How to Quickly Create a Beautiful SharePoint Site or Intranet: A Beginner’s Guide

Jon Manderville
March 22, 2024

Creating an engaging and visually appealing SharePoint site or intranet might appear daunting. Especially if you lack design expertise or extensive training. 

However, with the right approach and easy to access tools at your disposal, you can design a stunning SharePoint site that meets your organizational needs without delving deep into complex courses or design principles. Here's a short introductory guide to help you navigate the process.

Why Is Beauty Important - It's Just An Information Location?

The visual appeal of your SharePoint site is not just about aesthetics—it's about functionality, user engagement, and effective communication.

A visually appealing site can significantly enhance the user experience, making information easier to find and interact with, and thereby increasing overall productivity and satisfaction. Think about why this is. 

  • First Impressions Matter: Users form an opinion about a site within the first 0.05 seconds of visiting (source: Behaviour & Information Technology Journal). A visually appealing SharePoint site can create a positive first impression, which is crucial in encouraging further exploration and use.
  • Improved User Engagement: A study found that websites with a strong design and navigation structure see 200% higher engagement rates than those without (source: Forrester Research). In the context of a SharePoint intranet, this means that a well-designed site can foster higher levels of staff engagement and interaction.
  • Enhanced Productivity: Visually appealing sites with intuitive navigation and organization allow users to find information more quickly and easily. According to a study by McKinsey, employees spend 1.8 hours every day—9.3 hours per week, on average—searching and gathering information. Streamlining this process through effective site design can reclaim valuable time.
  • Supports Brand Identity: Your SharePoint site is an extension of your organization's brand. A site that reflects your brand's values and aesthetic can reinforce identity and culture among employees, promoting a sense of belonging and loyalty.
  • Accessibility and Inclusivity: Good design includes making your site accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. Accessible design improves the user experience for all users, not just those with disabilities, by providing clear navigation, readable fonts, and responsive layouts.
spo modern sites

So taking all that into account, the visual appeal of your SharePoint site directly impacts its effectiveness as a communication and collaboration tool.

By investing in creating a visually appealing design, you're not just making your site look better; you're enhancing its usability, strengthening your brand, and most importantly, providing a better experience for your users, which can lead to improved productivity and engagement across your organization.

How To Go From Ideas To Implementation

Beginners, especially those who may have experience in areas like building Power Apps or maybe look after a Document library in an admin sense but are new to designing SharePoint sites, can face several challenges when tasked with creating a visually appealing and professional-looking intranet.

Consider an example I've created called Alex, a developer skilled in Power Apps, who is suddenly asked to revamp the company's SharePoint intranet. Despite Alex's technical expertise, several hurdles might stand in the way:

1. Lack of Design Skills:

Alex is comfortable with logical, functional aspects of software development but may lack the design skills necessary for creating an engaging user interface. Design involves a different set of skills, including an understanding of color theory, layout principles, and user experience (UX) design, which are not typically covered in developer training.


2. Understanding SharePoint's Design Capabilities:

Although Alex is tech-savvy, there's a learning curve when it comes to fully understanding what SharePoint offers in terms of design. SharePoint provides various out-of-the-box themes, web parts, and design capabilities, but leveraging these tools effectively requires specific knowledge about how SharePoint handles content and presentation.

3. Balancing Functionality with Aesthetics:

Alex might find it challenging to balance the functional requirements of the intranet with the need for an aesthetically pleasing design. For example, while Alex can create a functional form or workflow in Power Apps, ensuring that these elements are seamlessly integrated into the SharePoint site in a visually appealing way is a different challenge.

4. Time and Process Constraints:

Often, tasks like these come with tight deadlines. Alex might be under pressure to deliver quickly, leaving little time to learn new design principles or explore SharePoint's design features in depth. There might be little time for a structured approach to planning and developing design or a plan for engagement and adoption. The need for rapid development can make it tempting to prioritize functionality over design, potentially compromising the site's overall user experience.

5. Accessibility and Responsiveness:

Creating a site that is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, and ensuring it is responsive across various devices and screen sizes, adds another layer of complexity. These are crucial aspects of modern web design but require specific knowledge and testing to implement correctly.

6. Organizational Branding:

Incorporating the organization's branding elements, such as logos, color schemes, and fonts, into the SharePoint site in a tasteful and consistent manner is vital for creating a professional look. Alex may find it challenging to translate branding guidelines into a digital format within SharePoint.

Where Should Someone New To Intranets Begin?

As someone who has lived through the results of many mistakes caused by well meaning naivety, I would definitely NOT endorse going from zero knowledge to implementing your companies SharePoint Intranet right away.

If possible, always look to experience to help in this endeavour. 100 times out of 100, that approach will save you time, effort and money. 

However, not every organisation has access or the funding for such a person so these next steps are about providing the foundations to help you get started. Even with these, I would strongly recommend putting them in the context of an overall plan for success. 

We are lucky to be able to offer a shortcut to creating such a plan for success (and how to implement it) partnership with via the Build Your Intranet Program. However, this blog is not setting out to take you there as a first step.

Let's first of all give you inspiration for how simple it can be to get started with the idea of design as a piece of the overall plan for success you might create. 

Using SharePoint's Built-in Features

This first decision to make that often stumps newcomers to SharePoint is whether to create a SharePoint Team Site or a Communication Site. 

The key factor to consider is your primary goal: collaboration versus communication.

This choice significantly influences the design and functionality of your site, as well as how you'll leverage SharePoint's built-in design options, including themes, templates, and web parts.

