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SharePoint 2010: Brand your SharePoint sites

SharePoint 2010 comes with sufficient branding features to help you apply your corporate branding standards to any type of SharePoint site.

Steve Wright and Corey Erkes

Adapted from “Pro SharePoint 2010 Governance” (Apress, 2012)

Before starting a branding initiative with a new SharePoint environment, it’s important to understand the needs of the business and its requirements around branding. As with any other project, gathering and analyzing requirements is essential.

It’s important to involve stakeholders up front in the process, especially those who could potentially influence the project in the later stages. This will decrease the chance for those painful, costly changes late in the game that can cause larger issues.

Most companies have branding standards. These typically consist of guidelines on the colors, fonts and logos the company uses. Obtain these guidelines as early in the process as possible. Not following them from the start could require some rework down the road.

A common approach to determining branding needs is to create a wireframe of the homepage, and any supporting page within the environment that doesn’t follow a typical SharePoint layout page. The goal of these exercises is to determine what level of SharePoint branding is needed. Determining these needs up front might save lots of unneeded customizations to master pages or CSS files later on.

Multilingual support

In today’s global world, sites within your farm may have to support the local language at the farm’s location. SharePoint 2010 uses language packs for both SharePoint Foundation 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010.

Every Web front end in your farm will need the appropriate language packs installed. Installing language packs lets you create new sites in a local language, as well as translate the existing site’s interface based on the language the user chooses as the default. After installing the language packs, the Multilingual User Interface appears with a language settings option in the site settings menu of each site.

If multilingual support is a requirement within the environment, it’s important to plan for it accordingly. Ask the following questions:

  • What languages need to be supported?
  • What variations will you need?
  • What elements will require language pack support?

Supporting multiple languages in SharePoint 2010 isn’t complicated, but proper planning and determining the level of language pack integration are necessary for successful implementation.

Publishing and branding

When you’re considering your organization’s branding needs, it’s important to know which version of SharePoint with which you’re working. SharePoint Server 2010 includes the Publishing feature, which is helpful for branding projects for the following reasons:

  • Publishing lets you create templates for page content known as page layouts. Content authors and designers can edit page layouts.
  • Publishing gives you better control over the navigational structures, especially if you wish to change them from the SharePoint UI.
  • Publishing lets you easily change the master page.
  • Publishing give you more flexibility with themes, even letting you apply the theme to a site and all sub-sites at the same time.

Even if you don’t wish to use the Publishing feature throughout the entire site, it’s a good idea to create the top-level site collection using the publishing site template. This allows for easier manipulation of the master page and supporting CSS.

Publishing also lets you delegate work. For instance, if you have a SharePoint developer working on the master page while an interface developer works on the CSS, they can do this work independently and later have it pulled together and published through an approval workflow. The workflow could include key members from the marketing team and those necessary to ensure you’re meeting company brand standards.

Types of SharePoint sites

You typically deploy SharePoint in one of three types of Web sites: public-facing Internet sites, internal-facing intranet sites or a combination of the two (an extranet). The use of each site varies, and therefore the branding of each type of site will also differ.

  • Internet sites: These sites are typically driven by marketing and often tightly controlled. Very few users are allowed to publish content. Because they’re public-facing, they display a strong company brand and follow strict publishing guidelines. Site administrators can’t control the type of browser or the screen resolution that will be used to visit the site.
  • Intranet sites: These are typically geared toward internal employees to help them collaborate and work more efficiently. Intranet sites typically have less corporate branding but more content publishers. Because these sites are internal, the company controls the browser and sometimes the screen resolution of the users accessing the site.
  • Extranet sites: These sites are hybrids of Internet and intranet sites. They typically have a separate area into which an external user will need to authenticate. Depending on the need, the extranet may be branded to cater to the company with which your company is doing business. However, these types of sites are typically used more for collaboration, so extensive branding might not be needed.

Types of browsers

Another important decision you’ll need to make is to determine which browsers will be hitting your SharePoint site. While this might be easy if you’re administering an intranet site, it’s obviously more difficult for an Internet or extranet site. The popularity of browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari changes monthly, so before undertaking a branding effort, we recommend that you visit a site that publishes browser statistics.

SharePoint 2010 doesn’t support older browsers such as Internet Explorer 6. If you’re supporting an internal SharePoint site and determine that users are still hitting your site with Internet Explorer 6, it might be helpful to display a message stating that their browser isn’t supported and it’s time to upgrade.

Work with your internal infrastructure team to ensure that browsers supporting SharePoint 2010 are standard, or will be available to those users that interact with SharePoint 2010. For a complete list of features supported within each version of Internet Explorer, visit the Microsoft article on planning browser support.

Branding trends

While developing the brand and layout of a new site, it’s important to be aware of trends with other popular public-facing sites. While your brand might be unique, the layout and structure of the page should be familiar to users that visit other popular sites. These companies have spent time to understand branding trends and to research how the users view the different sections of a page when it first appears.

