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Is the Future of UI Customizations for Office 365 Doomed?

With the recent TechEd Europe conference being over it has now become public that the official recommendation from Microsoft is to not use Custom Master Pages, Custom Site Templates or Sandboxed Solutions for Office 365 sites anymore.  This was announced in the session given by Vesa Juvonen and Steve Walker: Transforming Your SharePoint Full Trust Code to the SharePoint App Model

In this session they outlined many of the issues we have lamented over in the past months; the fast paced changes and feature roll outs in SharePoint Online are making it difficult for maintenance and consistency.  The changes to the Suite Bar and the new App Launcher are just one example of the frustration that many in the customization world have complained about in the past months.

With this presentation the recommendation to no longer customize SharePoint Online comes again to the forefront, and our dreams of an easy way to perform this task with the Design Manager and other tools seem to have come crashing down to reality.

Oh yes, you read that correctly. No more custom Master Pages in SharePoint Online.

But what about Design Manager, Device Channels, Composed Looks and more Customization awesomeness???

What are the common customizations that you do? Answer this brief survey to help us understand what you customize. (Thanks Randy Drisgill for the survey creation and watching)

So what exactly does this mean for not only us as User Experience Designers and Developers, but for every company that needs and wants a custom brand applied consistently to their SharePoint environment?

Because let’s be honest, one of the top requests from everyone who works with SharePoint is how do we make it look like us and not like SharePoint.  Implementing a custom look and feel for your sites is a popular item and many people are willing to invest the time and money in developing this customization. Sometimes the simple act of adding in a custom header, footer and color scheme can resonate with our end users and give them a sense of trust for the content and items in the sites.

Is the end near?? No way.  At least in my opinion. Let’s talk strategy, options and a potential solution.

First let me start by saying that it is recommended currently that you not develop and implement custom master pages, but it is not strictly forbidden.  You can in fact still develop and apply custom master pages in Office 365.  There are however several factors that you will need to consider and plan for if you choose this approach:

  1. There will be changes required frequently to your brand assets (CSS, JavaScript, Master Page) to incorporate the new features and components of Office 365. A few examples
    1. Sample Suite Bar changes seen in the past 6 months: New links, removal of existing links, height increase, user profile picture display, new CSS classes inserted via JavaScript injection, logo additions and more
    2. Changes to themes: Introduction of new tenant themeing to include the Suite Bar and link color changes; additional composed looks introduced
    3. Delve and Groups – do not use custom master pages or CSS so no branding customizations applied
  2. Much as today, things will appear and change that are outside of your control, so you should educate your users of this possibility and be prepared to make rapid changes if necessary.
  3. Branding development is moving just that direction… development, so be prepared to spend more time with JavaScript, CSS and even the app model.

What other options do we have?

Composed Looks are still a reliable option as well as Alternate CSS (although you will need the publishing infrastructure to apply it or JavaScript injection)

Another option and requesting your feedback on a proposed interim solution.  While we all hope that Microsoft will begin to offer a new method of customizing the UI of SharePoint, how do we bridge the gap of what we have now out of the box and the no custom master page announcement?

Well, I have crafted a potential solution and I’d love to hear feedback from you on it too.  I have already run this idea past quite a few people and have been encouraged that they too think this could work for the majority of our needs.

The plan:

Microsoft maintains control of a set of master pages allowing them to update as they needed but giving us some tools to work with that we can use for branding.

  1. Master Page with Bootstrap framework built in and navigation controls wrapped with responsive needs; 6 – 8 additional blank content placeholders with set IDs that we can use for JavaScript Injection to customize and add in additional components.
  2. Master Page without responsive; 6 – 8 additional blank content placeholders with set IDs that we can use for JavaScript injection to customize and add in additional components.

This gives them the ability to add and edit, but giving us something that we can target for the customizations we want to make in our sites (headers, footers, additional logos, alerts, and more).

So what do you think?  Might this work for you? You will need to use JavaScript injection to fill these placeholders and CSS to position them. But if you knew that they would exist and it allowed the control needed to continue innovation would you use it?

Leave your comments on this blog, tweet me @catpaint1 or reach out on Yammer.

And to hear more thoughts on this idea and more listen to Episode 056 of the Microsoft Cloud Show where I joined Randy Drisgill, Marc Anderson, Jasper Oosterveld and host Andrew Connell to talk about Challenges facing UX Designers in the Cloud.

