I’ve noticed over the last couple of years visiting various organisations, whether to train them specifically to use SharePoint Designer or to get them up to speed with the out-of-the-box functionality, that there is one conversation that tends to polarise people – whether SharePoint Designer should be “allowed” to be used within that organisation.

These polarising views have intrigued me and in this post I am going to look at where some of the issues come about and what choices you have to address them.

Note: This post and the one following address SharePoint 2010. SharePoint Designer has seen some additional changes in the newest 2013 release, and here are a couple of blog posts to update you on this.
Marc D Anderson
Jennifer Mason

SharePoint Designer is a free download, so what if my users just download and install it?

This is true – SharePoint Designer is a free download from Microsoft – however, it does not bypass any security you have in place within your site or site collection. If users open up a site in SharePoint Designer where they only have read (Visitor) permissions or edit (Contribute) permissions, they will be denied access.


SharePoint Designer is really scary and hard to use

This may have been the case in earlier versions, but the 2010 version of SharePoint Designer makes it so much easier, and given its consistency with the rest of the Microsoft Office suite, the learning curve is similar to any other application.

Like any software you use, you get out what you put in! There are a plethora of resources out there to help you get started or carry out specific tasks. If you have SharePoint Designer, then it is your responsibility to find out how to use it. There are great resources available on the Microsoft Office site, MSDN, and SharePoint-Videos.com if you can’t convince your boss to send you to more formal training.

If someone edits the master page, they are going to break our whole intranet!

Well that really depends. Firstly on what permissions they have and secondly, what site they open up.

To affect the entire intranet (assuming it is contained within a single Site Collection), a user must be the Site Collection Administrator, part of the Site Owners group (with the Full Control permission level) or part of the Designers group (with the Design permission level). By carefully considering WHO should be part of these groups – especially who is a Site Collection Administrator – you can save yourself a whole lot of grief by ensuring only the “right” people have access. The Site Owners group is not the default group for manager who says “I must have access to everything”, but that discussion is for another post!

The second thing is that the user must open the top level site, not a sub-site, to affect changes to the entire intranet master page. Each sub-site contains a copy of the out-of-the-box master pages and any changes made to these will only apply to that sub-site (and any sites below it in the hierarchy).

We need to lock SharePoint Designer down

That may indeed be the case, but ensure you understand what granular permission control you have available to you before switching it off completely. You can easily manage the use of SharePoint Designer by carefully considering the permissions on each site and what options people have available when they do fire up SharePoint Designer. Check out the next post on SharePoint Designer for the options available.

Creating workflows is a developer task – we just don’t have the resources

There are some workflows available out-of-the-box that site owners or power users can add to lists and libraries. These cover common scenarios where you might want to send a document to several people to review and collect their feedback or to gain approval.

Anything beyond these scenarios needs to be created using SharePoint Designer, or for very complex workflows, Visual Studio. SharePoint 2010 greatly improves the options available to power users to quickly and easily automate common business processes. This could be as simple as adding an announcement to let people know about an upcoming meeting or training session when it is added as an event on the calendar. Or it could be a multi-stage approval process where, for example, an expense claim is greater than $5,000 and therefore needs an additional manager to sign it off before it is paid.

If you are building workflows from scratch, it can be time-consuming and confusing to get your head around the implementation of business logic. To make the process a whole lot easier, try building them in Visio Premium first – you get a nice diagram that you can present to the business, plus you can export them to SharePoint Designer to speed up the process. Many organisations find that with this approach, a technically savvy business analyst or power user can create workflows for themselves.

Evil or misunderstood?

In closing, I think it’s really the misunderstanding of SharePoint Designer rather than the tool itself that leads to “the root of all evil” view.

SharePoint Designer can help to work around many of the little things that can take a site from being used, to really being adopted and to improving the way people work. It can sometimes bridge the gap of a partial solution (using out-of-the-box capability), which may be cumbersome to use – and a fully developed, over-engineered solution, that over-delivers on requirements.

Of course, like anything, there are considerations and caveats, and these should be looked at when deciding on when and where to allow SharePoint Designer – and perhaps some of this falls more under governance planning for your SharePoint Site.

It is perhaps wise to think carefully before taking it away from all your users completely, thereby stifling their options for creating truly great solutions to their everyday business problems. If you do make it available to all and sundry, make sure there is some guidance and/or support there to help them understand how to use this very powerful tool.

What do you think? Is SharePoint Designer locked down in your organisation?