Monday, September 10, 2018

SharePoint Modern Site Design Methods

Microsoft plans to eventually phase out Classic pages for SharePoint. Therefore, familiarizing yourself with the Modern sites standard to SharePoint Online and Sharepoint Server 2019 onwards will be essential. Continue reading in order to familiarize yourself with methods to design SharePoint Modern sites.

For many desktop users, the differences may seem minimal, however, the Modern design takes a responsive approach. Because of this, the interface scales and rearranges itself for mobile users, allowing for better phone readability and access.

However, design tools are more restricted compared to with Classic sites, since responsive sites are more complex and, therefore, breakable.

If you need help with setting up SharePoint for your organization, feel free to contact us.

SharePoint Design Methods Article Banner

I'll cover two methods of redesigning your SharePoint sites. I'll also touch on CSS, and why I don't think site-wide CSS is worth using in SharePoint Modern's current state.

The first is least intrusive; therefore, if you can't enable scripts or publishing for security reasons, this is your method.

1. Change The Look

In order to change the color scheme, fonts, and background image of a SharePoint site, you can use Change The Look. This will allow you to choose from default schemes, and then make some changes.

What You'll Need

Your account will need the "Design" privilege level in order to use this tool, and that's it. Therefore, this is by far the least demanding of the three design options, in terms of permissions and site settings.

Where To Find It

Change The Look Option Microsoft SharePoint Modern"Change The Look" is inside Site Settings, but if you're not sure where this is, look to the upper right: SharePoint Settings Menu Icon

Click this "Settings" button, and then Site Contents. Afterwards, look for Site Settings near the right side of your screen.

Now you should see lists of options, one of which will be Change The Look.

What You Can Do

This means that you can select a theme from "Change The Look," for example, Green, but use another color scheme. You get 17 default themes and 32 color palettes.

SharePoint Green Look
SharePoint Color Palettes

In this same dialog, you can also add a background image. Note, however, that SharePoint will crop your image in sometimes unpredictable ways, therefore subtle images are preferable.

I detail how to perform these actions in the video below.

Finally, here's how to change the site's logo, essential for company branding. This is not done through a menu in the SharePoint site proper; rather, you go into Outlook through "Conversations."

Changing A SharePoint Site Logo

In "Conversations," you'll see a circle (probably with two letters) towards the upper left, above "+New." Click this, and then a dialog will appear on the right allowing you to change the image.

You'll need to be rather patient since, on SharePoint Online, it takes between 30 minutes and a day to change.

2. Custom Color Palette Tool/Composed Looks

This next method uses the Composed Looks feature. This allows you to add new Looks, therefore, custom palettes and, to an extent, Master Pages. However, custom Master Pages are not fully supported in SharePoint Modern, so in this case they should be avoided.

What You'll Need

SharePoint Web Designer Galleries Settings Scripts EnabledYou'll need at least Design privileges, but a Site Collection Admin or Global Admin will need to enable custom scripts. This is a relatively simple operation using PowerShell; here are Microsoft's directions for it.

Your site administrator can also enable this through the site settings in the browser, but it takes at least 24 hours to take effect.

Afterwards, you should see a few new options in your Site Settings. Master Pages, Themes, and Composed Looks, for example, will appear.

Creating Your Composed Look

Go into Composed Looks, and then you'll see the list of default looks you could use in the first method. In order to make our own, the first thing we'll need is our own SharePoint color palette file.

You can get SharePoint Color Palette Tool 2013 on Microsoft's site.

In the video below, I'll describe how to use this tool in order to create custom palettes. Then, we'll go over how to get them into a Composed Look.

While you're following the instructions, take note that you'll need to type in URLs very carefully. With Composed Looks, you won't get error messages when there's a typo or syntax error; rather, they just won't appear.

Further, you can't edit to correct Composed Looks; you have to start over again. Hence, extra care in copying URLs and checking file directories will spare you a lot of frustration.

If you're on a Team Site, your starting directory will be

Meanwhile, for your main site, it will be

3. Custom CSS & Why I Don't Recommend It

In its current state, Modern SharePoint doesn't fully support sitewide CSS. Indeed, any web designer knows that this is rather unfortunate.

While you can change fonts using Composed Looks, you can't change font sizes, enlarge elements where needed, and so on. It's not impossible to implement sitewide CSS, however in most cases I would not use the currently-accepted method.

At this time, as of September 2018, SPFx is the main way of implementing custom CSS in SharePoint Modern. SPFx, or SharePoint Framework, allows you to create apps that extend SharePoint's functionality.

In order to do this, however, you'll need access to your site's app catalog. Unless you're the site owner and administrator, or you're working with a small organization, this will be a tough one.

Therefore, I say that a graphic designer is well-advised to steer clear of this one (and the wrath of IT). But if you're still willing to forge ahead, here's further reading:

SharePoint specialist Hugo Bernier's article for best practices on creating a SharePoint CSS injector:


SharePoint is a changing tool; certainly, Microsoft will modify or improve design functionalities in the future. Although SharePoint Classic will go away eventually, I doubt it will happen overnight, as that will affect too many organizations.

Because of this, I see Classic and Modern existing side-by-side for a long while. However, I hope this article helped to get you started on how to get your Modern sites looking like they should.

If I've left anything out, or if you have a question or correction, please let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Can Neuropsychology Help You Create Effective Training?