Do you have Questions?

Have a burning SharePoint question that you are in need of an answer to?  Simply join a group of 16 SharePoint MVPs on Reddit this week.

Come Join us, ask your questions and get answers. More details are below:

Q&A with the SharePoint MVP Experts Chat On Oct 29th @1pm EST or 10am PDT

We are launching our SharePoint MVP Expert Chats again! Have questions about SharePoint 2010 or 2013? Or SharePoint Online? Office 365? Please join us October 29th at 1pm EST or 10am PDT where you can have your questions answered live! We will be using the Reddit Ask Me Anything format. This is new to us but many of Microsoft teams are using this medium now. Please create a Reddit account beforehand so you can be ready to ask questions. More information on the chat and room location will be available on Oct 29th in the SharePoint forum. Hope you can join us!

https://www.reddit.com/r/sharepoint
Hope you can join us!
MVP Experts Participating:
1. Andrew Connell
2. Cathy Dew
3. Doug Hemminger
4. Doug Ware
5. Eric Shupps
6. Gavin Barron
7. John Ross
8. Kris Wagner
9. Randy Drisgill
10. Sahil Malik
11. Sean McNeill
12. Shane Young
13. Spencer Harbar
14. Todd Bleeker
15. Trevor Seward
16. Wictor Wilen

Office 365 Suite Bar Branding – (Pre App Launcher)

In the last few months I have seen and heard about a new option to brand the Suite Bar. This has been a challenge ever since SharePoint 2013 came about both for On Premises and Online.

One of the most common things that I have heard from customers is how to change the colors, logo and text in the Suite bar.  In SharePoint On Premises you can use CSS and Powershell to change the colors and text.

But when you move onto SharePoint Online and Office 365 in general that became much harder to do. You could at first use CSS to simply override the Styles that are used in SharePoint Online, but with a change in the spring, that became a challenge.  Once that change came through you would need to use JavaScript injection to get your customizations into the Suite Bar.

And while that would apply to SharePoint Online, it did not apply across the entire Office 365 suite.  So switching between the various platforms and products within Office 365 would change the Suite Bar across each product.

When the announcement of Office 365 Global Suite Bar themes came across, I was initially excited about giving this a try and stopping all of my other methods for customizing the Suite Bar.

It sounds really easy to work with. Simply set the “Theme” centrally as a Global Administrator from the Office 365 Admin Portal.

CustomThemeLocationCircled

In the Office 365 Admin Portal locate your Tenant Name in the top right corner. Once you select this option you will get a page to fill out the properties.

CustomThemeConfig

From here you can choose a logo, pick your URL for where you would want the Logo to link to; accent colors, text and link colors and other Office 365 logo colors.

As you start to change these you will see colors changing in the Suite bar. 

Let’s go through each tab in the Suite Bar and see how it changes.

Outlook:

CustomThemeOutlook

Calendar:

CustomThemeCalendar

People:

CustomThemePeople

Yammer – Of Course doesn’t apply

CustomThemeYammer

OneDrive:

CustomThemeOneDrive

About Me:

CustomThemeAboutMe

Delve:

CustomThemeDelve

 

But what about my SharePoint Sites?

Team Sites:

CustomThemeTeamSite

Publishing Sites?

CustomThemePublishingSite

 

Well, so there we have it, it applies in some cases, but not in the most important ones. Our SharePoint sites are the location that we need to be able to change the branding the most.  So we still need to use JavaScript to change that now in Office 365. 

Oh and don’t get too comfortable with this, as it is all changing as of today in the Office Blogs announcement of the app launcher. 

Oh well, I guess we will continue to fight the good fight since this feature has only been out in First Release tenants for a month.

Stay posted for info on the new App Launcher once I finally get my hands on it.

A busy little SharePoint Cat

Wow, 2014 has been a whirlwind so far. Between planning SharePoint Saturday Huntsville in February, SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas in March, and planning a SharePoint Saturday in Nashville just last weekend. So many great community happenings and fun things to do.

Now that I have a second to breathe I want to acknowledge all the great people who have helped me, post a link to a new presentation, and note where you might find me next.

First off, I want to thank Microsoft for honoring with the SharePoint MVP designation for another year.  With each year that I have gotten this award I try to do more and more to say thank you to the SharePoint Community.

