Customizing the Suite Bar Theme in your Office 365 Tenant

Part of a good user experience with software is feeling that it is our own. When it comes to SharePoint, which for many people is their Intranet or at least an important work environment, we almost always do some level of branding.

It’s hard to keep up with how we are supposed to brand our Office 365 tenants these days. We have “guidance” from Microsoft that we shouldn’t customize the master pages in our tenants now, and in fact the “modern” “experiences” that are rolling out don’t even use master pages to put together the rendering of the UI.

There are some simple things we can do starting with a vanilla Office 365 tenant to make it feel more like home, though, and they aren’t all that complicated. One of the easiest things to do – and with the widest reach – is to change the theme of the Office 365 suite bar.

By default, the suite bar looks like this:

Suite Bar Default
Making the suite bar your own isn’t that complicated, and this article from Microsoft explains it: Customize your theme in the Office 365 admin center. But I often need to explain these settings to clients, so I figured I’d write up what I tell them.

Here’s what our Sympraxis suite bar looks like:

Sympraxis Suite BarIt’s not fancy or anything, and we don’t mess with any of the components of the suite bar with CSS or JavaScript tricks. We know how to do these things, but it just isn’t worth it. It’s all done by making changes in the Office 365 Admin center.

tip
Note that you need to be a Tenant Administrator to work on these settings. Being a SharePoint Administrator is not enough: you’re changing the suite bar for the entire tenant: SharePoint, Exchange (Mail), OneDrive, even Yammer. I’ve found that the “stickiness” of these changes sometimes varies across these services, but they get there in most cases.

Step by Step Instructions

Navigate to https://portal.office.com/AdminPortal/Home. This is the home page for the admin functions in Office 365. The UI here has been changing frequently, so these screenshots are current in our Sympraxis First Release Tenant as of today. Your “experience” may vary, but hopefully the basic steps will look the same.

Settings / Organization Profile

At the top of the page, you’ll see the information about your organization, such as the name, address, technical contact, etc.

Organization Profile

There is also a section to Manage custom themes for your organization.

Manage themes

Click on the Edit button.

There are a number of things you can change here. I’ll run through them in a little detail.

Select custom logo image

Custom logo imageIf you upload an image here, it will show up in the suite bar in the center.

Custom logo image

You’ll want to make sure the image fits well into the space allotted. The recommended size is “200 x 30 pixels in JPG, PNG, or GIF format, and no larger than 10 KB”. Since this image will load on every page in your Office 365 tenant, you’ll want to make sure the image is the right size and resolution to make it look good and load fast.

If you’d like the image to be a clickable link to something, you can add that in the next field. Since most people use their Office 365 tenant for internal collaboration or as their Intranet, I usually see this link going to the public-facing Internet site for the organization.

Select Background image

Background imageIf you’d like a background image across the entire suite bar, you can upload one here. As above, the image requirements are specific: “1366 x 50 pixels or less in JPG, PNG, or GIF format, and no larger than 15 KB”.

Earlier iterations of this capability came with a set of selectable images. One of the images I’ve seen most often is one with LEGO® tiles. It’s sort of cool, but that sort of image might not be your thing.

Prevent users from overriding custom theming with their own theme

Prevent users

This effectively locks the theme so that no one can override it. Frankly, I’m not sure what this prevents, as we can drop custom CSS into any page which overrides the theme, but here it is…

Set custom colors

Custom colors

Finally, we have a section where we can set custom colors for the suite bar. This is probably the change which will have the biggest impact for your users.

You can change the color from the default Office 365 / Microsoft blue and black to something which is more aligned with your organization’s identity. Even making a little switch like these colors can make your Office 365 tenant feel much more like it belongs to the organization; don’t underestimate the importance of this for the user experience.

You can change three colors here. For Sympraxis, we’ve used our logo’s purple for the Accent color (332F81), white for the Nav bar background color (ffffff), and our logo’s green for the Text and icons (A3A437).

Sympraxis colors

Save your changes

Save changesFinally, save your changes. It will take a few minutes for the changes to take effect across Office 365, but you’ll see them in every application in the suite soon enough.

Note that it’s easy to go back and change these settings or remove them entirely.

Making these changes immediately makes your users feel like the Office 365 belongs to them. They may not even notice the specific changes, but they will feel more at home. Try it out and see!

3 Comments

  1. If I understand this correctly, if you have six organisations (separate legal entities) sharing one tenant, then they all have to have the same branding? That is, it is not something that can be customised at site collection level?

    Reply
    • @S:

      Yes, that’s correct. There are other tricks you can use for each Site Collection, but this is the easiest to add a theme to your tenant.

      But why would you have six entities sharing the same tenant?

      M.

      Reply
  2. The six local Councils in the valley share a common IT Resource, sharing among others, systems such as electronic archives and SharePoint Online for education. Besides formal working groups there are also a fair few informal projects so a fair bit of sharing of documents across organisational boundaries. Also, teachers need a presence in SPO for education as teachers and the council’s SPO system as council employees. As far as I understand the recommendation is to use a single tenant in this situation.

    Given this though the tenant wide branding is actually a good thing. We could use this global link to point to a “Show me the way” page which is always visible to help users find their way back to their own home site.

    Reply

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