These days when searching for SharePoint Branding on Google you will find a lot more articles than one or two years ago. Unfortunately I have seen and heard crazy stories about big amounts of money paid for branding (reminds me of the early days of the web when only somewhat big companies could afford a website because it took qualified experts to handcraft every single page).
The situation we are talking about here, is mostly found in medium size and for sure in large corporations and organizations. If you have just one SharePoint server for 10-20 people, you probably don’t want to mess with branding anyway.
There is no question that an outside facing SharePoint site (i.e., a SharePoint site publicly accessible on the Internet) needs some kind of branding. Intranets usually have some level of branding anyway, so why not the SharePoint sites as well. The more interesting question is, why you need to brand sites used for collaboration (e.g. project teams). Let’s say you/your company/your client has such a high reputation associated with the design, that the question posed here is irrelevant.
Fine – so the really interesting question is: What kind of branding do you actually need? Michael T. Smith of SharePoint Pro Magazine posts a few points about that, which you might want to read, before signing that 5 figure+ contract just for the branding.
The way SharePoint looks can be changed in several ways and the kind of branding I am talking about here (i.e., not just switching a logo) usually involves at least SharePoint Designer or even Visual Studio 2010. Both tools require some or a lot of knowledge from the person sitting in front of the computer.
If the targeted SharePoint environment is a two- or three tier setup, deployment also is a very important consideration that might actually eliminate SharePoint Designer as tool of choice – leaving you with Visual Studio 2010 … which is a developer’s baby (*).
Note: SharePoint branding IS in fact tricky. Yes, you need a specialist. However, that does not mean, you should not question what (s)he is telling you. When the doctor tells you to take medication X you still wanna understand, why you should take that medicine and what it does to your body. Same thing here.
Bottom line: I have seen too many branded SharePoint sites (internal and external) that were a mess to work with as a content editor, because the branding was done improperly. So only do it, if you really need to, and if at all possible, stay with ‘just’ CSS adjustments (hard enough to get those right).
(*) There are some third party tools available by now, e.g. on Codeplex or nextFLOW’s service. I have not tested and have no experience with any of them in terms of the visual results and they work in a deployment process. Make sure you get the right one for you version, as branding for MOSS 2007 and SharePoint 2010 are quite different.