Now for thanks to people who have helped with different SharePoint Saturday events. SharePoint Saturday Huntsville would not have been a success without Mark Rackley (@mrackley)! And a giant thank you to all our speakers and sponsors.

SharePoint Saturday Nashville would not have been a success without Daniel Glenn, Elizabeth Hutson, Jamye Few, Brian Purdes, and Nesha Lankford! It was a great first SharePoint Saturday in Nashville and we look forward to many new events there in the future. Thanks to all our speakers and sponsors!

You can find my Become Your Own Business Analyst Presentation from SharePoint Saturday Nashville here.

Next up on my SharePoint Travel list is SPTechCon in San Francisco for the Women in SharePoint Panel luncheon.  If you are headed to San Fran, make sure you say hi. I’d love to chat and meet old friends and new friends.

SharePoint Conference 2014–The User Experience Designer’s Edition

The time is almost here when thousands of SharePoint professionals from around the globe descend on Las Vegas. I am honored to be one of the speakers at this years event and am looking forward to sharing my session with you. "SPC203 – Adjust the Perspective with Responsive Designs for SharePoint”

This year at the SharePoint Conference I have put together a group of recommended sessions for anyone who is a User Experience person.  Just some recommendations and things to watch out for. As a UX person for SharePoint there are so many great sessions this year on all the hot topics we need to be prepared for.  So get ready… set…. go to:


Session

Speaker


Date/Time

SPC 203 – Adjust the Perspective with Responsive Designs for SharePoint Cathy Dew 3/4 3:15 – 4:30
SPC 207 – Best Practices for Information Architecture and Enterprise Search Agnes Molnar and Sezai Komur 3/5 1:45 – 3:00
SPC 215 – Tips & Tricks to make the most out of your SharePoint site and Maximize Adoption Laura Rogers and Jennifer Mason 3/5 3:15 – 4:30
SPC 226 – Content Types, Managed Metadata and You Lori Gowin 3/5 5:00 – 6:15
SPC 228 – Deliver Adaptive and personalized experiences for your SharePoint 2013 sites Ryan Sockalosky 3/5 1:45 – 3:00
SPC 229 – Designing and Applying information architecture for SharePoint and Office 365 Agnes Molnar and Israel Vega Jr. 3/5 9:00 – 10:15
SPC 247 – Successful team collaboration with Yammer & SharePoint Steve Hopkins and Agnus Florance 3/4 5:00 – 6:15
SPC 265 – 6 Proven Steps to Get the Best Out of Search in SharePoint 2013 Paul Olenick 3/5 1:45 – 3:00
SPC 285 – No-code SharePoint 2013 Solutions for Power Users Asif Rehmani and Mark Gillis 3/4 3:15 – 4:30
SPC 290 – Branding Internet Facing web sites with SharePoint in the Cloud John Ross, Randy Drisgill 3/4 3:15 – 4:30
SPC 305 – SharePoint Web Templates for on-premises and the Cloud Mirjam Van Olst 3/4 5:00 – 6:15
SPC 311 – Nationwide: Building a World-Renowned Intranet with SharePoint 2013 and Yammer Jeff Schuman 3/4 9:00 – 10:15
SPC 321 – Customizing Search Experiences with Azure Hosted Data and Bing Maps Rainer Asbach and Timo Heidschuster 3/5 3:15 – 4:30
SPC 322- SharePoint 2013 Search Display Templates and query rules Matthew McDermott 3/6 9:00 – 10:15
SPC 326 – Customizing your SharePoint sites using the SharePoint Theming Engine Jonathan Keslin and Lionel Robinson 3/4 1:45 – 3:00
SPC 332 – Overview of Yammer App Development Brian Lyttle 3/4 9:00 – 10:15
SPC 337 – Search-driven Publishing in SharePoint Online Alex Pope and Helge Solheim 3/4 1:45 – 3:00
SPC 339 – SharePoint 2013 Hybrid End-to-End Sam Hassani 3/3 2:00 – 3:15
SPC 340 – SharePoint 2013 Search Analytics Nicki Borell and Thorsten Hans 3/5 9:00 – 10:15
SPC 345 – SharePoint for any screen size: an in-depth look into building responsive web design Eric Overfield and Rita Zhang 3/4 1:45 – 3:00
SPC 351 – Trends in Designing Portals for SharePoint 2013 Kanwal Hipple and Eric Lytle 3/3 3:45 – 5:00
SPC 357 – Developing an intranet on Office 365 Eric Shupps 3/5 9:00 – 10:15
SPC 359 – E-commerce solutions with Dynamics for Retail & SharePoint 2013 Balaji Balasubramanian and Meera Mahabala 3/5 5:00 – 6:00
SPC 365 – Governing & Configuring Organizational Sites in an Enterprise Environment Sean Squires 3/5 3:15 – 4:30
SPC 378 – Make your SharePoint social in 1-2-3! Runar Olsen and Thomas Molbach 3/4 9:00 – 10:15
SPC 388 – SharePoint 2013 Powering Web Sites and Mobile Apps Waldek Mastykarz 3/5 10:45 – 12:00
SPC 390 – Creating Internet Facing Websites with SharePoint on-premises or in the cloud Todd Baginski 3/5 3:15 – 4:30
SPC 398 – WCM in SharePoint 2013 for IT Pros from 0 to Infinity Faizan Khan and Robert Cullick 3/4 3:15 – 4:30

