Office 365 Themes – Good, Bad & Ugly

I’ve had a few customers ask about Microsoft’s new personalization options for Office 365 this week and I wanted to take the opportunity to provide some details.

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced new features for customers wanting to add a little personalized flair to their Office 365 tenants. The post over on Office Blogs has a lot of great detail and I think they’ve updated it at least once – so stay tuned.

http://blogs.office.com/2014/09/02/personalize-office-365-experience-selecting-themes/

There are some things that seem to apply to all customers and the desire to “brand” their environments is one of them. Particularly with the (somewhat) rigid environment of Office 365, “going with the flow” and tempering their desires to apply branding has been something that a lot of folks have just accepted.

While this update provides “some” of the sought after capabilities, there are still a few points that customers might find lacking and confusing for their users. Consistency is the problem right now – where branding choices are applied (or not applied) inconsistently throughout Office 365 based upon individual user choices. Potential shortcomings aside, Microsoft clearly understands the demand and this move is a great move in the right direction.

So what do you get?

To get started, go to your Office 365 Admin Dashboard (https://portal.office.com/admin). From there, click the link on the right side (towards the top) displaying your company/organization name.

Office 365 Theme Options From Admin Panel

Now, click the link on the left titled “Custom theming”. This will take you to the Manage custom themes for your organization page.

Office-356-Themes--Custom

From here, you can:

  • Upload a custom logo
  • Choose an accent color
  • Choose text & icon colors
  • Choose the color of the Office 365 logo (if you do not want to replace it)
  • Specify an alternative URL for the Office 365 / Custom logo

Once you’ve made the changes that you want, click the Save button at the bottom of the page.

Office365-ThemeOptions2

Now, you may (rightly) expect that the theming choices you’ve just defined will be begin to appear when your users log into Office 365, after all – you just made changes to a screen with the words “Customize Office 365 to reflect your organization’s brand” stamped on it. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Individual users also have the ability to make theming decisions that are applicable only to them and those choices trump what you do at the organizational level.

365 Theme Selector

These are the options available to individual Office 365 users. Users that have not selected a custom theme from this list will see the changes that you’ve made automatically. The reason for this is that by creating an organizational theme, you are simply overwriting the “default” theme seen in this list (top-left, 1st theme option).

So, if a user has already selected something besides the default theme, they will continue to see that design until THEY choose the default theme again… which they may have very little reason to do, considering that it isn’t especially marked or labeled as “the” organizational theme.

To add to the confusion, the user’s selection of a theme is not universal between the areas of Office 365. Specifically, Delve & Sites must have the theme applied separately.

Options are a good thing. Options that are not very intuitive can confuse & frustrate user communities. Right now, we’re somewhere in the middle. If you are going to deploy custom themes to your Office 365 tenant, it may be worthwhile to commission an email campaign or similar to communicate how it will work and what to expect.

As always, if you would like to send some feedback to Microsoft, visit the Office Dev UserVoice site here: http://officespdev.uservoice.com/forums/224641-general

Please share your comments below.

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