Sharepoint 2010 : Planning Your Information Architecture - Page Architecture

1/10/2014 3:07:03 AM

When you are satisfied with the overall site architecture for your solution, you will need to plan how to organize the content on each page. This should be done in an iterative process with content owners and domain experts. SharePoint 2010 provides dozens of possible templates that provide a great starting point based on common usage patterns for different types of pages and sites.

One of our clients made this comment about investing a lot of time redesigning pages based on the Microsoft templates when we started her SharePoint design project: “Why should I spend time and money on designing page layouts to improve usability when Microsoft has already spent millions on this effort? Unless we have a really good reason to vary based on an expressed business objective, let’s just start with what is provided out-of-the-box and focus on content.” While the Microsoft solutions will give you a good place to start, do not assume that the out-of-the-box templates are the only solutions for your organization. At a minimum, you will want to replace the standard “Microsoft” images and logos in your team site templates with images that are relevant for your organization.

Even if you start with a template provided in SharePoint 2010, you still need to think about how users will use each site. Consider the following basic design principles when configuring your page architecture:

  • Consistency. Provide a standard design template for all pages on the portal and take steps in your governance processes, to ensure that these design standards are followed. This ensures that users can navigate around the intranet without getting surprised by changing design standards. For example, if key contacts are always at the bottom of the page, users will know immediately how to contact someone when they need help or when they need to inform the site owner about inaccurate information. Consistency provides a very real benefit for your organization because you will not have to pay people to spend their time trying to figure out what the site or page owner is trying to say as they navigate through the solution. Users become familiar with the template so that they do not have to reorient themselves on various pages of the site.

  • Speed. Make sure that users can get information as quickly as possible. This goes along with consistency but should inspire you to think about a few additional design principles. For example, does the information or placeholder you are adding improve the ability for users to quickly find what they are looking for or get in the way? Think about using “clickable” images to help users find content on your site. However, try to avoid images that move or bounce. Think about all the unnecessary “dancing elephants” you’ve seen on Web pages. As a general rule, images that spin or rotate detract from usability.

  • Scrolling. Does the page layout require that users scroll up or down or left to right to find important information? Design your page to fit your organization’s standard screen size and then make sure that users do not have to scroll to find the most important information or Web Parts on the page. Scrolling may be acceptable in your design standards, but scrolling should never be tolerated for critical information. Think about designing your page the way that news editors design a newspaper—the most important information should be “above the fold.” As a best practice, avoid designing sites that require left-to-right scrolling for sites viewed using your organization’s standard display size; up-and-down scrolling is generally okay.

  • Important content in the upper left. Put your most important content toward the top-left part of the page. This is where readers will “land” visually when they get to your page. If the most important information is in this location, you have a better chance at capturing your user’s attention than if the information is buried somewhere else on the page. One mistake we see pretty often is that site designers will put “permanent” content in prime “real estate.” You want to avoid this at all costs—put content that changes frequently in the places where users will be most likely to see it.

  • Images. Use images to help create visual interest on your site and also to provide visual cues for key site content. You can easily create clickable images by inserting an image in a content editor Web Part and adding a hyperlink to the target content. However, be sure to size your images to work effectively in your screen real estate and use an appropriate resolution for the Web to minimize screen “paint time,” especially for users who will access your site at slower speeds. When you select images for your site, be sure they are relevant and be sure that you own the right to publish them on your site.

We usually like to do at least one iteration of page architecture design (wire frames) before creating a prototype in SharePoint. There are several wire frame tools that you can use to help lay out the content on your site, including Visio. Microsoft Office Visio 2010 includes some wire framing templates, but in a clear opportunity for a third-party add-on, they do not include any “shapes” for SharePoint Web Parts. Balsamiq ( is an inexpensive mockup tool for which users in its “community” have created some SharePoint elements . Figure 1 shows a simple page wire frame created using Balsamiq.

Figure 1. Sample page architecture created with Balsamiq

In general, plan to develop an initial page layout proposal when you are designing your site but consider offering stakeholders a second opportunity to reevaluate page layout design when you have completed the initial build and are ready for users to load content. This phase in the life cycle occurs after the initial build is complete and is essentially part of the user acceptance test. Because this is usually the first opportunity for users to interact with the solution using real data, we call this phase “Meet the Portal.” You will get a chance to improve even your best ideas for page layout when users have a chance to see the solution with “real” data; the “Meet the Portal” opportunity is a great way to ensure that you have the optimal page architecture.

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