SharePoint 2010 Branding: Understanding the Components

SharePoint gives you a lot of control over what your site looks like. On top of applying a site theme, you can also create your own CSS rules, and customize the master page that will be applied to the entire site. However, if you’re coming from a web designing background where you’re used to having complete control over the source of the web site, there are a few things that need to be considered before diving in to SharePoint design. The most important of which being: with SharePoint, you do not have complete control over the source of the site. Since SharePoint is a dynamic Content Management System, almost all of the components are generated dynamically based on user content. As such, when modifying the master page, you will not always be able to see the actual HTML source of a component… what you’ll see instead is a Content Placeholder or a SharePoint element that defines the high-level properties of the component. When this is the case, there are usually only two things you can do with that component: (1) move it, and (2) style the component using CSS. With that being said, SharePoint sites are still based on .Net, so technically you can rip everything out and create your own master page from the ground up. However, doing this will throw a wrench in to the dynamic nature of SharePoint and stop your users from having a fully-featured SharePoint site. So it is not recommended to do this if you want to keep SharePoint as a CMS solution.

On that note, this blog (and the next few blogs) will be targeted around re-designing SharePoint while maintaining all of the functionality that comes with it. The first step to accomplishing this is to know what you’re dealing with. In the image below I’ve blocked out the various components that are standard for almost every page that you’ll see in SharePoint. Each block represents a component that can be moved around and styled, but cannot be torn to pieces. Below the image I will go in to a little more detail about what can be done to style and customize the component. This should be enough to give you ideas about what is possible with SharePoint design.

1 – Main Content
This is where all of the content is rendered. This block can contain lists, libraries, calendars, custom web parts, tasks… anything you create. As such, styling this area needs to be considered on a per-content-type basis rather than simply on a master page basis. For example, if you start changing the styles for the root container, you then need to go through and test how different SharePoint content renders within the newly styled container. Different content will behave differently in this container so it is not exactly trivial to style this section. In the blogs to come I will give you some tips and tricks to styling this area, and describe how the standard content (document libraries, lists, web part pages, etc.) will behave in this container.

2 – Quick Links Sidebar
This is where all of your Quick Links will appear. SharePoint allows users to completely customize what goes in to this block, so you don’t have much control over the layout of the content from a master page perspective. What you can define are the CSS rules for how you want the headers to look, how you want the items to look, as well as how you want the selected item to look. Again, customizing this component is worthy of its own blog post, so I will certainly cover this in a future blog.

3 – Top Link Navigation
This is the block that contains the global navigation links for your SharePoint site. Similarly to the Quick Links Sidebar, SharePoint allows the user to define what these links are, so again you are limited to CSS rules when customizing this component. The two main things that you have control over is the style of the selected link, and the style of the unselected links.

4 – Page Breadcrumb
This is the block that will contain the title of the current site, as well as a dynamic breadcrumb that provides links that lead you from the current page to the site root. This is actually one component that can be ripped apart in to two parts: The root site title, and the current page title. Both these parts can be moved around and themed separately, so you can make this part look however you want. You can even style the separating arrow in between the different titles.

5 – Page Description
This is the block that contains the description of the current page. The content of this block will always be text, so it is completely customizable with CSS.

6 – Site Icon
This is the icon that is used across the site. It is customized by the user through SharePoint, and does not have any size restrictions. However, since the whole point of “branding” a SharePoint site is to make it have the look and feel of your company, this logo will most likely always stay relatively static. So you can keep this in mind when you decide where it should go.

7 – Search Area
This block contains the search box that allows your users to search all of the content of the site. The search box and button are pretty static (as they are contained in a delegate control), but the container can be styled with CSS. It is also not an inconceivable task to create a custom search box and deploy it as a feature. However, this task will be out of the scope of any future SharePoint branding blog entries.

8 – Social Tags (Delegate Control)
In the master page this block is actually just a Delegate Control. As such, it could technically contain anything, so in general your styling of this area is limited to CSS. By default it is populated with a few buttons that allow the user to tag a page, or add notes that everyone can see.

9 – The Ribbon
This block contains the heart and soul of SharePoint 2010: The Ribbon. This block is shipped in one single piece that cannot be ripped apart. On top of this, it is by far the most dynamic component of SharePoint (besides maybe the content itself). The content of the ribbon changes depending on what type of component the user is currently focusing on. As such, it is any designer’s nightmare to style it. On top of this, the ribbon is not affected at all by Site Themes… so it is completely up to you to get it to fit with the theme of the site. Styling this part will most definitely be the topic of a future blog post.

The first step to re-designing any site is to understand what you have to work with… and SharePoint is no exception. I hope the above diagram will give you a good high level view of the different parts that go in to a SharePoint page, so that you can make informed design decisions during the initial phases of your re-branding journey.


One Comment

  1. Carl
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Another great and easy to use tool:


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