Is there a “fix” for SharePoint?

By Maria Taylor

Microsoft states that SharePoint has 190 million users across 200,000 customer organizations which use it for intranets, team sites, and content management.

So, let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla that is SharePoint. For enterprise shops looking to create a document management system and a collaboration workspace for their employees, SharePoint is the go-to solution. That’s how most people end up with it – it’s the best viable option that’s out there in an enterprise context where Microsoft is already in play.

SharePoint has a really amazing search capability. It can be a very powerful tool for helping people find the information that they need, for centrally organizing information, and for making all of that information available across the enterprise.

So, why does everybody hate SharePoint?

The out-of-the-box user experience for SharePoint is difficult at best. It exposes so much, and the language and user interface pattern are very Microsoft-specific and SharePoint-specific. This makes it very difficult for most people to adopt and to use.

I believe Microsoft’s biggest mistake with SharePoint is that they tried to design a solution to fit everyone. SharePoint has total flexibility and you can do a million things, but if you’re just a person that needs to come in to get something, you don’t want to have to figure that out. It’s not set up for the way users’ mental models typically work.

In our user research we find that the reason nobody is taking advantage of all that power and all those features in SharePoint is they just can’t get past the user interface. Everyone says it’s too hard and they don’t understand it. The out-of-the-box look of SharePoint is very unappealing. It doesn’t hit all those criteria that as a UX designer you’re supposed to hit when you create a product like a clear and easy-to-understand information hierarchy and consistent navigation in all the right places. All these affordances and criteria are not naturally built-in, in the way that you would expect them to be.

Many organizations struggle with the fact that out-of-the-box, SharePoint is not readily usable. It doesn’t meld well with their branding, and it doesn’t represent to their employees the best of what a business system can represent, so they’re looking to solve those problems. That’s where we come in.

As a UX design consultancy, Limina is often called in to fix two different scenarios. In the first scenario, the client knows that they have to use SharePoint. It has existed in its legacy form for long enough to get a bad rap, and our client needs to figure out a way to roll their solution out and not call it SharePoint. They want to figure out a way to lay a new user experience on top of it, and let SharePoint just be the technical underpinnings. In the second scenario, our client is in the process of doing due diligence and trying to figure out the right solution for their organization and SharePoint is one of the options on the table. We can help with both situations.

Right now, I’m in the process of road showing a client’s new intranet which has been company branded so that it’s not called SharePoint. As I’ve presented the new intranet to employees in multiple cities, everybody says, “Wow, that’s great. I could totally use this.” Afterwards, when they learn that it was built on SharePoint, their reaction is, “Wow, I didn’t know SharePoint could do that. I would never have thought that was SharePoint.”

In my opinion, that is exactly the reaction that you should get. SharePoint should just be the platform for delivery. If you think about it, no one says, “Wow, that website was built on Drupal. I didn’t know Drupal could do that.” Or, “That website was built on WordPress. I didn’t know WordPress could do that.” No. It’s just that SharePoint has this legacy issue of a bad interface and poor usability.

At Limina, that’s one of our goals – to make people think of SharePoint no differently than they would the backbone of any other content management system. The platform itself should be transparent – companies should focus on the experience that they can build for their users.


What’s your experience with SharePoint? Let us know in the comments section.