SharePoint 2013 Design & Branding Tips

I have recently spent some time focusing on the new design features of SharePoint 2013 and have run into some snags and challenges. I thought it necessary to share some of my experiences in hopes that others can use this information to help them along.

SharePoint 2013 has a couple new features around design and branding. There are as follows:

  1. The Design Manager
  2. The Snippet Gallery

Now, designers can design HTML in their favorite HTML editor and turn over that code to SharePoint. By uploading HTML to your master page gallery, you can use the Design Manager to convert that HTML into a workable Master Page. It is important to note that there isn’t a magic wand that converts every conceivable HTML file into a perfect Master Page, so there are some things you need to be aware of when designing your HTML file first.

HTML File Structure

SharePoint 2013 requires that your HTML file be XHTML compliant. In other words, it needs to take on the same structure as XHTML 1.0 transitional files. Be careful with HTML 5 as well, as some of the structure changes may not work during conversion. It’s a good idea to upload your HTML file to an XML validator to ensure it meets the requirements. A good tool to use is located at

Example of an XHTML 1.0 Transitional file

In addition to making your HTML file XML-compliant, here are a couple of other tips:

  1. Do not insert <form> tags.
  2. Do not design your navigation menus in HTML, utilize the SharePoint 2013 snippet gallery.
  3. Remember that HTML is converted to a master page, however you can use the Design Manager to create new page layouts as well.

Master Page Gallery

The first thing you will need to do before attempting to upload your HTML files to SharePoint for conversion, is map a drive to the _catalogs\masterpage location within SharePoint 2013.

I ran into an issue with mapping a drive to my local master page gallery in SharePoint 2013. My Virtual Machine was running Windows Server 2012 Standard. If you receive an error when mapping the drive, such as “Your client does not support opening this list with Windows Explorer.” then you will need to install the “Desktop Experience” feature from the Server Manager, shown below in the screenshot.
Desktop Experience

In addition to the feature, make sure your WebClient service is also running from within Server Manager, see screenshot below.Web Client

Once you have successfully mapped the drive, here are a couple of other tips to follow:

  1. It doesn’t really matter where your HTML, images, and CSS files are located. However, to make things easier and to be smart about organization, create sub folders for the following:
    • Images
    • CSS
    • JS
  2. Once a file is converted, SharePoint will manage the association of your HTML file to the Master Page. This means that you can directly edit the HTML file without ever having to touch the Master Page. If you attempt to edit the Master Page in SharePoint Designer, you will get an error.
  3. If you need to remove association of the HTML file to the Master Page, load the Design Manager, click Edit Master Pages and open the context menu (three dots) on the desired file. You will want to click on Edit Properties and scroll down the page and uncheck the Associated File check box.
    • When you remove association, you can edit the Master Page in SharePoint Designer.

Creating a Page Layout

You can now create page layouts with the Design Manager as well. This will allow you to define the layout of the actual content that will be authored within SharePoint on a page. If you are familiar with creating and modifying Page Layouts in previous versions, you will be happy to know that the Design Manager has made it easier.

To create a new page layout, here are the steps:

  1. From the Site Settings page, click on Design Manager
  2. Click on option 6 (Edit Page Layouts)
  3. The screen will give you the option to create a new page layout and list any current page layouts that may have been created. Click on Create a page layout.
  4. Provide a name for the page layout
  5. Associate the page layout with the desired master page and content type
  6. Click OK

Below is a screenshot of the create page layout screen:

Page Layout1After you have created your new page layout, navigate to your _catalogs\masterpage mapped drive. The new page layout .aspx page will be visible along with the .html file. When you edit the page layout HTML file, SharePoint will manage the association with the Page Layout in SharePoint and automatically apply your changes.

Brief Overview of the Snippet Gallery

The SharePoint 2013 snippet gallery is where you can insert SharePoint elements (top bar navigation, edit mode panel, search box, etc.). When you insert the snippets, SharePoint creates commented markup in your HTML file. While it is possible to edit the snippet markup in the HTML file, it is advised not to do so. When you are inserting a snippet, SharePoint provides an interface where you can modify the behavior, styles, and properties of the control you are inserting. Below is a screenshot of my custom design applied with the snippet gallery open.

Snippet Gallery

Once you have selected the appropriate snippet you wish to insert, you can copy it to the clipboard and insert it into your HTML file.

Hopefully these brief, high level tips will help get you on your way with designing sites on the SharePoint 2013 platform.

2 thoughts on “SharePoint 2013 Design & Branding Tips

  1. This is indeed funky. Have you found a solution? From what I turned up from a quick search on GDI+ errors is that it is related to ASP.NET and an image stream and trying to save the image. Are you getting that error in other places as well? It doesn’t make sense that it would show up when trying to use the Design Manager.

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