Team Site: For Collaboration

  • Primary Use: Ideal for when you need a collaborative environment where a group of people will work closely together on projects, documents, or tasks.
  • Built-in Features: Includes document libraries, task lists, and integration with Microsoft Teams, enabling seamless collaboration.
  • Design Consideration: More functional than aesthetic, focusing on tools and document accessibility. However, SharePoint still offers themes and web parts to organize content effectively and ensure the site is user-friendly.
  • Limitations: While Team Sites are rich in collaboration features, their design and layout options might be more limited compared to Communication Sites, particularly in terms of visual storytelling and broad content distribution.

Communication Site: For Broadcasting Information

  • Primary Use: Suited for broadcasting information to a wider audience within your organization. Ideal for company announcements, news, policies, and showcasing products or services.
  • Built-in Features: Emphasizes visually appealing layouts and is geared more towards content presentation than interactive collaboration. Features include news web parts, responsive design templates, and the ability to create engaging homepages.
  • Design Consideration: Offers more sophisticated design options out-of-the-box, allowing for the creation of polished, visually-driven sites without needing extensive customization.
  • Limitations: While Communication Sites excel in information distribution and visual appeal, they lack the depth of collaboration tools found in Team Sites. There's minimal support for document co-authoring or task management, making them less suitable for project management or team collaboration.

Making the Decision

The decision between a Team Site and a Communication Site often as mentioned above, boils down to the nature of your goal:

  • Team Site if your goal is internal collaboration, project management, and document sharing within a specific group or department, this is often the path you would choose.
  • Communication Site if you aim to inform, engage, and reach a broader audience across the organization with high-quality content presentation, this style of SharePoint site will be the one for you. 

Both Communication site and Team Sites benefit from a huge shortcut to creating a great location for your teams.  These are SharePoint's built-in design options:

  • Themes and Templates: SharePoint offers a range of themes and templates tailored to various needs, which can quickly set up your site with a professional look and feel. Communication Sites, in particular, offer templates focused on visual engagement, such as the Showcase and Topic templates.
  • Web Parts: Utilize web parts to add functionality and content to your pages. Both site types support web parts, but how you use them will differ. For example, Team Sites might leverage task lists or document libraries, while Communication Sites might use news, events, or image galleries more heavily.

These options will present themselves to you in the flight of your initial creation process and when you come to edit the first version of the site that's been created. 

spo templates

SharePoint's built-in design options provide a solid foundation to create an effective and attractive site tailored to your objectives.

It is worth pointing out, these sites aren't mutually exclusive; many organizations find value in using both types to support different aspects of their operations. Often the two work alongside each other and are launched from a hub site but that is a whole other topic we wont go into in this post. 

Where To Go If You Want More Inspiration?

If you have explored SharePoint Templates but perhaps feel there could be more needed. Maybe you have heard of The SharePoint LookBookThis is essentially a gallery of sophisticated design templates that go beyond the basic, out-of-the-box SharePoint templates you might be familiar with.

For anyone new to the SharePoint Intranet space, it's considered an invaluable resource by experts for anyone looking to quickly set up visually appealing and functional SharePoint sites without the need for extensive design knowledge or customization work. 

Why LookBook Stands Out

  1. Variety of Templates: The LookBook offers a range of templates catering to different needs—from organization-wide intranet pages to department-specific sites and community hubs. It allows for a more targeted approach to site creation, ensuring that the template you choose aligns with the specific goals of your project or department.
  2. Ease of Use: Templates from the LookBook can be quickly added to your SharePoint tenant, significantly speeding up the process of site creation. If you need to deploy new sites frequently and with minimal fuss, it could be your go-to option however there is a caveat, SharePoint Administration and site creation permissions will be needed - but let's assume you have these because you are reading about site creation here.
  3. High Design Quality: The templates are not just about functionality; they also focus on aesthetic appeal. They come with pre-configured layouts, web parts, and design elements that can help you create sites that are not only useful but also visually engaging.
  4. Customization: While the LookBook templates provide a strong foundation, they also offer room for customization. You can tweak the templates to better fit your brand identity by adjusting elements like color schemes, fonts, and logos, making each site feel unique.
  5. Administrative Control: Access to the LookBook and the ability to add its templates to your SharePoint environment requires administrative privileges. This ensures that the deployment of new sites is managed and controlled, maintaining governance and compliance standards within large organizations.
spo lookbook

What Are The Limitations and Considerations For The LookBook Sites?

While the LookBook offers advantages, there are some limitations to consider as someone new to this endeavour.

For instance, you cannot add individual pages from a LookBook template to an existing intranet; each template creates a separate site. This might lead to a permissions management challenge, particularly in larger organizations with complex intranet structures. 

Additionally, the templates, while diverse, may not cover every unique business need or design preference out of the box, requiring further customization or even additional development work for more specific requirements.

Despite these considerations, the SharePoint LookBook IS a powerful tool to explore and can offers a way to bypass the steep learning curve associated with site design, enabling you to leverage Microsoft's own insights into effective, user-friendly site architecture and design.

What Are Your Next Steps?

At the Colla365 Academy, we have way more learning about SharePoint and SharePoint intranets to help you progress if you are looking at this area as part of your role. Just click the link below to join up and search for SharePoint when you join. 

We have eBooks, Workshops, Live Sessions and even a whole conference about SharePoint intranets to look through when you land. Our coaches are also on hand to help point the way if you need. 

For now however, we hope this blog has helped illumine 2 really great ways you can create beautiful sites quickly but also more importantly, why this might be important. 

If you are now ready to go explore (whether it's in your developer tenant or you have another location you can safely experiment) please do share your ideas and successes with us at the Collab365 Academy. 

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