Modern SharePoint Branding Resources

One of the big changes between classic SharePoint and Modern SharePoint’s is the approach and method used to brand sites.  There are two levels of branding, one easy approach for basic branding and a more advanced feature currently needing developer skills.

This wireframe shows the areas that can be customised in red. In this example I have included a mix of layouts, the top section has two column web-part zones (66%/33%) and the lower row is using 3 columns.


Change the Look

In SharePoint Online Modern Sites, click the Cog and choose ‘Change the Look’. From here you can choose from a list of predefined themes. The colour pallet can be adjusted and you have the ability to set the background colour of the title elements.

Logo and Title

Clicking the Cog icon and choosing “Site Information” allows you to change the logo and title of a site.

It should also be noted that if the SharePoint Site is a Hub Site, the theme from Change the Look and the Logo and Title will be inherited to any connected sites.


Many SharePoint web-parts include layout options to future refine your designs. For example:

Hero web-part layout options


News web-part layout optionsNews-webpart

Banner images

SharePoint pages including site pages, news and events include an optional banner image. SharePoint expects these images to be 16:9 to ensure the best auto scaling. This is important when rolling up content e.g. a news post image will auto scale when displayed in a rollup web part such as the news or highlighted content web-parts.


SPFx Application Customizer

Microsoft provides the ability to customise the header and footer areas of Modern SharePoint using the SharePoint Framework (SPFx). This approach also allows for custom CSS files that can over-ride the out of the box style sheet to do things like changing the web-part title styles.

The SharePoint Starter Kit provides examples of how to do this.


If you’re looking for design ideas, take a look at the Microsoft Ignite 2018 Modern SharePoint Look Book full of banding and layout examples.

Before you settle on a design, play with the web-parts and layouts. Microsoft provides a range of web-part and layout options that make it easy to create a visually appealing site. They also make it more difficult to create truly one off designs. Don’t try to fight it!





My first 10 Years of SharePoint

Ten years ago, I was working as a Systems Engineer in an IT services company. Back then a lot of the work involved implementing physical server hardware (HP ProLiant servers), installing and configuring Windows Server, network infrastructure and implementing Exchange and SQL Server.

An opportunity came up to work on a project implementing Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS 2007) for a client. My only exposure to SharePoint had been the ‘CompanyWeb’ on Small Business Server.

The client had straight forward requirements and a basic out of the box install with a few document libraries was the initial deliverable. The next couple of years would see the site grow in a way we would later describe as “organic”, with subsites, more libraries, more subsites, lists, calendars, nonsensical navigation and the obligatory security mess. Despite this the users were (mostly) happy, possibility because anyone who asked was given Full Control without a second thought.

Roll forward a few years a decision was made to upgrade to the newly released SharePoint 2010 Server. The detach / attach content database method was chosen and while the upgrade itself was painless it didn’t address the structural issues. A steering group was formed and tasked with resolving issues and implementing more functionality. The navigation was improved, branding was added, custom SharePoint solutions were developed and deployed into the farm, the User Profile Service was implemented, InfoPath and SharePoint Designer workflows started to appear.

SharePoint started to get momentum in a few areas of the clients’ business, but others complained that “they couldn’t find things in search” and issues with permissions continued to generate support tickets on a regular basis. More customisations were made, some better than others. We learnt more about the GAC and manually editing Web.Config that we should have.

When Microsoft announced SharePoint 2013 the steering committee was convinced it would solve a myriad of problems from oversized Content Databases to Search issues and almost everything else. We tried a test upgrade and it failed. Customisations didn’t migrate well, the branding looked awful and it didn’t solve the legacy issues from more than 5 years of organic development.

A project team set about redesigning SharePoint from the ground up. A decision was made to focus on configuration rather than development so that future upgrades would be easier. Permissions were simplified and standardised on Contribute and Read rather than Full Control or nothing. The branding was refreshed and finally got the tick of approval from the comms team. Navigation was standardised across the entire site. Time was spent improving Search.

