SharePoint is NOT Ugly… You just need to BRAND it!
I'm sure you've heard that SharePoint has a boring interface. I was even recently told the default SharePoint looks ugly. Well, that is a matter of opinion, but if you have to look at it every day… I may begin to agree with you. What I don't agree with is that it is too hard to change the interface. With master pages there are easy ways of changing it. I'm not saying I think it's easy to create a master page, but swapping one out and changing the overall look and feel can be easy with a few different master pages to choose from. Essentially, one can download master pages from a variety of places, create your own. The way to think about a SharePoint Master page is to think of changing the chrome and navigation. It is essentially something that can change your overall design and contains the CSS for fonts and styles. Another way to think about it is changing the brand for a site.
There are a few experts out there that I would point to on Branding. If you're an enterprise, you will likely either have branding people on staff or you'd hire it out. In my experience, the branding people you have on staff wouldn't want to touch SharePoint. They are likely afraid of it. It is something that takes some getting use to, and may indeed be a love hate relationship in the beginning and that's emphasis on love to hate.
I'm going to credit Marcy Kellar for this awesome list of SharePoint Designers who actually LOVE to do SharePoint Branding. They are all very accessible on Twitter, but most of them are busy. It's still worth reaching out to them. We had Heather Solomon come out to do some designer and SharePoint UX training. As well we've outsourced some master page work to Heather Waterman, and she's done a great job. Randy we pinged, but he was booked out a few months. There aren't a lot of really good designers, so when you find one… hold on to 'em.
Responsive Design.. Don't forget form factor
There are a couple of resources I would point out that have been very, very interesting. I'm a BIG fan of the Responsive HTML5 Master Page that Kyle did. I seriously think anyone deploying SharePoint today has to think about Mobile. It's so important to consider the various environments and desktops that will not just be viewing the site, but really using it. I'm anxious to incorporate responsive into our styles. iPad is a reality I live with. Definitely will be considering the MS Surface form factor for Microsoft's mobile touchscreen devices as well when it comes out and gets adopted. I'm hoping the responsiveness we build in now will make that really easy.
Content is king!
So what are you doing to make your site sticky? Have you added those parts to your page that make someone want to come back? Have you added engagement? I've recently added conversation to search and I'm looking to add notifications and feeds in a much stronger way to add real interactivity. I'm looking to provide better preview capabilities around documents, and search. These features do exist… in third party solutions. Here's one third party solution that provides some interesting enhancements to your data that will make it pop…
I've recently become more aware of Infragistics NetAdvantage for SharePoint. They have some really cool webparts for visualization. These webparts work with existing data in your lists or from data you want to expose through a BCS (business connectivity services) connection. If your data is in a list you can expose it in a chart with some very rich controls and easily customize the look and feel of the chart. Instead of just adding a simple KPI with an up or down arrow you can add a gauge like as in a fuel gauge.
I've recently been looking at how to do better maps. With Bing and Google there are APIs for leveraging their maps, but you're still developing quite a bit before you get really good flexibility with your map. The Map web part from Infragistics is provides geospatial maps for your data. Since you likely have the data in a SharePoint list, why not display the data on a map. It's straightforward to apply a data source with appropriate geographical information to a map and format the result to provide visualizations. For example, you could show population density by country and drill down to state, county and even deeper as needed. The possibilities are great.
There are a lot of other web parts out there, but I hope these give you a start for understanding your data and your site doesn't have to look ugly. Not all of them are great looking, but most of them do have trial downloads. I'm not going to try to represent all of the companies that provide webparts… there are likely over a hundred, but I hope this gives you an idea of some of the possibilities.
This post sponsored by Infragistics NetAdvantage for SharePoint download a trial today