10 tips for designing layouts for SharePoint intranets

September 1 2010 12 comments

A nice looking, user friendly layout is an essential part of all SharePoint intranets. At its best the layout encourages users to come back time after time. At its worst it scares people away or makes the entire system difficult to use. Follow these ten rules and you will avoid the most common mistakes.

1. Intranet is a tool, it’s not a commercial web site

Websites and intranets serve two very different purposes. A company website needs to attract visitors with stylish layout and interesting, focused content. Intranet, instead, is an everyday tool for people in the company. Intranet contains tons of information, documents and functions. When you design a layout for intranet, keep it simple. Usability always comes first.

Scaling layout is good layout

Intranet is browsed everywhere in the company – on laptops, big screens and projectors. Make sure that your layout fits everywhere. Do not force people to scroll horizontally and make sure that important functions, such as Send-button, are never out of reach.

3. There’s no need to recreate the user interface

SharePoint has its own user interface, and it is actually pretty good. Of course it’s possible to change the place and order of every element, but that would not be very practical for end users. If you change everything, it is harder for end users to follow general SharePoint guides and instructions.

The default template of SharePoint 2010 is quite simple and plain. That’s a good thing! Simplicity makes it a great base for any design.

4. When branding, less is more

Branding is all about the right colors, fonts and logos. You do not need a complex layout, huge headers or heavy widgets to make nice-looking intranet. Just follow the basic rules of company’s graphic guidelines and stick to them.

5. First things first – Front Page is important

Intranet’s front page is usually set as the home page in company’s browsers. Everyone sees it every day. That is why front page should always look nice and have the important stuff high up. Design it with care.

6. Focus on the navigation

SharePoint navigation has its very own life. It’s connected to content and shows different things depending on user rights. Make sure your design is flexible. How does the quick launch look like, if there are several sublevels? What happens, if the text doesn’t fit in one row? What if somebody adds a new link on the top menu? Think of all options forehead and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble later.

7. Get to know the company’s browser

A basic website has to look good and function well with all the known browsers.  When you design an intranet, you’ll have a bit more freedom. If everyone in the company has new browsers, you do not have to worry about old ones, like IE 6.  On the other hand, if browsers are not up-to-date, do not rely on super modern solutions.

8. Size does matter

SharePoint’s links, navigation items and fonts are quite small by default. If you want to make a nice change with just a little effort, make them all bigger.

9. Design flexible page layouts

When you design flexible page layouts, you do not need dozens of them.  Make sure your page layout looks good with or without web parts, pictures or link lists. Then it’s possible to use one page layout for several causes.

10. Don’t decorate the web parts

Would not it be fun, if all the web parts could have a unique look? Not really. One of the SharePoint’s greatest abilities is the freedom to add, move and change web parts simply by dragging, dropping and clicking. The page you designed today looks different tomorrow. Create a general, simple look that suites most web parts. Styling the title, borders and fonts should do the trick.

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12 comments to “10 tips for designing layouts for SharePoint intranets”

  1. Excellent article!

    I would add one more:

    11) Make sure that the layout also communicates the security levels of the intranet. For example team sites that are for small teams only should have clearly different visual layout so that users understand which areas of the intranet are for everybody, which are for certain business area only and which are for teams only. This is even more important if the the intranet has extranet features and for example partner companies have access to certain team sites.

  2. Richard says:


    Trabalho com costumização de Sharepoint e discordo dos pontos onde critica a modificação do visual e da navegação para a construção de uma intranet.
    Com certeza o sharepoint é a ferramenta de CMS mais robusta e confiável que já trabalhei, porém sua usabilidade pode e DEVE ser modificada (usando o sharepoint designer 2010 por exemplo) adequando ás necessidades do usuário. Afinal ele é uma ferramenta não?
    O fator usabilidade é importante e deve ser tratado juntamente com o design a construção de ferramentas (apps).

    Um abraço do Brasil e parabéns pelo post.

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