There were still some issues with SharePoint but user adoption had improved and some areas of the clients business we asking for sites to meet specific business needs such as policy development, forms and workflows for business processes, project areas etc. It was around this time that the client started asking for external users access for collaborating with partners and to give users access to forms and documents outside the office. IT weren’t keen on this and decided to implement a VPN solution which really didn’t make it easy to get to the things users needed.

Roll forward to 2018, ten years after I did the initial install and I’m in a meeting discussing migration to Office 365 including SharePoint Online. Collaboration both internally and externally were high on the priority list. They decided to go with Modern Team and Communication sites, document libraries will be migrated with the SharePoint Migration Tool. Related sites will be connected using Hub Sites, with shared site branding and navigation. We have a lot of work to do with forms and workflows, we’ll evaluate each one and decided if they come across as is or we rebuild with PowerApps and Flow.

This site in many ways has helped shape my career, it has taught me many lessons, kept me awake at night, given me moments of happiness and anxiety! In the beginning 99% of my work was around implementing the infrastructure and configuring SharePoint, these days infrastructure accounts for perhaps 5% of my work with SharePoint, the rest is spent working with business teams to get the most out of SharePoint and how to move to the cloud.

I never imagined where the MOSS site would end up after ten years and right now I’m wondering where it will go in the next ten.





Get the best value from your Office 365 licensing

Microsoft offer a wide range Office 365 plans to meet the needs of every organisation regardless of size, type and location. Whether you’re already a user or are thinking about using Office 365, understanding the subscription model will help ensure you make the right plan choices to get the best value over time.

Office 365 subscriptions link a user to an organisations Office 365 Tenant. If a user leaves the organisation there license can be reallocated to a new person. You can also add or remove additional add-on subscriptions and reallocated different subscription types between users e.g. change a user from an Office 365 E1 plan to E3 plan if you have a license available.

Common Enterprise Plans

Enterprise plans (E plans) are suitable for organisations with 1 or more users (no upper limit). Organisations can choose a mix of plans for example E5 Plans for Leadership and Finance teams, E3 for back office and mobile sales team and E1 for front of house team members within the same tenant.

E1 Plan core features include Microsoft Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Web Applications, OneDrive for Business, Yammer, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Flow and Microsoft PowerApps.  This plan is for online only users and is great for front line workers who don’t need full desktop applications. Users can access the mobile apps for iOS and Android devices e.g. Word for iPad.

E3 Plans include everything in the E1 Plan plus Desktop versions of your favourite Microsoft Office applications Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and Outlook. Users always have access to the latest versions of the Office desktop applications. This option is great for those users who need full desktop applications.

If you have additional requirements around security look at the E5 Plans which includes both advanced security features and PowerBI Pro.

Office 365 Enterprise plans

Common Small Business Plans

Office 365 Business Plans (B plans) are suitable for organisations up to 300 users. B Plans have a lower monthly subscription than the E Plans above but have less functionality. Small business plans don’t include Yammer and have a 50GB mailbox limit per user.

Like the Enterprise Plans, you have a choice of online only or full desktop subscriptions.

Office 365 Business Essentials is an online only version including Exchange Online and SharePoint Online and web-based office applications.

Office 365 Business Premium includes all of the features of Office 365 Business Essentials with the addition of desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, OneNote and Outlook.

If you out grow the small business plans, you can upgrade to Enterprise.

Office 365 small business plans

Popular Add-ons

Office 365 also includes a variety of subscriptions which can be assigned to a user either stand-alone (they use only that service) or as an add-on to existing subscriptions e.g. Office 365 E3 plus PowerBI.

Here is an incomplete list of the options:

  • Advanced Security
  • Dynamics 365 Plans
  • Exchange Online Plans (email only users)
  • Flow Plans (additional per month allocations)
  • PowerApps
  • PowerBI (free)
  • PowerBI Pro
  • Project Online
  • SharePoint Online Plans (SharePoint Only)

Five ways to save money!

