I'm a designer…can you guess the outcome of this? But really, let's think logically about this before jumping to conclusions :).
Before we decide whether or not branding SharePoint is necessary, we need to all be on the same page as to the purpose of SharePoint. According to Microsoft:
Microsoft SharePoint 2010 makes it easier for people to work together. Using SharePoint 2010, your people can set up Web sites to share information with others, manage documents from start to finish, and publish reports to help everyone make better decisions. (link)
It's clear from the beginning that SharePoint is not about form, but about function. It is meant to be a collaborative space where huge numbers of people can effectively communicate and work. And after working with it for a few years, I'll give it that. It does what it says it will do.
But is it pretty? No.
Deeper than "why brand SharePoint?", you have to ask the question, "why brand anything?" Is branding purely for marketing purposes? Is it something you do because "everyone else is doing it?" It has to be more than that. In fact, working in SharePoint provides more incentive than ever to brand.
A typical SharePoint installation could host hundreds or thousands of users. With social networking and collaboration as some of the main components of SharePoint 2010, it means that thousands of your users are replacing water cooler trips and meetings with emails and version control.
In the words of Depeche Mode (which I'm actually listening right now), "people are people;" and for your company to be successful, your people need to be kept happy. If you have thousands of users interacting with an online portal every day, it's really important that it makes their jobs more efficient and more enjoyable. I believe Microsoft has done a pretty decent job at making things fairly efficient with SP2010…as long as you like clicking ;). Where they lack is in making the process enjoyable. The advertising for SharePoint is far nicer to look at than any SharePoint installation I've ever seen. People like to look at nice things, it's pretty simple. So business owners and decision-makers should be allocating time and effort into branding their portals so their users enjoy using it.
Branding your internal SharePoint portal might seem like a waste of time (after all…why do internal marketing?), but it might bring some unexpected results. And keep in mind, when I say "branding," I don't mean sticking your logo in "Site Settings > Title & Description"! Spend time creating an internal branding strategy that serves your users and delights them when they login every morning. If anything, the pressure is much lower…you're not trying to market to your employees!
A few things to think about:
- a fresh design can act as a buffer while you create new functionality
- internal marketing can increase team spirit and camaraderie
- including fun (not just work!) elements in your design can lighten spirits in a dreary office (don't be afraid to be cheesy, a lot of people secretly like that stuff!)
So I say "Brand!" It's really important to your employees that they are able to use a nicely designed system. It lets them know you're thinking about them. It lets them know someone is actually behind the curtain pulling the wires, and you didn't just purchase some "system off a shelf."