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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.

Starting out 2012

As I was sitting around trying to decide what to start out 2012 with when it comes to my blog posts I decided that I would go ahead and edit both my About Me page and my Design Portfolio page. 

This allows me to share some of my work with all of you and gives me some feedback on what people are looking for.

Please check out those updates and give me some feedback.

Catherine Dew Resume 2012

SharePointCat Portfolio

Also I am excited to announce that I will be working with a stellar group of people to create some great sessions for the International SharePoint Conference in London in April of this year.  Be sure to register to attend this conference if you can. It is one of the best shows that I have ever participated with, and we are excited to introduce a new format this year that is solution based.

International SharePoint Conference London 2012

If you can’t make it to London, but are going to be at SPTechCon at the end of February, please come find me and let’s chat.  I am not speaking, but am happy to be attending the conference to hostess a Women In SharePoint luncheon. This lunch will give the ladies who work in our industry a place to gather and discuss hot topic issues that we face.

I’m working on my speaking schedule for the rest of the year, so keep an eye out for me in a town near you this year.  And if you have requests, please let me know about those and I will try to accommodate them. (Simply comment on this post with those requests)

There is also a new blog post quite soon on the horizon titled “I Walk the Line” about designing SharePoint sites for “what people need” and not just “what they want”.

SharePoint Saturday the Conference–Recap

Let me start this blog post out with a gigantic thank you to all the organizers and sponsors for this amazing event! Without all of their hard work and dedication to the SharePoint community this event never would have happened.

Next up, a giant thank you to everyone who attended this event.  I am always surprised at just how many people come out to learn about SharePoint. And I am humbled every time someone comes to hear me speak.

At SharePoint Saturday the Conference – DC I was able to present a full day workshop: SharePoint Branding 101.  This workshop was exciting for me to try and fit in as much branding goodness into 6 hours as I could.  It was certainly a challenge.

During the day we discussed a full range of topics from Requirements Gathering for Branding all the way through to Implementation and Deployment of Features.

Now that we have all had a moment to take a breath and recover a bit from this very full day of branding learning. I wanted to post out a few things for you.  First up are the slides from the presentation.  Hopefully they will help some of you out as you approach projects in the future. (Thanks for the feedback from a few of you I helped already, it certainly makes me happy to share)

SharePoint Branding 101 Presentation

I really enjoyed spending the day with those of you who were able to join my session in DC. I look forward to meeting many more of the SharePoint Branding intrepid over the next few months!

I am sorry for the delay in posting this.  I also wanted to add a quick listing of helpful tools and items I mentioned in the session.


Balsamiq Mockups – This is a for purchase application, not free

Visio Graphic Stencils – These are a free download

Visio User Interface Stencils – These are for purchase, not free.

SharePoint Design: (both of these are great and a huge undertaking for both of the creators!)

Starter Master Pages Courtesy of Randy Drisgill – A Gigantic Thanks to Randy

SharePoint 2010 CSS Chart Courtesy of Heather Solomon – A Gigantic Thanks to Heather

Every Problem has a Solution, Even SharePoint Branding

When working with SharePoint branding you often run across the problem of how to properly deploy your work. The best practice for deploying branding is to put it into a feature by creating a wsp.

But what is a wsp or Solution file and how do we create this.  Most of us who are Designers first and SharePoint people second, might never have heard of a wsp before SharePoint.  Let me explain the advantages to using a Solution file.

Creating a wsp for your SharePoint Branding will allow you:

  • Easier ability to troubleshoot site errors. You can turn the feature off and eliminate your branding as the root cause of problems
  • Make it Managed Code, which makes our developers happy and allows us to have a versioned copy of our files.
  • Easier to Update. Having all your files in one package will give you the ability to more easily make changes and updates.
  • Provides a greater sense of control. You can enforce policy around your site branding and even change the behavior around things like new site creation.
  • The other big component is where your files are located. Solutions will allow you to place the files for your branding on your server instead of in the content database.  This will help with performance and page load times.

These are just a few of the reasons that we deploy SharePoint branding as a feature.  But what exactly is a feature and how do we create this mysterious thing.  If you are a developer or have a staff of developers you can enlist their help in creating this.

The long and short of it is, that a solution for SharePoint branding is made using Visual Studio.  In order to make this transition you should set up a solution in Visual Studio much like you would if you were writing a web part. 

I have attached a sample wsp and Visual Studio 2010 project file to this post. You can use this as a basic sample for how you might start to set up your very own branding solution. This sample solution is being provided to you in conjunction with Paul Schaeflein, SharePoint MVP. I am not a developer, so I had to enlist some help to properly form this solution file.

