Options for Branding SharePoint Online (Office 365)

*Updated on December 10, 2014 with info directly from Microsoft!

“Right now we are working with a bunch of SharePoint MVP’s who are providing all of the common branding scenarios they have. The intention is that we will provided supported hooks to achieve these. And not just across SharePoint but suite wide. We have a list of 30 the engineering team are researching right now based on code they’ve been provided by MVP’s. […] There are no promises right now on when engineering will have the hooks. But it’s a step in the right direction.” – Jeremy Thake



There’s been some interesting chatter going on lately about what the options are for branding Office 365. Recently Microsoft has updated their guidance against using custom master pages, custom site templates or sandboxed solutions! (Newly updated guidance as of December 9, 2014 here.) It seems as if is confirmed that something new will be coming in the future but for now we are stuck in limbo. Companies aren’t going to sit around and wait for the next option to be revealed, they are in need of solutions and guidance immediately. I have done a good amount of research over the past couple weeks and I have found the following options to be available right now:

  1. Don’t custom brand – This is not what you want to hear but for now it is the best option. Wait for future enhancements or use all out of the box options (master pages, themes, etc.).
  2. Use the theming engine – “Designers can use the theming engine to create custom themes, which are called composed looks in SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online. At a minimum, themes define colors. A complete theme defines colors, fonts, a background image, and the associated master page, and a .preview file that defines how the .master page is previewed. Developers can write remote provisioning code to apply themes using the remote provisioning pattern.”Source
  3. Brand like you always have before – Design manager, custom master pages, Apps for deployment, etc. HERE’S THE PROBLEM: Microsoft is continually rolling out updates, including to the 2 default master pages. This means if you change them or roll out your own, you will need to compare yours to theirs on a frequent (weekly?) basis. Then you will need to update your master page with changes made to the default ones so that your users can take advantage of all the new features.
  4. Just CSS and JavaScript – After a good amount of research, I have found a middle ground. What if you could have custom CSS and JavaScript running on every page without having to deploy a custom App or use a custom master page? Once you enable the Publishing Feature on your site, you can utilize an Alternate CSS file for all your sites (Site Settings > Look and Feel > Master Page > Expand the Alternate CSS URL section). That just leaves the custom JavaScript. This blog shows step by step how to get a custom JavaScript file running on all pages in SharePoint Online using only JavaScript/JSOM. You are still going to need to check the site for affected CSS/JS changes but it should be on a more “as needed” basis.

What do you think? Are there other options or variants I am missing? Please let me know so I can update immediately.

Tim Ferro

Trackbacks Comments
Leave a Comment