How Do Latest SharePoint Announcements Impact Custom Branding?

With the latest announcements around SharePoint and Office 365, there are a significant number of user interface changes coming first to Office 365 and eventually SharePoint 2016.  With the latest changes, how does this impact those organizations that want to support custom branding of their intranets? 

Already a Challenge – No Consistent UI Framework

In Office 365, there are already multiple ways to apply themes and custom branding including master pages in SharePoint, themes in SharePoint, Office 365 themes, etc. 

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In addition, there are areas within Office 365 that you cannot brand at all such as Office Delve, User Profiles, Video Portal, etc.  These “next generation” portals are off limits for custom branding and if you have invested a lot of energy into branding your corporate communications intranet, the experience breaks when they link off to one of these portals.  So my navigation, CSS styling, etc. all disappears when someone goes to Office Delve:

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Other than changing the Office 365 suite bar colours you’re stuck with this user interface.

New SharePoint Mobile App

Microsoft has announced a new SharePoint Mobile App.  Presumably, the web mobile experience will also be updated.  For the current mobile web experience, if you use collaboration sites your users get a simplified, mobile friendly but completely unbranded user experience.

If you apply master pages and custom CSS, then you’re on your own and SharePoint provides the full original page with your custom branding.  Using this approach allows you to create your own branded pages but you’re also responsible for making them responsive – they break by default on any mobile phone.

With the new mobile app, Microsoft is imposing its own responsive framework, its own user interface, etc. in a stronger way than in the previous model.  It’s not quite clear how your custom web parts, CSS, JavaScript, etc. will be included into the page and how this will then make its way to the mobile phone so stay tuned.

New Publishing Pages Model

Microsoft is revamping the publishing pages model to be closer to sites such as Wix for creating web content pages. 

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The new authoring canvas will be easier to use than the traditional SharePoint canvas – more like the new blogging tool in Office 365.

New Development Framework

Microsoft is introducing yet another framework for creating custom web parts.  The new web part (e.g. App Part, Add-In, etc.) model will be client side, TypeScript based and integrated into the new page model. 

The SharePoint framework-an open and connected platform 2

The framework includes a new page architecture that supports custom web parts using client side technologies such as JavaScript.  You’ll be able to use your favorite JavaScript frameworks such as Angular or React or KnockOut to build new web parts. 

The SharePoint framework-an open and connected platform 3

The new SharePoint Framework model also removes the horrible dependency on IFRAMES that were part of the original SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online app-part model, which should make it easier to support responsive sites and to embed JavaScript as custom user experience elements.

Key Recommendations on Custom Branding

Based on the current picture, we would recommend the following in regards to Custom Branding and SharePoint:

1. Be prepared for an inconsistent approach to branding – its clear that Microsoft continues to take responsibility over some key components of the user experience and not handing them back to be branded by your corporate communications team. 

2. We’re back in multiple frameworks, different experiences on Office 365 vs. on premise SharePoint, etc.  This will cause lots of headaches for developers building hybrid custom apps, add-ins, branding, etc.  in the near term until SharePoint 2016 aligns with the latest Office 365 frameworks. 

3. If you’re still on SharePoint 2003, 2007 or 2010 and you have server side based custom web parts get rid of them as part of any upgrade.  The current and future direction is 100% client side JavaScript and the sophistication of the JavaScript libraries is continually improving.

4. The new SharePoint Framework, if it isn’t buggy (a big if), could provide some noticeable improvements to the current SharePoint Add-In model.  It’s better integrated into the page, provides better support for modern JavaScript and CSS, and should be easier to deploy than the current model. 

5. You’ll have the option of still using “classic” (e.g. the current) SharePoint pages and your current web parts will continue to work.  Existing custom web parts won’t be able to be deployed to the new pages framework apparently, so be prepared to re-write these components to support the latest user experience.

Stay tuned as more announcements come out!