Often developers are given the task of deploying SharePoint and one of the first things they want to do is “not make it look like SharePoint”. I can understand they want to customize the look and feel, but hold on, not so fast!
Do we need to brand the web site?
I think the natural gut feel to brand comes from legacy development where we always started with a blank slate. We could “draw” it up any way we wanted and we expect to do this because SharePoint is a web site after all, and we should be able to make it look like we want. However, don’t forget SharePoint is an application and platform which does not give you a blank slate, so complete customization can be difficult if you don’t understand what you are getting in to.
What is the business ROI (return on investment) to branding?
If SharePoint is used as an external facing website I totally agree some level of branding needs to done. External customers need to know they are at your site and can associate the site with your company.
If the site is for internal usage, for example, to manage projects, I don’t think branding makes any sense. Simply changing the colour theme, and logo is enough and easy to do. Otherwise, there is not payback on the time. I think it would be better to take the time that it takes to brand and use that time to teach users how to use the web site instead of making it look pretty. It looks fine out of the box!
Look at it this way, when you deployed Microsoft Office in your organization, or any other internal tool, did you brand it?
Recently I saw at a client, the developers customized default.master, a common master page in SharePoint, which is used in many common templates in SharePoint. All looked great, until the users created a Decision Meeting Workspace that was based on a different master page, MSWSDefault.master. Yikes, now what? Customizing default.master was difficult enough, now we have to do another one, or we remove the template which users like, or live with the inconsistent look and feel? How many other templates and associated different master pages are there?
Branding requires complete understanding of master pages, content pages, core.css, themes and how all these components intertwine in SharePoint. Think about the ROI and what you are getting into before making code changes in SharePoint.