The news of the week is out: The SharePoint 2013 Public Preview has been released. Many a SharePoint Designer, including myself, has been wondering and speculating on what the new release has to offer. There are already a great number of resources out there covering the new features, but from my brief exploration it's apparent that this release is pretty revolutionary.
From a design perspective, the biggest change for me is how branding will work going forward. If you recall, in SharePoint 2007 and 2010 you would work in SharePoint Designer and depending on the complexity of your design, spend your days moving around content placeholders and writing CSS and jQuery to make SharePoint, well, look less like SharePoint. The learning curve was steep and if you did a good job at it, you gained the confidence that your skills would be highly sought after. After all, SharePoint branding is simple, right? It wasn't then, but it is now! Do I have your attention? With SharePoint 2013, you no longer need to use SharePoint Designer. In fact, you could use Dreamweaver, or even Notepad, if you really wanted to. Instead of spending all that time building a custom master page from scratch, inserting all the needed content placeholders and hiding what you don't need, you can now work exclusively in HTML using any HTML editor of your choice. Thereafter, you upload your branding files to your SharePoint site within the Master Pages Gallery. Create a folder and upload all your images, html, and css there.
SharePoint 2013 Design Manager
Next, go to Edit Master Pages and click on "Convert an HTML file to a SharePoint master page". Navigate to the branding folder and select the html file you uploaded. The Design Manger does the rest. Once the status changes to "Conversion Successfull", you can then click on this status message and you'll be taken to a preview page. You can then create new pages or link to existing pages to test them with your new master page.
Of course, at this stage you still need to add all your typical SharePoint functionality, such as top navigation, the search box, to mention a few of the usual suspects. To do so, simply select "Snippets" at the top right of the page preview screen. Think of snippets as a library of all the typical elements, such as the breadcrumb, vertical navigation, site title, site logo, as well as a number of web parts. You select a particular snippet from the ribbon, then configure its settings. Once done, simply copy the generated markup and return to your original HTML file. Paste in all the different snippets where needed in the HTML page. Thereafter, simply reupload this file to the Master Page Gallery and refresh your Master Page preview page, and voila, all the content placeholders are in place. Much simpler than using SharePoint designer.
Of course, the question you may be asking, if you're a SharePoint Designer, is whether or not your job is at risk. Surely anyone with design background could now effectively brand SharePoint, right? From what I've seen, the Design Manager does have some limitations, that you could better solve using SharePoint Designer. If you're knowledgeable using SharePoint Designer, then the new SharePoint Designer 2013 is going to be your friend for more complex tasks.
So the bottom line is that while SharePoint 2013 has greatly simplified your life, you can rest assured that you can sleep easier now, knowing that your job is not threatened, it's only about to get to get better!
I haven't even mentioned the ability to target different devices and browsers using the Device Channels, which allows you to serve up different master pages depending on the device. SharePoint Branding is about to get a lot better indeed!