SharePoint is not for you

SharePointNotForYouIt is very tempting to create and configure a Team Site according to your own ideas. You have a very clear view on how you want a site to look, and the site will be a good showcase of what you can do. But this is not always the right approach.

You may like…

1. Sliding banners or carousels

Why: You think they look nice and modern, and they allow for many announcements in one place.
But: Research has proven that they are not effective. Many people ignore them because they think they are commercials, and if not, they will only see the first item before they move on.

2. Large buttons filling your site’s homepage

Why: It looks bright and colourful and it makes it easy for users to find their way.
But: You have a menu on the left hand side for navigation. You can make better use of a homepage’s real estate by showing dynamic information, such as announcements and latest documents.

3. Having your department name on every button

Why: You are proud of your department’s site and you like to tell people they are in the right place.
But: Your visitors will know that they are on the page, and having to read “HR” in front of every word will take time before they get to the word that makes the difference.
That is exactly why I have put “You may like…” at the top of this post, and not with every bullet point. 🙂

HR information page with large buttons and HR in front of every text.
No need to add “HR” in front of every item. Your audience will know they are on the HR page (it is in the page header) and it makes it more difficult to see which item they need.
Besides, why waste your valuable homepage real estate on large buttons?

4. Interesting icons for navigation

Why: You think they are clever and they are more universal and more compact than text.
But: Do all people know what those images signify, including new employees and people from different cultural backgrounds? And can people with disabilities, who use a screen reader, know what these buttons refer to? This post tells you to think twice.

Update October 2018: The Office software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) now has a good set of icons in the desktop versions. Click Insert > Icons when you are working in a document or email and they appear. These are pretty clear, consistent in style, can be changed in size, colours, rotation etc.

Nice icons from Microsoft, grouped by type and editable in many ways.


5. Using abbreviations, jargon or too conceptual words

Why: It is company language, and abbreviations are shorter than the original words.
But: Your audience may not know what they all mean, especially new employees and those who do not speak fluent English.

6. Setting Alerts for others

Why: because you have great content and you want to make it easy for people to get informed
But: People may consider this spam, or may want to have a different alert than you have set for them

Yes, you CAN set an Alert for other people, but SHOULD you?
Yes, you CAN set an Alert for other people, but SHOULD you?

7. Using your own folder structure or views for a project site

Why: Because it is your project and you think this is logical.
But: Your team members may need to have a different structure or different views.

8. Using ALL CAPS for headers, titles and buttons

Why: you think it stands out and is easier to read.
But: It actually is harder to read, because capitals are seen as blocks with little distinction between one and the other. Undercast has extra “arms and legs” that help recognition.

Difference in upper-and undercast vs only uppercast.
The text on the left has differences in height and is therefore faster to read than the “square”letters of the text on the right.

I guess you get it.  SharePoint is not for you; it is for your audience. THEY have to use this site, so it has to be easy  and intuitive for THEM.

Do you know the people that will work in this site?

  • Discuss which information you want to share, and how you all get as quickly from one bit of content to another.
  • Agree on categorization and views of lists and libraries.
  • Allow them to add their own choices where desired, especially when you are starting your project and do not know exactly which keywords will be best.

    new values
    When you create a Choice column to add metadata, check the box. This way you can check if you have all relevant keywords, or that you have missed some. Later, you can uncheck and add the missing options to the “official” options. 
  • Give them permissions to create personal views.
  • Discuss how to deal with alerts. If they are OK with you setting alerts for them, fine, but always ask first!

Is the audience for this site unknown to you, e.g. if it is for all the company?

  • Test with a sample of users if they understand your words or icons.
  • Put a “Set an Alert” link on a prominent place.
  • Add descriptive texts to image or icon buttons, including tool tips so people with screenreaders can navigate, too.
  • Refer to (or create) a Glossary of terms for the jargon.
  • Add a “feedback” button to the homepage and invite people to contact you if they have questions or suggestions.

Subscribing yourself to the Nielsen-Norman Group’s articles about internet and intranet design is always a good idea.

This post has been inspired by “Marriage isn’t for you” by Seth Adam Smith. It is a very inspirational post, in many ways. No wonder it went viral last year!

Image by imagerymajestic at


2 thoughts on “SharePoint is not for you

    • Ellen van Aken July 30, 2014 / 5:20 pm

      Thanks! Writing is a great way to get rid of certain frustrations :-).

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