Some of the most exciting research on cognitive learning is coming from the study of Neuropsychology. For example, I've been watching a video from Peter M. Vishton, PhD in Clinical Psychology and Learning.

Some points of interest, especially for those in Learning & Development:

1. Our Brains Work Best Early: Tackle The Hard Stuff First!

Morning Sunburst Rooster Weather VaneOur brains are most active in the morning, when we have the most energy in our oxygen and glucose levels. We're more awake and ready to take on the challenges of the day... As Dr. Vishton says, we should take on the hardest tasks right from the get-go. If we wait too long, our energy reserves drop and those tasks now become much more draining on our oxygen- and glucose-starved brain later in the day...

Are Courses in Education / Training Designed Backwards?

This brings up the idea of curriculum development in most corporations, agencies and military classrooms. Are we training the most difficult subjects first or way later in the day or week, when the brain is near coma levels?

When I used to train relational database tuning and design, the course materials I had were really easy up-front. Then, as the day, or days in some classes, wore on, the material became increasingly more complex. I used to wonder why the class was so sleepy in the afternoon. Why was it so hard to bring them back to the classroom with an alert brain?

Now it makes sense to me. The curriculum was designed to do easy first and hard at the very end, when no one had any mental oomph left to give (not to mention how the poor instructor was tired too)...

In many corporations, curriculums are developed in the same manner: easy first, hard at the end. Talk about trials and tribulations! This is hard for the teachers and let's not even talk about the poor students who are on total overload in many long, multi-week curriculums.

Optimal Training Design with the Brain in Mind

It would make so much more sense to break classroom sessions into 30-60 minute pieces. Then go one-on-one, into labs, more breaks, etc. before returning to the classroom. In fact, the longer the day, the more breaks should be given. I can verify from classes I've taught that more breaks later in the day are not only welcome but necessary...

Have you looked at your curriculum lately? Ask yourself these questions:

a. Is the curriculum too long?

b. How can you shorten the curriculum to make it more effective?

c. Can the courses/lessons be chunked into more bite-sized pieces for easier digestion by the brain?

d. Are there enough breaks given throughout the day to ensure brain activity at the end of that same day (remember, they have to drive home usually, alert!)

e. How much hands-on can be done between shorter lecture sessions?

f. Can the curriculum goals be achieved in a much shorter time-frame with more diverse classes (i.e. diverse activities, things to do)

There are many more questions you can ask but this is a good start. You can use the graphical guide below to keep these prompts handy as you design/refine your curriculums:

Keep Learners Attention Effective Training Infographic

For more discussion on how to develop more attention-grabbing courses, you can also read my article on design mistakes that make eLearning boring.

2. Neuropsychology Findings on Memory & Gaming

Dr. Vishton also commented on memory and gaming... Whoa, wait!!! Nothing could be wrong with gaming now, could there be?

It turns out that gaming, especially when playing more repetitive, arcade-like games, definitely affects short-term memory in adverse (and sometimes positive) ways.

Can Gaming Worsen Memory by Dulling Emotion?

As I've discussed before, emotions play a leading role in learning. And playing games can reduce the emotional intensity of your life experiences, for better or for worse.

For example, if you go on a first date and feel incredibly happy after a first kiss, going home and playing Tetris, or some other similar game, could erase most of the impact of that first kiss or date.

It deadens the emotions, and the more engaged with the game you are, the more you will forget or deaden that emotion. You could even forget large parts of your recent experiences or the emotional impact those moments had...

Erasing Thoughts Memories on Blackboard

On the other hand, you're driving home and see a car crash with a person on the ground covered in blood, dying... Uggh, not a good memory at all! And yet, if you go home and play Tetris to forget the emotional trauma of what you just saw, the impact of the crash scene will diminish incredibly.

The end conclusion is that gaming screws our minds over when it comes to memory, good or bad. From studies I've done years ago what happens is that brain grooves and goes into loops. Less connections are made and the person in that groove is less capable with language and cognitive skills. Games can literally addict gamers' brains and make them highly unproductive. Not all people will react that way, but many will...

Does Gaming Really Impact Classroom Learning?

If your students are in a full day class then go home and play hours of a game, much of what was learned in the class could be diminished. If you don't believe that, just look at the randomicity of answers provided by students everywhere nowadays... It's kinda scary and corporations spend a lot of money training people who routinely un-train themselves...

Remember, gaming appeals to pleasure centers in the brain and less to areas like the frontal lobes where the executive functions lie...Pleasure and impulsivity tend to go hand in hand...

Conclusions: Analyze Your Training with Neuropsychology

I've already covered some conclusions about the two examples given. There are so many other ways to look at training if we look at it from a neuropsychological standpoint. This area of Psychology can be more easily quantified scientifically, unlike the more complex psycho-emotional sub-disciplines.

The best thing to do is to analyze the training as it stands in your organization. Break it into more pieces, smaller ones at that, and put them back together into a different order. Maximizing some of the principles we talked about could make a huge difference in how we learn and how we produce.

Please leave some of your ideas and comments below and let's start a conversation. Thanks!

Having Trouble with Course Design?

Also, if you need more advice on course design or any other assistance on your Training & Development projects, we're here to help. Give us a call at 1-800-428-3708, send us an e-mail at, or fill out our contact form to learn more about what we can do for you.