There are substantial savings to be made if you mix and match your Office 365 subscriptions based on user needs rather than having a single standard. E1 plans are roughly a third of the subscription cost of E3 per month.

Look closely at the features provided in B Plans vs E Plans. If you are a smaller business unlikely to reach 300 users, the B Plans will give you considerable savings over time.

Do all your users need all features? If you have email only users consider Exchange Online only plans. Also look at the differences between PowerBI Pro and PowerBI free plans.

You can also look at monthly vs annual subscriptions. Monthly subscriptions cost more but can be cancelled with 1 months’ notice. If you have a seasonal work force this is worth considering.

Keep track of your subscriptions. Make sure when users leave your organisation the subscription is taken off their account. This makes it available for a new person joining, saving you from purchasing licenses you don’t need.

Microsoft also has special pricing and plans for non-profit and education sectors.

Next steps

Make time to plan your Office 365 project including an analysis of the different types of users and their requirements. Evaluate the cost per user over time to get an understanding of your long-term budget commitment.


SharePoint Designer won’t connect to SharePoint Online

Quick post about a problem I had connecting SharePoint Designer 2013 to SharePoint Online with Modern Authentication.

The login screen would keep prompting for a login but not accept the username and password that worked when connecting via a browser.

The fix is to add the following registry key entries to enable modern authentication on Office 2013 applications.



Full details here:


Comparing Word Document Versions

The versioning capabilities in SharePoint document libraries are great for managing document approvals and if disaster strikes, rolling back to a known good version.

Microsoft Word’s Document Comparison feature takes this capability to the next level, allowing a visual comparison between two versions of the same document. This has many use cases. I’ve used this recently to compare versions of a contract document to identify changes may by another editor.

Here’s a short demo of document comparison and SharePoint versioning.

I’ve demonstrated this capability to a variety of people in legal, policies and management roles recently. It’s another good reason to work with documents in SharePoint.

You can also access the feature directly from Microsoft Word via the Compare button in the Review tab of the Ribbon.

How to compare documents


Word Templates in SharePoint Document Libraries

One of the features I love in SharePoint is the ability to link a Word document template to a Content Type. This is a real time saver if you’re creating documents from templates frequently. It also encourages people to save their documents in the right place.

Here’s a demo I created showing how to create a template that uses fields from the content type.


  • Enable Content Types in the Document Library Settings, Advanced Settings
  • In Microsoft Word, create a Document Template and save it to the Document Library
  • Create a Content Type and add any custom fields
  • Right click the template document and Edit in Word (not Word Online)
  • Add the Metadata Fields by choosing Insert \ Quick Parts \ Document Properties
  • Save the template
  • Right click the template in the Document Library and download a copy
  • Edit the Content Type (in Document Library Settings) and in the Advanced settings, upload the template document downloaded in the previous step

The template should now appear in the ‘New’ options in the Document Library and Files tab of the SharePoint ribbon.

Document templates can also be created using other Microsoft Office applications e.g. Excel and PowerPoint.

There are all sorts of places this feature can be used. In my own work, we use it to ensure the correct document templates are used for things like contracts, proposals and technical documentation.

How to create a Template in Microsoft Word

Introduction to SharePoint Content Types

SharePoint Hub Sites at DWCNZ

The Digital Workplace Conference is New Zealand’s conference for SharePoint and Office 365. It covers a wide range of topics related to Office 365 including plenty of SharePoint, Teams and PowerApps content. Follow the #DWCNZ hashtag on Twitter.

My chosen topic was SharePoint Hub Sites, a few feature for connecting related modern Teams and Communication sites, rolling up content and sharing themes and navigation.

I agenda for my presentation was:

  • Modern SharePoint Sites
  • Hub Sites Overview
  • Things you need to know
  • Demo : Hub site walk through
  • Demo : Creating and Joining Hub sites
  • Creating a Hub Site
  • FAQ’s

Thanks to everyone who attended my session, asked questions and caught up with me throughout the conference.

download my presentation slides