by Rik Hepworth

Far too often at the first customer meeting about a new SharePoint-delivered website I get handed a piece of paper like the one below. ‘We’ve planned the site’ says the cheery project owner. In an effort to help you avoid the potholes of improper planning here are four areas you need to cover in your planning that will help you design and build better websites on SharePoint.

Before you start, read Don’t make me think by Steve Krug and The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane. Both are quick reads that will help you immeasurably.

Content Strategy

Content Strategy is all about identifying what content you have, describing it, identifying who owns it and what its lifecycle is. It’s about discerning the difference between a product datasheet, press release, case study and staff biography. In SharePoint terms, it’s all about content types. What information do we store and how? What columns constitute a press release, and is it based on an article page or an item?

Design

Knowing what the different kinds of content are will invariably help the creative guys. Now they know that they have to design ways to present each of the different kinds of content – a product page will look very different from the Chief Exec’s Blog. This will help you to answer SharePoint questions like how many masterpages and page layouts and will start to guide your thinking in terms of site structure.

User Experience

Not only do we want to know what the site looks like, we need to think about how users will interact with it. Do we want to use clever icons for navigation? Do we need to present content based on what we know about the user – age, gender, role, etc? We will almost certainly need to build something bespoke to deliver the user experience which means we need requirements so put plenty of detail into describing how things will be expected to work.

Information Architecture

There are some great books on IA out there. SharePoint places additional constraints on projects though: Perhaps our security needs mean that we must create separate site collections for content. Maybe we want radically different design for certain content which means different masterpages and separate sites. Certainly we should avoid simply pouring all our content into one large pot, but if we need to aggregate items on our homepage what implications does that have on our structure?

The SharePoint Solution

Each of the four areas influences one another and each in turn influences your SharePoint solution design. Technical and budgetary constraints in this area will undoubtedly cause you to revise your plans, but without the information gathered in those four areas of planning you won’t have enough detail to accurately specify and estimate the project, let alone deliver it successfully. In order to deliver, we as practitioners need to understand those four key areas, especially if our customers don’t.

Rik Hepworth
IT Director, Black Marble