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Streamlining the process of customizing a public site in SharePoint Online, Office 365

In a video tutorial titled The basics of SharePoint branding Yaroslav Pentsarskyy aptly sums up the opportunity represented by the out-of-the-box “Change the Look” feature included with SharePoint Online, Office 365: “There’s quite a lot of them — but there isn’t quite a lot of them”, meaning the range of out-of-the-box “looks” appears to be well populated, but, in fact, most of these “looks” are actually very similar.

But, as Yaroslav explains, if one looks beyond the outer trappings of a specific “look”, to what really matters, “. . . . to start with the layout (each of the layout options, by the way, is named for a capital of a country, “Berlin”, “Oslo”, “Lyon” and “Tokyo”), first . . . Is it centered? Is the navigation at the top?”, then, from the 41 options included with “Change the Look” feature it may be possible to find one, or more, from which the branding of a specific site can be customized. Of course, if this approach works, then there will be no need to start the entire process from scratch.

Starting with a decision as to which “Look” has a workable layout makes sense. In fact, as Yaroslav demonstrates in this video, it is a very simple matter of some clicks of a mouse to remove the background image included with a “Look” and, as well, to change the color scheme, either with another scheme, or to easily create a custom scheme by editing the file containing the color settings.

Once a “Look” has been selected, and packaged for use, then a click on the button at the top right of the page labeled “Try It Out” applies it to the site. Once applied, a click on “Keep It” transforms the “Look” into the default for a site.

In fact, for public sites, only, a number of the “Site” controls are available directly from the SharePoint ribbon, within a unique tab for SharePoint Online titled “Site”. But readers should be aware of a note of caution Yaroslav offers in this video. Opting to use the “Edit Style Sheet” feature of the “Site” ribbon tab can be “more of a headache than it’s worth” as it “doesn’t work as expected”. Yaroslav explains a JavaScript is used to inject whatever modifications a user chooses to make via this feature into the public site from a temporary folder, which can be counter productive given the other style sheets at work to project the entire site’s “Look”. The safest way to think about this feature is with regard to controlling the branding of page content, only.

Anyone familiar with site branding may wonder as to where, in a public SharePoint Online Office 365 site, one should store custom CSS files, and other design assets. Yaroslav points to the “Style Library” (accessed from Site Contents) as the best repository for this data, although images should be stored in Site Assets.