Sample Solution

There are some big tips in working with solutions and moving your files into a proper SharePoint 2010 Branding solution. If you are anything like me, you will have worked your initial branding development using SharePoint Designer.  When it comes time to move your files into Visual Studio you will find yourself asking what is the best method.

I have found that simple exporting your files out and importing them into Visual Studio leaves you open to what I affectionately refer to as SharePoint Designer Gobbledygook. (Yes that is my very own fun technical term) SharePoint Designer is a great tool for working with SharePoint branding, but it has a tendency to create issues when it comes to moving your files outside of it. 

My favorite method for moving files from SharePoint Designer into Visual Studio is to simply copy the code out of your files in SPD and move it into a simple text editor like Notepad. Then when I have Visual Studio open I will create blank files and copy my code out of Notepad into these blank files.

Once you have done this you will still want to check for that gobbledygook. This can come in many formats. The most common are hard returns in the files or the insertion of some SharePoint Designer specific file characters in the head tag and !DOCTYPE declarations. This extra information can and will cause problems for you. So you will want to remove this as you find it.

Working with Visual Studio and SharePoint branding can be a bit of a challenge for those without an understanding of basic SharePoint development, but it is not impossible. Once again, I am providing you with a very basic SharePoint branding solution that you can start to see how it works.

Sample Solution

And again, thanks to Paul Schaeflein for helping me out and writing a solution and agreeing to allow me to share it with all of you.

SharePoint 2010 Branding & Design:Begin at the Beginning

There are so many blog posts running around in my head at the moment that I am struggling how to start this first one out.  I am simply going to go back to my third grade teacher who once told me, “Just Begin at the Beginning” when I was excited one day to tell her a story. So here goes…

SharePoint 2010 Branding and Design is a wondrous world full of new ideas and new challenges. But what does this mean to those of us who design sites to make SharePoint look not like SharePoint? It simply means that we are beginning a new adventure and will learn many lessons along the way.

In the past months I have been on a crazy journey of speaking engagements and conferences. But in the midst of all of this I have been in the trenches working on new SharePoint 2010 branding for clients as well.  In this process I have encountered a few things that really made me scratch my head.

SharePoint Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Ark … Problems with the z-index

Today in Lesson #1 we are going to talk about just one of the small things that has driven me up the wall trying to track down, but in the end once found just made me sit back and think, well that was simple but it still doesn’t make sense why it must work this way.

What do you do when you have a site all redesigned and one element, in this case it was the Welcome Menu dropdowns that just don’t work the right way? The menu items were dropping down behind another element on the page. It just isn’t right I tell you.

So in digging around, looking at custom CSS classes and my custom Master Page I started my quest. I really did kind of feel like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark as the movie starts and he is running from the giant boulder that threatens to crush our star while he is searching for the golden statue.

I examined the Welcome menu, all seemed to be in place, I checked the Z-index css class and made sure that element was set to display above other items. So what could this problem be. Next option, check the z-index on the other css classes of the Welcome Menu itself.

You see, the z-index and SharePoint 2010 and internet explorer have known issues. Their sessions with a therapist have not been successful yet, in fact they may be headed towards a divorce, they are already separated.

But there has to be a solution to this Welcome Menu dropdown problem that is simple and in my sleep deprived brain I am just not making the easy connection. After much debate and trying to change the z-index out on each element I finally locate the solution. I grabbed the golden statue and ran for the exit.

But wait, what exactly was the solution you ask? Well, you simply have to find the <div> that is the outer container for the element that you were looking to set a z-index on. In my case the <div> was the custom right top menu that contained the search component, the social notifications, and the welcome menu. Once I added a higher z-index on this element, for me I set z-index:9999 it worked perfectly. No more dropdown problems.

This is just the first of many issues with z-index and SharePoint 2010, but I wanted to share this one first as it is a simple fix that we can reuse many times in the future.

It’s that special time of year again…

Conference season! I know these days there is always some SharePoint gathering for you to take part in. I started writing this post as I sat on an airplane heading to the Best Practices Conference in La Jolla, CA.

If you are looking for a great conference to attend check out any of the 3 upcoming conferences I’ll be participating in.

The Best Practices Conference was March 7-9th in La Jolla, CA.  The Women in SharePoint group will be bringing you the BPC via live blogging. Check out the live blogging online at Women in SharePoint website

I will be posting recaps and session slides here on this blog site soon. But it might be after the next two conferences.

Next on the schedule is the SharePoint Connections Conference in Orlando, FL. This conference is action packed and starts on March 27 and runs until March 30th. While at this conference I will be speaking about SharePoint 2010 branding and how to successfully plan for a design project.