One other big thing at SPC this year is that we are doing another SharePoint Branders Gathering for lunch on Monday. Simply meet us at the Planet Technologies booth in the Expo Hall at noon on Monday and we will all sit together at lunch.  This is a great opportunity to network with other SharePoint branders at the conference and make some great friends for the entire event.

If you would like to be included on the MySPC meeting request, simple comment on one of the Yammer networks (SPYam or SPC14) and allow Meeting Requests on your Profile and I will send you a meeting request.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you again and meeting many more people at SPC. The most important thing of SPC is to not be afraid to come up and speak to anyone, it is your chance to meet and network with any SharePointer.

Viva Las Vegas and see you all soon!

Giving Back to help the Philippines

Being a Southern girl, I understand the devastation that can come from a hurricane, but Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines last week was potentially the worst storm to ever come onshore in history.

Our friend and overall great SharePoint guy Dux Raymond Sy put together a fundraiser that has allowed many of us SharePoint Community members to give back. I have elected to donate some of my hours of free time to this endeavor to help raise money.

So please read the blog, donate and request your assistance from any of the SharePoint experts and MVPs in the list.

http://meetdux.com/2013/11/12/operation-sharelove-help-typhoon-haiyan-victims-sharepoint-experts-will-help-you-rescueph/

I for one am honored to participate in this effort and am hopeful that the number of people perished in the storm is less than originally estimated. Natural Disasters are a horrible experience because you cannot prevent them. My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone affected by the storm.

Branding Presentations of 2013

Wow, I can’t believe that this year I haven’t put out too many blog posts. It seems so strange, but I can certainly identify why. I’ve been quite the busy cat travelling for work and community.

This year I have given a bunch of presentations but wanted to highlight and post the sessions from a few of these conferences and events.

Check out each of the sessions below and learn more about SharePoint 2013 UX.

SharePoint Evolution Conference 2013

I am extremely excited to have been selected to speak at my 3rd SharePoint Evolution Conference in London in April. (Sadly if not for that Ash Cloud it would be my 4th)

This conference is one of my favorites each year and being selected as a speaker is the highlight of my winter of 2012. Many people ask me why I love this conference so much and the answer is simple.

At no other conference that I have attended is so much attention paid to the quality of speakers and sessions that are selected. Each year I am happy to not only present sessions but to attend and learn in other sessions. Not only is the content of the sessions and the caliber of speakers top notch, but this conference also takes excellent care of its attendees. Between the food, the sessions you might think that this is enough, but add to it the top notch social events. Exhibitor reception, SharePint and attendee party.

This is definitely a don’t miss event if you have any money at all in your training budget. And don’t miss out on my SharePoint 2013 branding sessions and those of Heather Waterman and Penny Coventry as well.

Don’t Look Back… Just take a Glimpse and Move Forward

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. okay not so much on the worst side. As I have spent the last few weeks reflecting on 2012 I have realized how many fantastic things happened to me during this year.

Let’s focus in on a few of my top highlights.

A New Beginning

In 2012 I decided to switch jobs and sadly decided to leave Summit 7 Systems. While it was sad to leave one job I was extremely excited to join Planet Technologies and continue to expand my horizons. At Planet I get to engage as a Technical Project Manager, Taxonomy and Governance specialist as well as using my Branding and Design skills for customers. I’m excited to continue to spread my wings and grow my knowledge with a great group of people. And to top it all off, my team is fantastic and I count myself lucky to work with some of the brightest individuals in the SharePoint Community. Miguel Wood, Clayton Cobb, Shannon Bray, Becky Isserman, are just a few of these stars who I have already learned a lot from.

