Branding

I am resistant to Sharepoint branding. Back in 2006 we branded an SPS 2003 portal, partly for fun, partly to learn and partly because we hoped it would be a positive thing. Besides being pretty ugly, it had so many issues we never attempted to fix them. When we upgraded that portal to MOSS 2007, we left the branding behind. Other than that bad experience, the other reason I am resistant is because screwing with the branding has a huge potential downside - there is a lot you can break, and little you can enhance.

You could completely change the appearance of Microsoft Word (not just functionality, appearance). But why would you? How is this different? Expectations, that's how.

We have had to brand a couple 2007 systems at the firm. For the first one, we hired an extremely well known Sharepoint Branding person. She was great to work with and fixed all the issues we fed back at her. It is important to note, that even if you are pretty expert at the process, it is replete with pitfalls. We went through numerous iterations to get things right with that first branded 2007 site. For our branded second site, we decided to try our hand at it.

Modify a Default or Start Minimalist?

I think it depends. Maybe if you were staying fairly close to out of the box, modifying what was already there might be OK, but it won't take you long to realize that you have poked a hornets nest with a stick.

We had some interesting design directives. I don't think they add anything from a usability or content standpoint, but they made for an interesting project. We were to make it look like a newspaper or a newspaper web site. Mostly black and white. A few balanced columns. Masthead look. Times family fonts. Since none of this is anything like out of the box, we started with a Heather Solomon style minimalist page (http://www.heathersolomon.com/blog/articles/BaseMasterPages.aspx).

Near the bottom of this page (but not all the way down), we stuck a layout table that looked like what we needed. Then we started moving some things in there, and other things into a hidden section. We liberally cut and pasted code around the master page and from the default master page.

So Many Styles

Creating styles and sticking them in a custom CSS is simple, but there are a LOT of styles that need attention. We had to change colors on all the little border pieces and stuff. This can take a while to find. We used the IE Developer toolbar and similar tools in FireFox to find and test these components.

I would estimate that so far we have around 40 hours in this process - maybe 16 for me and 24 for my co-worker - and so far we have a good demo. But we have a long way to go. We figure we will need to fix up a theme to take care of pages originating from ../_layouts/. We also have a number of loose ends and I am sure that we will get a bunch of further requests (fonts, graphics, and we have not yet done the home page layout). Based on that, I have to estimate that we have at least another 80 hours of work before we can go to a QA phase.

I know that some of the content we will end up presenting in this site will get a lot of use, but I am of the opinion that the branding will neither make nor break this project. Content is much more critical. I would rather work in an out of the box environment than a branded one. What we are creating doesn't look like Sharepoint. So what?

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