A common misconception for people who are entirely new to the SharePoint environment or for those who are transitioning from older versions of the platform is that SharePoint is unattractive, flavorless, or “Microsoft-y.”‘ And they’re right to a greater or lesser degree, at least if you’re just looking at the out-of-the-box version.
There are a number of restrictions with regard to the look and feel of certain of the administrative functions. And proper development (in the visual and operational senses) requires in-depth knowledge of the platform. Much like any other platform on which you might work, in the hands of a developer with lesser skills the visual impact of a SharePoint implementation is utilitarian – it’s a tool that looks like a tool.
But if you’re working with someone who has the experience and skills, SharePoint can be designed, branded, and developed just like any other website. It can even be beautiful.
Don’t settle for ordinary
Any SharePoint execution is ripe for better design, no matter what its end purpose might be. Think through the most common types of SharePoint builds:
- Enterprise Portals & Intranets: Role-based portals and intranets can be highly personal environments. But more than that, they’re often the internal face of your organization. They should be warm, friendly environments that engage your employees and further your cultural aims. They should be highly usable, presenting a user interface that welcomes the individual – which is why we rely on UX-led SharePoint design here at DEG. And, of course, they should simplify and streamline your business processes, be easy to use, and achieve high engagement and adoption rates – all of which are goals that are more attainable in a better designed environment.
- Business-to Business Portals: B2B user experiences should provide their customers with an easy and intuitive way to access information and engage with your organization. While an elegant, well-designed environment makes your portal more usable, it also presents a professional, polished front to those companies you do business with.
- Customer & Consumer Portals: If an intranet is your internal face, then your Customer portal is your all-important external face. You want a well-designed portal for all of the same reasons that you want a well-designed website – the two should be either identical or closely related partners from a visual standpoint. Your portal should make it easier for your customers to do their business with you while simultaneously providing a positive, integrated, and seamless extension of your brand.
Intranets and portals built on SharePoint provide a unique environment and set of distinct challenges when it comes to designing for user experience. Often times, internal teams are improperly viewed as not needing tools that look and function as well as public facing products and services; however, studies have shown that well-designed intranets spur job satisfaction and increase performance.
With regard to intranets and portals, the challenges they pose lie between the more sophisticated and heavily branded brochure sites that the public views and the call center applications that are built for utilization and productivity. Intranets and internal portals streamline processes and open the communication channels when designed with the users and brand in mind and not the business executives and departments leads alone.
Toward that end, you must apply the same creative processes to SharePoint environments that you apply to websites built on other technology platforms. You don’t have to accept the defaults that Microsoft has given you. Sure, your implementation will require more time and attention, but the result is far superior and will go a long way in satisfying the end-users and boosting engagement and adoption rates.
Without a doubt, Microsoft SharePoint is an amazingly powerful, flexible tool for organizations. It is a boon for communications of all kinds, business processes, document management, sales, and a host of other functions. And if you think the only drawback is that it isn’t pretty, well, welcome to a new age.