Just one short week after the Connections Conference I head off to London for the Best Practices UK Conference.  I’m really hoping for no Ash Cloud this year and that I actually make it to London. 

Make sure to check back here on my blog site for fun updates and presentations.

I will also be heading up to Baltimore in May to present at the Baltimore SharePoint User Group.

After all that travel, I’m getting tired just thinking about it. If you are attending any of these events come say hi, I’d love to meet you!

It’s a SharePoint 2010 year, but Wait it is 2011

This year is off to a great start! I am even committed to blogging more this year.  You will see at least one blog from me each month here this year and I will try to do more that that.

First off, the book that I have worked on with a great team of people is now available on SharePoint 2010: Six-in-One 

Secondly I have been on the road already this year teaching the second session of the new Mindsharp SharePoint Designer 2010 course.  Next up I venture to the frozen tundra of the northern states. But those snow boots I bought sure did come in handy as I was frozen in Atlanta this last week.

Oh and if you are wondering where you can find me soon… Well I will be speaking at the Best Practices Conference 2011 in La Jolla, California. Then I will be off to the Connections Conference in Orlando, Florida. And finally over to the Best Practices Conference in the UK in London, England.

So much fun and exciting stuff going on in this year already. So if you haven’t lost your breath already trying to keep up with my schedule, keep an eye out here for some great SharePoint 2010 Branding information over the next few months.

And Happy New Year to you all!

Women in SharePoint

In the past few years that I have been honored to be a part of the SharePoint community I have noticed an increase of women becoming more involved. This group of women have inspired some of us to form a Women in SharePoint group.

You may ask yourself why we have formed this group, to me it seemed like a great next move. With so many women in the community how do we continue to grow as well as encourage young girls to look into IT and SharePoint as a possible career path?

By forming the group we will have a better community platform to support and encourage women and girls. We will now have groups of other women to reach out to with questions or concerns as well as to gather in person for support and encouragement.

The new Women in SharePoint Board: Becky Isserman, Kathryn Birstein, Lori Gowin , Karuana Gatimu , and myself have already had our first event representation at SharePoint Saturday DC in May.

Our next big outing is at the Best Practices Conference in Reston, VA on August 24 – 26, 2010. At this conference the Women in SharePoint will be handling the live blogging and twitter stream for the conference. We are excited for the opportunity to spread the message of women pursuing careers in SharePoint and the men of SharePoint who have had strong women as influences in their careers. If you are interested in helping out with the live blogging at the conference please register at:

So be on the lookout for Women in SharePoint and how you can help us with our outreach programs to women and girls in school.

If you are interested in the group please check out our site at: and make sure you email us at to join our mailing list.

Best Practices Conference is coming up!

I’m going to be at the Best Practices Conference, will you?

I am excited to have been accepted as a speaker for the Best Practices Conference in August. This time there will be no ash cloud from speaking at my first major conference!

After all DC is a driveable distance from Alabama!!! I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to participate in this event.

And not only will I be speaking in the regular conference sessions, but I am joining some of the other Summit 7 team in the post conference session.

So make sure you register to attend this great conference and come listen to me talk about some great SharePoint branding information that you will want to hear about!

And if you are bringing a laptop with you, please help out the Women in SharePoint group by signing up and helping us Live Blog the conference.

What a crazy year!

Wow, many of you may have wondered where I have been. I haven’t written anything new for you on here for a long time. I am truly sorry for that and I intend to make up for it.

So it has been a crazy year so far in 2010 for me. I changed jobs, moved and am working on a new book project. I have barely had time to breathe.

But now that I travel more again I can get back to my blogging on planes habit. What can you expect from me?

Well I’m going to finish my design series and even give you information on branding for SharePoint 2010 as well.

I’m working on my branding section of the SharePoint Six-in-One book for Wrox due out later this year. I am blessed to be part of a great team of writers and we are all giving you our best expertise on our individual parts of SharePoint 2010.

Where can you come see me? Well I will be at the Baton Rouge SharePoint Users Group for their August meeting. (the 5th I think)

Next up is the Best Practices Conference  in Washington DC August 24- 27. I’m speaking on branding there and also working in the Summit 7 Systems booth and with the Women in SharePoint group.

After that I will be at SharePoint Saturday Baltimore again (fingers crossed I will be speaking).

 And I plan to head out to Vancouver in September to speak and participate in the SharePoint Saturday event there.

Also I’m going to post more information for you here. So keep an eye out for a few more posts in the next few days about events and then some content on Design again soon.