12 January 2016

SharePoint Forms Customization - Best Method?

SharePoint iconWhich is the best method to customize SharePoint list forms? There is no general answer to that question, because each organization has its own prerequisites and requirements. Instead you have to look at the options and find out what is best in each case. In a series of Tips articles on SharePoint forms I hope to give some ideas on what can be done.

Better use of space
So why customize list forms at all, in the first place? Isn't it enough that you can add and remove or hide columns and put them in any order you want? Yes, that is certainly useful, and we should absolutely take advantage of it, but that does not solve all forms issues.

One of the reasons is to avoid unnecessary scrolling. In most SharePoint forms the fields are just put below each other, even if the entry only requires a number or a choice of yes and no. These fields can very well be put side by side instead. Or you  might want to have more space in the description field, to avoid scrolling there.

InfoPath 2013 iconIn my opinion the best way to customize SharePoint list forms is to use InfoPath. It is easy and smooth, and you can just click on a button in the ribbon to open the form in InfoPath.

However, InfoPath has a serious drawback: Microsoft has announced that  InfoPath will be deprecated. Therefore InfoPath is not included in Office 2016, so your current installation will be wiped out in the Office upgrade and you have to download and install InfoPath 2013 again.

The client application will be supported until April 2023, and InfoPath Forms Services will be fully supported in Office 365 "until further notice". InfoPath will eventually be replaced by a more cross-platform solution, but so far we don't know much about that product.

Other methods
If you don't want to use InfoPath because of the risque that you have to do everything all over again, there are other methods to customize SharePoint list forms:
  • Add a web part to a form. The forms are contained in web part pages, and you cannot customize the existing web parts at all. But you can add another web part, for example a Content Editor web part, and embed code and add tables, links, pictures, videos or even another web part to it. This is the only no-code way to show for example an instruction or a video above the form.
  • Create a content type form. In a tips article I show how to create a content type for a task entry form. I hide several of the form fields so that only the fields important at task creation are displayed. When the work on the task starts, the full form can be selected in a dropdown or opened automatically with a workflow.
  • Access iconOpen the list in Access and customize the form there. In this case the information is stored in SharePoint, but the form itself is displayed in Access. SharePoint workflows and settings will work as if the form was shown in SharePoint.
I hope this was inspiring. Good luck with your own SharePoint forms customization!

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

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