Make a SharePoint site “not look like SharePoint”!

As digital strategies become increasingly focused on the overall experience of the user, there is a real drive to take the design of both internal and external sites more seriously. A happy and engaged workforce is a more productive workforce! And a great place to start your employee engagement campaign is with SharePoint.

Branding and customising your SharePoint online, or On-Premise, SharePoint installation has historically been tricky;  the request make a SharePoint site “not look like SharePoint” being a common one for us SharePoint Developers.    This branding can be simple and lightweight, perhaps just a change in colour or font – maybe a company logo in the corner… however, when something meatier is needed, this can often be something of a challenge.

SharePoint 2010 OOTB Team Site


Out-of-the-box (OOTB) SharePoint looks have improved with each release; whilst the ability to add a company logo, or change site colours, have been available for a while, SharePoint 2013 introduced the concept of Composed Looks – a means of applying a “skin” to SharePoint.  SharePoint 2013 includes templates for this, however, additional looks can be created to suit your requirements.  But where do you start?

SharePoint 2013 OOTB Team Site


SharePoint 2013 OOTB with the Sea Monster composed look applied


Composed looks cater for changes in the background image, colours and fonts, but not for the deployment of custom functionality.

If a composed look doesn’t give quite the look or feel you would like, the next consideration may be a bespoke branded site.  How far down the custom branding path you want to travel may depend on whether the site is an Intranet, or an Internet facing site – other factors to consider will be the version of SharePoint used, and also whether this is hosted On-Premise or in the cloud.  Creating a heavily branded site can be rather involved – however, the end result is an engaging, intuitive and fully-featured site that looks and functions exactly as you would like.


These customisations may potentially include custom master pages, page layout changes or additions, web parts or apps, and will certainly require some custom CSS. Some help to get started with this task is now in hand, with the release from Microsoft of the SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online solution pack for branding and site provisioning.  This release is currently at version 1.0, and contains a set of documents covering items such as the Page Model, CSS, and Metadata Navigation that comprehensively explains the various approaches and patterns, how to go about this branding process – and, importantly, how to get those changes deployed.

To go alongside this, the SharePoint 2013 Sample pack can also be downloaded, which contains sample C# code to help you complete tasks such as OneDrive for Business branding, using an App to configure CSS and also how to provision artefacts using Apps.

If you’re about to get involved in a branding project, get in touch with us and we can guide you through the process.