For instance, take Facebook.com or Bing.com. Notice how the user sign-in information is in the upper-right corner. Notice how the logo appears in the upper-left corner. These are common trends across public-facing Web sites, and your users will expect the same from internal sites as well.

Review the sites you visit often and see if this holds true for those sites as well. To get a better idea of how some trends are being utilized in SharePoint sites, check out these examples of SharePoint 2010 public-facing sites. You’ll notice that these Web sites follow the common layout patterns as described earlier.

Branding breakdown

Given the different elements involved in a SharePoint effort, it’s important to understand all the options for creating a branded SharePoint site. Typically, you can break down SharePoint branding into three major approaches, ranging from simple to complex. As the branding scope increases, so do the skill sets needed to complete the branding effort. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the three branding approaches:

  • Low effort: This approach uses out-of-the-box SharePoint master pages, CSS files and themes to create a simple SharePoint branded site. SharePoint 2010 provides 20 out-of-the-box themes and two master pages to provide limited branding. This approach won’t require any additional skill sets or resources outside of the SharePoint administrator to apply the theme or master page. This approach is typically used within intranet deployments where collaboration is the main focus and you don’t need to spend time enhancing the look and feel.
  • Medium effort: This approach utilizes the out-of-the-box SharePoint master pages, but also custom or alternative CSS files to provide a more customized brand. This effort might also include custom theme development, which is much easier to create in SharePoint 2010 than it was in SharePoint 2007. This approach is common for intranet sites that require a more customized look and feel. For those larger deployments that focus on content publishing, this level of branding effort might be considered high. It will require a person with Web design experience, or at least experience with CSS files, to create the custom CSS files needed.
  • High effort: This approach includes custom master pages, custom CSS files and potentially custom page layouts. This approach is common for public-facing sites or those internal sites that require a more polished and directed look and feel. This effort will require someone with traditional Web design skills or knowledge of how master pages work in ASP.NET.

Using themes

Now that we’ve talked about the different levels of effort depending on the branding need, we’ll discuss each of these topics in more detail to get a better feel for the needed branding approach. SharePoint themes are by far the easiest option for creating light branding on a SharePoint site. Themes let you apply 12 colors and two fonts to any SharePoint site. Microsoft completely revamped how themes work in SharePoint 2010, making theme creation much easier than it was in SharePoint 2007.

Unlike in SharePoint 2007, where theme-related CSS files would be added after the core CSS, SharePoint 2010 actually looks for a special type of CSS comment. Then it injects the CSS into the core CSS, so the browser only has to load one file. SharePoint 2010 themes don’t have the ability to define an image, in contrast with SharePoint 2007 themes.

SharePoint 2010 simplifies the theme-creation process by letting you create themes directly within SharePoint. You can use Word 2007, Word 2010, PowerPoint 2007 or PowerPoint 2010 to generate a Microsoft Office THMX file. These applications provide the 12 colors and two fonts as well, which are then packaged up in the THMX file, uploaded into SharePoint and applied to any site.

After you’ve created the theme, simply navigate to the Theme Gallery at the site-collection level and upload the newly created theme. After uploading and saving the theme, it will appear in the Site Theme menu as an available theme you can apply to any site.

SharePoint 2010 gives you a number of themes out of the box. While you might find one that exactly fits your needs, it’s more likely that one or more of these will come close without being an exact fit. It’s possible to take an existing theme and change any of the 12 colors or two predefined fonts.

Similar to how master pages work, if you create a site with a publishing template, you can apply the theme at the site level. You can also reset all sub-sites with this new theme as well. Themes within SharePoint 2010 are self-service, meaning someone with the appropriate permissions could apply a new theme or make changes to the current theme. While this may seem like a good idea, letting users modify themes can cause a branding disconnect between sites and raise issues in terms of not following corporate standards.

Themes are clearly an effective and straightforward way to apply branding to your SharePoint sites. Determine the corporate standards and work within those standards, and the SharePoint branding features can help you give your sites a clean and consistent brand.

Steve Wright
Steve Wright is a senior manager in Business Intelligence Management for Sogeti USA LLC in Omaha, Neb. Over the last 20-plus years, Wright has worked on air traffic control, financial, insurance and a multitude of other types of systems. He has authored and performed technical reviews for many previous titles covering Microsoft products including Windows, SharePoint, SQL Server and BizTalk.
Corey Erkes

Corey Erkes is a manager consultant for Sogeti USA LLC in Omaha, Neb. Erkes has worked with a wide range of companies at different points in the lifecycles of their SharePoint implementations. He is also one of the founding members of the Omaha SharePoint Users Group.

©2012 Apress Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Apress. Copyright 2012. “Pro SharePoint 2012 Governance” by Steve Wright and Corey Erkes. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit apress.com.

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