What’s the Difference Between SharePoint Branding, User Interface Design and User Experience?

For anyone overwhelmed with design terminology thrown around during a SharePoint redesign, this list is for you.



Design is the process of planning and strategizing a solution to a defined problem.  It is both a verb and a noun.  Design is not limited to visual elements. 

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.– Steve Jobs

“To design is to solve human problems by identifying them and executing the best solution.” – Ivan Chermayeff

User Interface (UI)

The User Interface (UI) is the place where interaction between a human and a machine takes place. The technology, functionality and the visual design are part of the user interface. In SharePoint,  the user interface is the the sum of the SharePoint application, look and feel and the elements for interaction such as web parts, text, forms, dialog boxes, and the ribbon. 

User Interface (UI) Design

User Interface Design is the strategy for placement and appearance of the user interface elements. It is the planned manipulation of the user interface. This strategy is represented visually with wireframes, style guides, and design comps (mockups) made in Photoshop. 

No matter how good your backend systems are, the users will only remember your front end. Fail there and you will fail, period. – Tristan Louis

User Experience (UX)

User Experience (UX) is the sum of a users interactions with a product, website or service. It is the perception left in the mind of a user after the interaction.  UX is not the same thing as usability.

The experience is about how we get there, not the landing place.” – Bill Buxton, a brilliant and fascinating conversationalist and one of my biggest inspirations

User experience is not about how a product works on the inside. User experience is about how it works on the outside, where a person comes into contact with it and has to work with it.”– J.J.Garrett – The Elements of User Experience

User Centered Design (UCD)

User Centered Design is a development method used to define a product that meets users expectations. This approach involves determining user needs and how the product / site will be used.

“User-centered design means understanding what your users need, how they think, and how they behave – and incorporating that understanding into every aspect of your process.”–  Jesse J Garrett

User Experience (UX) Design

User Experience (UX) Design is the a process of defining traditional aspects of human computer interaction–the presentation layer, functionality and content of a digital product – and extends to define the users expectations throughout the product lifecycle and with all aspects of the service or site.   This approach integrates many disciplines (Interaction design, Information architecture, Visual Design, User Centered Design).  

“User experience design isn’t a checkbox. . You don’t do it and then move on. It needs to be integrated into everything you do.” – Liz Danzico Chair, MFA in Interaction Design School of Visual Arts in NYC

SharePoint Branding

SharePoint Branding is the application of a brand to the SharePoint user interface. Branding has a slightly different meaning in the business, marketing and regular web design worlds but in SharePoint, it means applying a product or company brand to the SharePoint interface. It can be as simple as changing the site image and a few colors or it can be quite extensive using HTML, CSS, master pages, page layouts, scripting languages, custom web parts and controls.  There are three categories of SharePoint branding:

  • “Skinning” SharePoint refers to the application of a new look and feel on top of the core structure and functionality of a content management system (CMS). The goal of skinning is to change the appearance of the User Interface with as little impact and customization to functionality as possible. 
  • Integration is the implementation of custom visual design as well as User Interface customizations that may introduce or limit functionality.
  • Complete UI Customization wipes out the default SharePoint presentation layer and replaces it with custom developed controls and web parts. Public-facing websites with many development resources may choose to do this to meet stringent accessibility requirements or the freedom to control the markup for flexible and responsive design. 

“Branding SharePoint is not so hard that it can’t be learned but it’s hard enough that I have job security.” – Marcy Kellar (yes. I just quoted myself)

SharePoint UX Design

SharePoint UX Design is the holistic and integrated approach to designing a positive user experience specific to the SharePoint platform.   In addition to traditional User Experience design, a deep knowledge of SharePoint functionality, SharePoint user expectations and roles is required. 

“The design of good houses requires an understanding of both the construction materials and the behavior of real humans.” – Peter Morville  




Defining User Experience – Luke W

10 things that UX is not – Whitney Hess

A Definition of “User Experience” – FatDux.com

Challenging Conventional Assumptions About User Experience Design –InspireUX.com

The Fundamentals of Experience Design

Interface Design Skill-set Diagram

What is User-Centered Design?

Practical SharePoint 2010 Branding and Customization

Beginning SharePoint Designer 2010

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About Marcy Kellar

Marcy Kellar is a SharePoint Solution Architect at Perficient and well known for her expertise in SharePoint branding. Her specialties include user experience design, branding and UI customization, information architecture, web content management, and usability testing. Marcy’s experience spans over 20 years and includes work in design, life sciences, psychology and R&D. Marcy is co-author of Beginning SharePoint Designer 2010 (Wrox, October 2010) and is a former professor at the Art Institute teaching user centered design courses, “Intro to User Centered Design” and “Usability Testing.” She is a popular speaker, author and award-winning artist and photographer.

Branding, design, featured, SharePoint, User Experience, User Interface, ux

One Response to What’s the Difference Between SharePoint Branding, User Interface Design and User Experience?

  1. Sara December 11, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Trying to decide if this belongs in SharePoint or UI/UX. This is a gem of an article!

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