Microsoft SharePoint

"Don't Make SharePoint Look Like SharePoint" – Ouch

Sue wrote last month about intranets based on SharePoint that “don’t look like SharePoint”:

I’m spending this weekend hunkered down with the 433-page Intranet Design Annual 2011 from Nielsen Norman Group featuring what they consider this year’s 10 best intranets. As in the previous several years, about half the winners (5 in the current edition) use SharePoint as a foundation for the entire intranet or a significant component. However, unlike some previous years, unless you read the detailed descriptions of the technology behind these award-winning intranets, you would never know that they are built on SharePoint. I often hear clients say, “I want to use SharePoint but I don’t want it to look like SharePoint.” As these winning intranets demonstrate, with a little time and effort (and money, of course) this is definitely possible.

She talks about three ways to make SharePoint not look like SharePoint – (1) branding, (2) information architecture, and (3) customization.

My Comments
1. In some ways, this is a really weird sentiment. We don’t hear it with other Microsoft products – “I want Outlook, but I don’t want it to look like Outlook,” “I want Excel, but I don’t want it to look like Excel,” etc.

2. Sue’s comments should come as a very strong warning that given (a) Microsoft has created SharePoint as a “platform,” and (b) many people hate / dislike / are turned off by the out-of-the-box SharePoint experience, then it follows that more money will have to be spent to make it work. SharePoint is expensive just to buy the box; doing something with it is going to cost a lot more. The statistic of last year was something like “for every $1 a firm spends on SharePoint licenses, they will spend another $6-$7 to make it work.”

3. SharePoint is not the only tool on the market, and before you go and spend heaps on SharePoint, evaluate the alternatives. If users don’t want to know it’s SharePoint, and don’t want it to look like SharePoint, perhaps you can give them something other than SharePoint.

4. It’s still a weird thing to say.

9 replies »

  1. I agree – and especially when Microsoft spent $17billion on R&D. You don’t spend money like that to have people say “I don’t want it to look like SharePoint”. I don’t see what they big deal is about this, I like the interface. If you are looking for some hotshot branding, go normal web design using HTML or whatever the latest craze is – use the right tool for the right job.

  2. While I agree with the sentiment in principle, keep in mind how happy people are with the basic Google Search interface. People wouldn’t complain so much about the basic Sharepoint experience if it weren’t so hard to learn how to use its powerful basic features!
    Dennis D. McDonald
    Alexandria Virginia

  3. Companies find value in many different things that may not make sense to outsiders. A company’s brand is very important. When they build out an intranet they want to reinforce the brand and feeling of pride with their employees.
    Just because a company is willing to spend extra money changing the look of any software package doesn’t mean that the software has no value out of the box.
    I think your analysis of Sue’s posting totally misses the point. The reason why people don’t ask to “Brand” Excel is because they know that isn’t possible and they have never in the past had that ability to do that with desktop software. However, in the past when a company built a website or intranet they could make it look any way that they want. Users and business managers expect that from almost any web application. Many companies I have worked with feel that the ability to modify the look of SharePoint is a bonus since this means they can build out an intranet, extranet and public facing web sites on a single SharePoint installation. They may not choose to brand their intranet but they can if they want… and they sure do want their public facing site to have a very distinct and custom look.
    I would also like to see you cite your source for the statistic you quoted. The problem with statistics is that anyone can toss them out but unless you fully understand the context they are meaningless. Just because a company does spend extra on SharePoint customizations doesn’t mean that it was needed in order to make the solution work. Many companies find value in small things (such as branding) that others may think was a waste of money. This should not reflect negatively on the tool or be used to scare people away from implementing it.
    Any tool can be expensive to implement if you choose to build on top of it or integrate it into other systems.
    Bottom line: companies need to evaluate the cost of a solution based upon their own requirements and not rely on crazy statistics or scare tactics put out by others.

  4. It’s really not that people don’t like the interface or that it’s not good enough, the real reason is that they want their intranet or public facing site to have the same brand as their business cards, letterheads, exsiting tools.
    SharePoint gives you that ability and generally is not overally difficult (read: costly) if you know what you are doing or hire someone who does.

  5. I don’t think you got the entire point of my blog post. My point is that SharePoint provides a platform “out of the box” UI that good solution designers are expected to configure. In fact, Microsoft made it even easier in SharePoint 2010 with the ability to incorporate themes from PowerPoint.
    SharePoint is very different from Excel or Word – which are tools. SharePoint is a platform for developing web-based solutions that you really need to configure to best meet the needs of your solution users. For example, why leave links in the Quick Launch bar if you aren’t using those features on your site? Users get confused and wonder why they are there if there are of no value.
    I don’t think I’d be hearing the “don’t make it look like SharePoint” request so often if more end users (who often end up being solution designers) were empowered with the skills and understanding of how to design user-friendly web sites. Making SharePoint “not look like SharePoint” is actually pretty easy and doesn’t require a huge investment in branding. However, with a small investment and a good designer, the solutions that you can build are quite elegant and extremely usable.
    I don’t think it’s weird at all – just a reflection of the reality of many, many SharePoint deployments.

  6. If Microsoft had not selected IE as SharePoint interface tool, and instead had an “Installer” as Office or Windows with a dedicated UI just for the SP then no one will complain about SP appearance.