share it was in 2003, it's time for a reappraisal.

In part one we covered some of the base enhancements for capacity and information management. Those foundation elements make sure you have all the “right” documents, and far fewer obsolete ones. Today, we turn our attention to the user experience.

No More Blue Boxes

Literally. SharePoint “branding” used to be a more esoteric science of hand tooled features and CSS files. SharePoint 2010 introduced the seldom-used ability to define custom site themes by using PowerPoint. That was an interesting step (no one ever used it), but now you can make key changes directly from the browser using Composed Looks.

With Composed Looks, a site owner can restyle a site with custom layouts, fonts, colors and background images. You get to the editing screen from the Site Settings menu option. Or just pick “Change the look” from the setting “gear” icon in the top right of the screen.

By default, you’ll see that you start with about a dozen looks. But each look actually contains many font sets, color palettes and layouts. For example, below is the Immerse Look. I’ve used a custom font (Century Gothic), but switched the site’s layout to Oslo to give the floating window look:


Adding that background image is the easiest part. All you have to do is drag and drop a preferred image to the box in the left hand navigation bar. You also have a chance to preview the look before applying it to the site.

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One of the constant criticisms I hear about SharePoint is that it still “looks like SharePoint.” To be fair, it was too easy to just let SharePoint proliferate page by page with nothing but a sea of blue boxes -- largely because custom branding was not a power user feature.

I like this design -- but it’s not for everyone. This site is used principally to aggregate information from multiple sites, so it acts as a “catalog.” We wanted the look and feel to be a little more polished -- but that much background imagery might not work on a heavy collaboration site with lots of lists and other busy components. Still, those sites can be restyled with a consistent look and feel.

SharePoint has also added support for more sophisticated page layouts. You can edit master pages and layouts in other applications, like Dreamweaver instead of FrontPage, and nothing substitutes for professional development when sophisticated user experience and interface changes are required.

It’s a strongly recommended adoption technique to not call your farm “SharePoint” -- custom host names like “KMANet” or “Cramerville” put the focus on the information, not the platform. Similarly, DON’T stick with the default look and feel. Decide on a look that better reflects your brand, and stick to it.

Coloring the Documents

We’re not talking about actually painting the documents. But in 2003, most documents were “classified” with file names like “Presentation-Mktg-June30-CathyFinal-ProjectAuburn.” That helps if you’re looking at the document itself. But how do you find it to start? How do you know to search for “Auburn” -- or worse, “Mktg”? There’s a lot of variability between any two users about how they name documents.

Managed metadata was introduced in 2010, and it provides an answer. You can define key elements of your “taxonomy” in one central place, shared across farms. If you have five departments, you can enter them all as tags and then use that definition anywhere in SharePoint users might be asked to fill in a department:


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More importantly, you can also add synonyms. What if someone wants to name a Marketing document “Advertising”?  Synonyms will gently steer people to the “right” managed, curated term, helping improve accuracy of document metadata. And it’s the ability to drill into specific documents with precision that makes it possible to build robust management and search processes.

For example, if you want to find all contracts for IT, you could lose a lot of sleep running full text searches for IT, I.T., MIS, InfoTech, etc. Maybe you’d find half the documents, and the rest wouldn’t be relevant. If you wanted to manage document's expiration with some of the document management features covered in the previous article, 50 percent precision isn’t enough. You might expire or move a bunch of documents in error -- so you can’t really automate processes that are counting on filenames or full text being the “right” way that you expect.

And those classifications can be used in searches -- without even intending to. I’ve combined the custom looks and managed metadata below. We’ve created a user friendly site that automatically consumes and searches for tagged documents, regardless of where they live on the farm.

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Now you have a site that users like -- with documents they can find. But that’s not all. SharePoint 2013 lets users take those documents offline, share them in a personal cloud, and even work on them live with multiple editors at the same time. We’ll cover those options in part three of the blog series, coming next month.

Title image by Mediagram (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Looking to get your SharePoint house in order? Read the first of the series SharePoint 2013, This Old House Style - Moving In and Living Together