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Understanding SharePoint Designer

From: SharePoint 2010 New Features

Video: Understanding SharePoint Designer

For normal day-to-day operations in SharePoint, you don't need SharePoint Designer, but if you're planning on customizing your sites, either the way they look or the way they behave, you're going to want this application. SharePoint Designer 2010 is a free download from Microsoft. In previous versions you'd find it under the Microsoft Office set of tools but these days when it's installed, it typically installs under a SharePoint section. When I open up SharePoint Designer, it will ask me either to tell it the address of an existing SharePoint site or create a new one.

Understanding SharePoint Designer

For normal day-to-day operations in SharePoint, you don't need SharePoint Designer, but if you're planning on customizing your sites, either the way they look or the way they behave, you're going to want this application. SharePoint Designer 2010 is a free download from Microsoft. In previous versions you'd find it under the Microsoft Office set of tools but these days when it's installed, it typically installs under a SharePoint section. When I open up SharePoint Designer, it will ask me either to tell it the address of an existing SharePoint site or create a new one.

I'm going to open an existing one, which really means I just need to give it the name of the URL to that site. Now if you'd used SharePoint Designer 2007, you'll immediately notice that the user interface is significantly different this time around and that's because we've moved away from the idea of trying to show us the SharePoint site as if it was a conventional website, like you were using Dreamweaver or a conventional web design tool, into more of a SharePoint- centric view of the site, which is what seeing now and I believe much more useful way of looking at it.

With this site open, on the left-hand side of the screen we have the Navigation pane, which allows us to browse through the different components that make up our SharePoint site. I can select from my Lists and Libraries, from my Workflows or my Master Pages or Security Groups. Selecting any of these options will not only change the main part of the screen, but will also change the Ribbon along the top part of the user interface. Because like SharePoint itself, like the Office applications, the Ribbon is context-sensitive to what we have selected.

So if I have my Lists and Libraries selected in the Navigation section, I'll see the options to create a new SharePoint list or create a custom list or a document library. The way you can build out a website in SharePoint by using the browser is also replicated in here. So if you'd prefer to use SharePoint Designer to do all of your site creation, you could certainly do that. Now when people are new to SharePoint Designer, I often find they underestimate this application. It's a very common misunderstanding that what you use SharePoint Designer for is to change the way these sites look.

Their color schemes and their fonts and that's certainly something that you can do but it's much, much more than that. I like to think of SharePoint Designer as being used for four main reasons. You use it for branding, changing the way the sites look, you use it for workflows and defining business processes, you use it for connecting your web pages to external sources of data and use it for creating new entry forms. So let's take those four things one-by-one. The first thing, the most commonly understood piece, is the branding piece.

The idea that this site has a certain look and feel to it and we can change that. And very commonly, when you're working with the way that your site looks, you might be tempted to go to your site pages, but bear in mind, SharePoint generates most of the pages for you. So in fact, the most interesting piece that you're looking for is in your Master Pages section. Now depending on how your sys admin has this configured, you may not see this option because they have to allow master pages to be edited. But if I select Master Pages and then select v4.master, which is the default master page for a SharePoint 2010 site, it's going to first give me a lot of information about this file, who it was created by, what version it is, but I do have an option to edit it, and this will open it up in the conventional Designer view, allowing me to change the master page, and whatever change I would make here would affect every page in this SharePoint site.

So if I wanted to take my Quick Launch bar and move it over to the right-hand side, I could do that. Now if you're used to other conventional web design tools like Dreamweaver, you might also be used to the idea of shifting from the WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get view, into the Code view or even into a combination of the two. When you're editing a master page, you'll have a Style Ribbon, which will allow you to manage cascading style sheets or even attach a new style sheet for your overall design, and if you want to make a significant visual change to your SharePoint site, you're certainly going to want to use SharePoint Designer.

But that's only reason one of four to use this application. The next reason for using SharePoint Designer is to create custom workflows. Workflows are business processes, reusable collections of questions and tasks that you can have happen automatically when say a new document is created or a list item is changed. New in SharePoint Designer 2010 is the idea of both creating a Reusable Workflow, something we couldn't do before because all workflows had to be attached to a specific list or library, and you can even edit the existing out-of-the-box workflows that SharePoint provides like the Approval or Collect Signatures workflow.

Creating a workflow still requires no code. If you want to create say a workflow on the documents library for checking for a title, if you want to for example, create a workflow on a Document Library to make sure people don't upload policy documents into that library, your workflow is essentially a series of conditions and actions where you're going to ask questions. What is the name of this document, how big is it. Your conditions are things like, if it was created by a specific person, or the file size is a certain size, or in our case the Title field contains certain keywords.

You can then perform all sorts of actions such as sending an email to the user or checking it out, or updating another list such as the Task list. Workflows in SharePoint are an area you can spend significant time on and they've not only improved the workflow creation process in SharePoint Designer, but if you're someone who prefers working in Visio, you can actually use it in SharePoint 2010 to define and create custom workflows by visually putting together the flow of operations.

The third reason for using SharePoint Designer is you can select something called data sources. In a typical SharePoint site, your data sources are just your list and your libraries. But using SharePoint Designer, we can also define new data sources to a database or a web services connection or an XML file, which gives you actually a way of creating pages in your SharePoint sites that are using this external data as a source of information. The fourth primary reason for using SharePoint Designer is it allows you to make new forms and by forms I mean the web pages where you add, edit, or delete items in your list and your libraries.

If I go into a simple list like the Links list here, the summary information that I'm being shown includes the views of this list. I can also create new views in SharePoint Designer, and the forms that this list uses. The three forms being shown up here, DispForm, EditForm, and NewForm, are your display, edit and new forms. If you want to change one of those for example, the NewForm, we can open that up in SharePoint Designer, and I could do some basic changing about the way that this looks but I could also decide to create a new form for this Links list, and design it from scratch. I could even have the option of designing it using InfoPath.

SharePoint Designer 2010 should not be underestimated. It allows you to do way more than just design. If you're wanting to perform significant customization of the way that your sites look and the way that they behave with workflow, custom forms, effectively writing your own custom applications without code, this is the program to do it in.

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SharePoint 2010 New Features

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