Expanding Horizons

Working as one of the leaders of the Women in SharePoint group is always rewarding. Throughout 2012 this was a continued trend. I was able to participate with a large number of women and men to expand the horizons for this group. As a part of this expansion I was thrilled to participate with Women in SharePoint at both of the SharePoint Technology Conferences (SPTechCon) in both San Francisco and Boston. These luncheon events have really helped to expand the horizons of Women in SharePoint. We even got a new group in Boston formed at the Boston Conference. Our group has also gained traction within Microsoft and were featured in an internal SMSG Women newsletter. We have been really excited to expand our reach into Microsoft and at the SharePoint Conference.

At the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, Women in SharePoint was featured in the Community Lounge and on the SharePoint TV with a panel interview. A big thanks to the ladies who participated in the panel: Susan Lennon, Debbie Ireland, Karuana Gatimu and myself. You can watch our interview on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTkZBkADmKk

This wonderful group of Women in SharePoint never fails to inspire me to continue on. We love to have new groups form and start to form the bonds of mentorship and help with each other.

Friends, Honors, Community and More

One of the things I tried to do in 2012 was continue my focus on the SharePoint community and how I can best help them. This is a big part of why I enjoy speaking at events, working with the Women in SharePoint group, and running a User Group.

Not only was I honored to become a SharePoint MVP this year, I was also given the honor of becoming a part of the newly formed Microsoft Community Leadership Board. These two awards have given me a fantastic opportunity to give back to others in the SharePoint world by helping, learning and sharing my knowledge.  I have enjoyed the last months utilizing them both and hope to continue in 2013 with taking this even further.

I have been honored to speak at quite a few events this year and participate in several conferences. Each of these events become opportunities for me to meet new friends and reconnect with others.

One of the other things I was able to do in 2012 was to release my first CodePlex project with Eric Harlan, Erik Akers and Paul Schaeflein.

What does the Future Hold?

As today is the first work day of 2013 I thought I would include a small bit of looking ahead to 2013. I am certainly looking forward to participating in many events in 2013. The big ones that I know of right now are SharePoint Saturday Virginia Beach this weekend, SPTech Con in March, and the SharePoint Evolutions Conference in London in April.

I am also looking forward to a potential new branding book and some new partnerships for some potential blogs, projects and maybe even community work. With the release of SharePoint 2013 so many options are available that my head is almost literally spinning just thinking of all the opportunities. I spent part of my New Year’s Day building a new SharePoint 2013 virtual machine and making sure my Office 365 environment was ready to go.

I hope to travel to new places, meet lots of new people and challenge myself to learn more than any other year. Those are my personal challenges for this year. I would try to resolve to blog more, but that is a sure fired method to prevent blogging.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” -Abraham Lincoln

So let me know, leave me a comment or send me an email if there is a topic you would like me to write about on my blog or present about at an event. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy SharePointing in 2013 ya’ll!!! Smile

Presenting on Governance at the AvePoint booth at SPC 12

So I have had the great pleasure of working with the group at AvePoint for many years. Working for Planet Technologies who is an AvePoint partner I was honored to be able to present a quick demo at the SharePoint Conference in their demo theater.

This presentation was on the “Top 10 Questions to Ask about SharePoint Governance.”

Here is that presentation.

It was truly an honor to get this opportunity to present and I got some great feedback from the crowd. This was my first opportunity to step out of my branding persona and speak a little bit about the other side of my SharePoint work.

Many people don’t know that I do a lot of Requirements Gathering, Governance and Taxonomy Development. It is fun to split my brain off and move beyond the look and feel perspective into a total User Experience perspective.

To me a lot of the methods and thoughts are the same around both Branding and Governance. When I do requirements gathering and thinking to plan for branding in a SharePoint site I focus on how Users will actually interact with the site.

Approaching a site from a governance and taxonomy perspective is actually a very similar thought process. I have always found that when you talk to users if you talk to them about how they work and what they would like to see instead of in technology terms you will learn more than you could imagine.

That is where this list of questions came from. I hope it helps a few people out.