Evolution Conference Roadshow: Penny Coventry Shares her Top User Interface Tips and Tricks

SharePoint MVP Penny Coventry’s session in Cambridge, titled
Top User Interface Tips and Tricks,
was all about user interface and how
it has changed throughout the years. Penny has been dealing with how to create
a user-friendly interface since SharePoint 2003 and has built up a solid base
of tips and tricks.  Users beware;
however, Office 365 has really thrown
a wrench in the whole thing.

Penny’s advice centers on taking customizations and branding
seriously. You need to think carefully about what you are doing. If all you
want to do is switch between the supplied color themes, then it won’t cost you
any money.  That said, if you want a
customized look, you need to be prepared to spend money. The biggest thing to
remember when embarking on SharePoint customization is functionality. If you
brand a site in a way that is hard to look at or visually confusing, then you
are inevitably making things worse. Nowadays, it is essential to consider what
devices will be using your site so that you can be sure everything is clean and
organized regardless of the screen size and orientation. Speaking of all those
screens, you need to factor in who will be visiting your site, who will be
editing your site, and who is ultimately responsible for the site. All of these
factors should play a role in your planning.

Back in 2003, if an organization wanted to customize their
SharePoint sites, they had to go in and modify the master page, which is generally considered a no-no. With SharePoint
2013, you can go nuts with master pages
and even create sub-master pages that can then be assigned to individual sites
or departments. User interface has really has come a long way. This is in large
part a result of advanced technology like HTML5,
CSS3, and JavaScript. Microsoft wants SharePoint to function like a regular
website (when used as an external site), so they are building in these
capabilities. Penny says it’s still not quite there but it is certainly much
better than it was. Better… that is, unless you are using Office 365.

By now I’m sure you have read all of my other session posts
and are totally up-to-date with what’s going on with Office 365. Any guesses as to what about Office 365 makes customization hard? Anyone? Bueller…?  Bueller…? Automatic updates! I’m sure that’s
what everyone reading this was thinking. Those pesky random updates, that you
have no control over whatsoever, seem to love breaking heavily branded sites.

Penny then went into some details about what to do to get
the most out of your customizations. If you make your site too wide, Penny
might just come yell at you. People are perfectly willing to scroll down, but
NO ONE scrolls right. If you are building a Web Part page, choose a layout that
has stacked zones versus horizontal ones. Also with Web Part pages, Penny
suggests choosing a layout that is more complicated than you need. Unused Web Part
zones will collapse away but once you set a layout for the page, you’re stuck
so it’s better to have options available. Another debate you will likely have
is whether to use responsive or adaptive web design. The difference
here is that responsive web design
enables sites to react to screen size change whereas adaptive design focuses on sending the right sized site for the
device requesting it. If you are looking at a responsive design site on your computer and change the window size
it will change along with the window. With adaptive
, the site will look correct in full screen but will give you scroll
bars if you change the window size.

Penny’s final piece of advice was to learn about what you
are doing. You don’t have to go out and become an HTML5 expert, but if you are going to use it, make sure that you at
least know the basics.

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