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I want to create a page that shows a custom list of sharepoint users for my department (like a directory of contacts with name, photo, title displaying) that is searchable and is sorted A-Z. It seems all the guides use active directory to pull through names or have you manually create a list. But it seems to be it should be much simpler, that I could create a page that has a list of sharepoint users which I specify.

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An option could be a search result web part showing only those users where department:yourdepartment .

You might to google for people item display template to find a template that contains the user profile properties you wish to see. But it is doable and cheap

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It seems all the guides use active directory to pull through names

...

But it seems to be it should be much simpler, that I could create a page that has a list of sharepoint users which I specify.

The details of the users would nevertheless come from AD (unless you really want to populate them from a manually updated list which tbh makes no sense).

What Kasper Bo Larsen suggested, to have a search-based web part with a custom display template which could show - well - whatever you want to show about the users' properties, is possibly the most effortless option, and the somewhat most OOTB way to implement this.

Alternatively you could consider creating this from a scratch: create a REST query for your SharePoint's users and fetch the user properties you want. Then populate e.g. a list which can be filtered/searched by your options. If this feels a bit overwhelming option, then go with the former option.

What I'm underlining here is that no, you can't do this in a more simple manner.

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