I have always been a big user of SharePoint Designer, especially with SharePoint 2010. But is it wrong to be using it? I am not a developer, and the use of HTML, CSS, jQuery or XSLT do not make me a developer either, at least in my opinion. However, ever since I could remember, I would tell my customers that it is best to create “WSPs,” or features you can activate and deploy. So, then, am I wrong to be using SharePoint Designer?

SharePoint Designer: yea or nay?

The SharePoint Designer contribution
SharePoint Designer is the evolution of FrontPage, a Web page editing tool that disappeared with the arrival of Office 2007 and SharePoint Designer.

SharePoint, as discussed in “How Do You Explain the Success of SharePoint in the Enterprise?” is a platform that empowers the “power users” in the company to build more-advanced Web-based solutions without any code. Thus, for a tool like SharePoint Designer that embraces this, it seemed like a no-brainer. With it, I can:

Create workflows—This is probably the main reason I use SharePoint Designer, automating tasks that I would normally do manually. The interface and concepts are fairly easy to understand but can be complex as well, and it’s very similar to Outlook Rules at first.

SharePoint Designer

Custom views—The bread and butter for many power users. It is the ability to connect to a data source such as a list or library, even merged libraries, and displays the content the way that we want.

There are many other applications and fun ways to use SharePoint Designer (conditional formatting for KPI, custom forms without InfoPath, etc.), but that is not the focus of this article.

Why I think it’s important to use
The reality is, even for larger organizations, there isn’t always a SharePoint developer ready to build and package all the requests for solutions desired in the company. But the need for customization isn’t any less there.

Providing SharePoint Designer to your business is actually very helpful. The IT Team, SharePoint Team or even power users can leverage the tool and create advanced solutions within SharePoint.

It’s important because we are preaching the arrival of SharePoint as a platform that liberates IT, helps businesses create their own team sites, and adapt them the way they need. Yet we do not allow them to add workflows and create custom views to their content. Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying to give this tool to every user in the company. But to the trained power users (in charge of a few sites or site collections), absolutely!

Even as a sole consultant on smaller projects, I have learned to appreciate SharePoint Designer’s ability to build the intranets my customer wanted. I would build the underlying architecture (sites, content types, site columns, etc.) and use SPD to add the features I needed to show the publishing pages the way I wanted, adding workflows, tweaking the master pages and so much more. It also allowed the business to take over the files after I left and edit them without having Visual Studio or a developer.

In other words, SharePoint Designer allowed me to build and deliver solutions I could never do before without learning to code.

The downside to SharePoint Designer
Among the many new features in SharePoint 2013 was a big surprise for SharePoint Designer. There no longer is a Design View for seeing a page you are editing, only the code view. And, of course, as many developers that might be reading this article will say, “You should never use SharePoint Designer. Let us build the features properly.”

angry child

The thing is, I completely agree.

If you have the capacity in-house or through consultants to build the custom features you want, and to package them to be deployed throughout your different environments, then that is definitely the way to go. However, we cannot always do this, and the business needs to provide the tools to help SharePoint be the productivity accelerator we want it to be. And sometimes, it’s allowing the 12 power users you have build smart solutions such as workflows with little to no effort.

Another downside to SharePoint Designer is how easy it is for the user to break your SharePoint site. A wrong move in the Master Page Gallery, deleting the homepage, even editing pages can sometimes create more problems than they fix. SharePoint Designer should never be put in the hands of a total beginner or an inexperienced power user; training is required.

Is the missing Design View really such a big deal?
I am definitely expecting a lot of arguments with this but, to be honest, I have not really missed it so far. It took some readjusting and thinking up of new solutions and architecture, but SharePoint 2013 has changed so much that I did not need the Design View as much as I thought.

I can now edit any design-related content, page layouts or master pages through a familiar tool like Dreamweaver. I do not need to create complex XSLT files for my content query Web Part or Data View Web Part anymore because I use display templates with my two new favorite Web Parts: Content Search and Search Results. I can use the Web Part JS Link option to override how things are displayed. So far, the one thing I miss about Design View was being able to create KPIs with conditional formatting in a few minutes.

Is it wrong to use SharePoint Designer?
It’s a great tool for the educated power user, and you should definitely take advantage of it. Though it’s best to always create solutions and have them deployed, it is not always possible in reality. I do not believe anyone is wrong to be using it as long as they understand how to use it. Building a workflow on the content type item is not a good idea. Create a workflow to help invoices get to the right person, cutting down on e-mails without getting developers involved, is a great idea.

Benjamin Niaulin is a SharePoint specialist at Sharegate. Follow him on Twitter at @bniaulin.