SharePointlessness Rotating Header Image

I Walk the Line

There seems to be a recurring theme so far this year.  Everyone wants to up their game and increase their value through marketing and a redesign of something.  As I work in each of these areas I find this trend intriguing. I have always had a curiosity about what drives people to want to make a change.

As we start off 2012, and I delve deeper into this world of magic and sparkles, (yes I said sparkles because I keep getting asked for pop, and bling in design) I wonder where does the line between what you need and what you desire blur.

Designing for SharePoint (or really any web platform) is an interesting world. It is full of pitfalls and obstacles that require at times someone with catlike agility or the determination of a U.S. Navy Seal to overcome the challenges. It is all about making form and function work with pretty and well designed. And determining which side of the line you would prefer to stay on.

There are some universal truths that no matter which side of the line you normally stand on that bring us to walking down the straight line ahead.

By answering these 5 questions you will start to gain insight into the actual drivers for the project.  Some of biggest hurdles that I face when designing what the client “needs” vs “wants” is lack of content definition and lack of a clear purpose.

1. Define the purpose: What are we hoping is our end result? Communication, Collaboration, both?

There are different design considerations for different site types. When working on an intranet most likely you will have to split your attention between communication and collaboration. This means you are really straddling the line of pretty vs functionality.

Example of want vs need:You might want a fixed width site, but the site’s primary purpose might be collaboration meaning you need fluid/dynamic width.

2. Identify our primary target audience: Who are we communicating with or targeting for collaboration.

Audience is a huge component in branding. We need to know who our audience is in order to understand how they will interact with the site.  Will they be using the site daily, weekly, monthly, hourly? Are they visiting to absorb information or to collaborate?

Example of want vs need: You might want to create a navigation that is determined by organizational structure but visitors are using the site for business driven tasks so you need a business factor driven navigation.

3. What defines success?

How do you measure the success of your site? This is a very important goal to define when working with branding. Knowing the driving factors behind the site whether visual or not will help you to determine the emphasis to put on certain factors like: navigation, content placement, images, brand, and functionality.

Example of want vs need: One of your success factors is increasing the number of documents put onto your site for storage, but you make uploading too difficult by burying links under other items. You need to focus on how to bring attention to the upload areas and desired behavior of the client. This is a need for function over design.

4. Who is creating the content?

It is hard to think about how to visualize content when we don’t know what the content is in the first place.  This is a major difference in working with SharePoint as a web development platform.  SharePoint is content and user centric in design.  Understanding your content and who is creating this is essential to a successful site.

Example of want vs need: You want to make the Ribbon scrollable on a collaboration site to save space, but you really need to leave it fixed to the top of the page so that users have access to the actions they need to perform on content within your sites.

5. What is the budget for the project?

The second biggest hurdle is always budget.  We always want Filet Mignon on a Ramen Noodles budget.  So then it becomes a challenge for the designer and developer as to how to add the right mix ins to the Ramen to make it as satisfying as a juicy Filet.

Example of want vs need: You want to provide dynamic content in your sites, you design the site with concepts like tabbed content controls and custom jQuery in mind. What you need is to focus more time on the navigation controls so you should be looking to use some of the Out of the Box components of SharePoint to provide this dynamic content.

Don’t overlook the value that the Out of the Box SharePoint components can play in your site design with just a very minimal amount of customizations.

Which side is the right side of the line? Should I be walking the straight and narrow right down the middle? It depends is my favorite answer, because honestly each situation is different.  


Answering these questions will provide you with information that you can use to guide your user interface and user experience. Great user experience is about taking chances and finding new ways to present the same information in a new way.

Walking the line is a challenge. So whether you are a tightrope walker, an acrobat, or someone pulled over for suspicion of DUI… walking the line requires balance and stability. So make sure you examine and analyze the details that your users and system requires before you take your first step.

One Comment

  1. Gil Spencer says:

    Great Post… I think a lot of these questions need to be asked even near the beginning of even deciding to go with SharePoint and not after (as can often be the case) there is an issue with adoption or they they see the look of the deployement and don’t like it. Branding should be one of those areas to talk about before deployment, along with the other essentials like Taxonomy (which also gets overlooked in the beginning conversations).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *