Blogs By Author

Sandy

1. Visualize Your Dream and Write it Down!
Putting your dream in writing is the first step to achieving it. The act of writing creates a commitment on your part, and helps you paint an even clearer picture of your future.

2. Invest in Your Identity
If you are looking to start up a new venture, don't skimp on the logo. Your logo is the first impression of your business (especially when all you have are business cards to hand out). If there is one thing to spend some money on, it's building your identity. And don't forget to choose a great company name!

3. Two Words: Royalty Free
Royalty free photography is a designer's dream come true. The images can be purchased quickly, at a reasonable rate, and can be used an unlimited number of times. This is an excellent way to build a beautiful, cohesive look to your brand.

4. Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Developing the ability to fire the "bad" clients can make the difference between a profitable year and a year with too many headaches. Sometimes the chemistry just isn't there, or you have grown apart. Either way, the relationship needs to come to an end - it's better for both parties involved.

5. Find Mentors Outside of your Industry
Some of the best mentors are those outside of your industry, with similar business philosophies and ethics as yourself. If you find someone who inspires and guides you, you've found a new mentor!

6. When All Else is Equal, Go with your Gut
Not sure what to do about a current situation? Listen for that voice inside that I call my gut. This natural instinct can help you make significant creative, business and hiring decisions.

7. Don't Underestimate the Power of Color
Color has the power to persuade, influence and engage a reader. Don't be afraid of color when working on your marketing materials. Thanks to digital printing, full color pieces have become more affordable than ever.

8. When Spec Work, Works
I personally hate spec work. But it worked once when we needed to show a client that we were capable of handling a project and we didn't have the specific experience in our existing client portfolio. If your company decides to hire a design firm based on spec work, make sure there is open communication with the design firms involved to increase their chances of pulling together a creative solution that works.

9. Creativity Takes Time
Designers have a saying...You can get creative work done cheap, quick or good -pick two. Be patient as the best creative ideas generally don't happen the first hour or two of brainstorming.

10. How to Get the Most Out of Your Design Firm
The best way to get the creative results you are looking for from your design team is to outline your marketing goals from the beginning so your designers can create a visual solution to your problem, not just a pretty picture.

This blog was posted by Sandy on June 13, 2004.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy

Enthusiam. Make sure the web designer (or web design company) is enthusiastic about your project and wants to do it. This may seem odd now, but you'll know when you speak with a few designers, who is truly interested in your company and who is interested in your sale.

Design Experience. Confirm that the web designer has the experience that you are looking for by asking for URLS of previous work. A good web designer should have about 6 solid examples that he/she is proud of in multiple industries demonstrating a variety of design styles to suit each industry. Just because a web designer has 30+ websites doesn't mean they must be good, it may simply mean the web designer works a lot and produces template-type sites. 

Understand that there is no right answer when designing a website. The web designer you choose will create a website and base recommendations off of their experience. If you do not like their past work, they most likely are not a good fit for your company.

Questions. Be ready to discuss your website objectives and company goals. The most professional web designer will do more than make your site look good. The designer will need to be briefed on your current marketing strategy, how you are going to incorporate your new or newly designed website into that strategy, and how they can incorporate their design strategy into the big picture. If a web designer doesn't ask many questions, how will they be able to understand your company enough to visually differenciate your company from the marketplace?

Personality. The key to a successful relationship is mutual respect and good chemistry. Not egos, attitudes, nor technology jargon. If you like one another, you will work well together, be able to effectively communicate ideas, and have fun!

Marketing Savvy. Once the website is up and running, you have finished phase 1. Just because you have a website doesn't mean people will know how to find it. Depending on your need, there are plenty of marketing options for you to choose from. Having a savvy web designer will help make this a smooth process and the site will be already designed with marketing in mind.

This blog was posted by Sandy on June 13, 2004.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Chicago Website Maintenance Services

Looking for a new web development agency to take over the maintenance of your website? We'll leverage our technical expertise with content management systems (Drupal, Kentico) and service-oriented project management to ensure a smooth transition maintaining and supporting your site. We currently manage multiple national web site applications and global websites on a multi-year, annual retainer including monthly traffic and lead reporting, web site enhancements, search optimization, copy changes, security patches, module updates, and API adjustments – in multiple languages. We re-evaluate our clients' needs regularly to stay aligned and on target with their expectations, and we would take the same care with you.

Our clients come to us for our website maintenance services, technical know-how, web analytics reporting and insights, and UX expertise, but they stay for the timely and resourceful support. We love what we do, and it shows! We're not afraid to suggest ideas, and we're proactive when it comes to updates and security patches. 

To get started, our web developers will conduct a code review to understand the inner workings of your code, content management system, functionality, and identify any custom code sections or areas of risk. Most sites lack adequate documentation, so a code review is a good way for us to identify any immediate action items such as module updates or security patches, and gets us familiar with your content, taxonomy, site structure, and maintenance patterns. From here, we'll build a website maintenance package (a combination of flat fee and hourly) to align with your particular needs. 

Contact us about our website maintenance services!

This blog was posted by Sandy on May 10.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Chicago Web Application Development Services Firm

At Sandstorm®, our web application developers and user experience designers work side-by-side (this is way less common than you would think), and start the brainstorming process together with the user's experience in mind, followed by an iterative approach to test and correct problems throughout our agile, web application development process. With our usability expertise (and on-site usability lab), we already have a solid understanding of what works and what doesn't, and we can ensure the web application you invest in meets your customer's needs.

Our web application development services include:

  • responsive web-based applications (great for cross-platform apps)
  • customer relationship management systems (CRM)
  • applicant tracking systems (ATS)
  • engaging user tools (dynamic quiz, guided tours, educational games, color picker) 
  • tablet/mobile applications

Need an example? A national insurance company asked our firm to come up with a solution to educate current and prospective customers on their products and services in an innovative and compelling way. We created an engaging web application, a guided tour (questionnaire) with a down-to-earth voiceover script. As users responded to questions, the voiceover provided them with humorous anecdotes, facts and statistics, resulting in a printable report with product recommendations based on the user's lifestyle and needs.

Contact us today to discuss your web application concept. (It might be easier than you think.)

This blog was posted by Sandy on January 12.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Web Development for Content Management Services Chicago

Successful content marketing requires a content management system that is easy to navigate, easy to update, allows for the organic search engine optimization, and organizational growth. Sandstorm's web development team builds websites in the fastest growing, enterprise-level, category-leading content management systems based on our clients' budget and functional requirements:

Drupal web development
Drupal Web Development and Content Management Services 
Drupal is an enterprise level, open-source (no licensing fees), web content management system in use by a wide variety of organizations from Forrester Research and the American Library Association to The White House and Zappos. Drupal’s robust functionality is provided by thousands of modules, which are freely available from Drupal.org. Drupal easily integrates with Salesforce, Hubspot, Silverpop, and social media APIs, along with learning management systems (LMS) and association management systems (AMS) and is perfect for large data integrations. Sandstorm's team of web developers have selected and compiled the most commonly used modules into our customized installation and develops in a responsive code base, displaying an optimized user experience across all devices. 

 

Kentico Web Content Management and Development
Kentico is an easy-to-use, marketing-friendly, fully integrated ASP.NET CMS, E-commerce, and Online Marketing platform so you can optimize your digital customers’ experiences fully across multiple channels. With advanced workgroup collaboration and customizable department-specific pages, Kentico lets you easily manage and deliver a consistent customer experience across multiple channels and devices. With Web Analytics, Lead Scoring, and Marketing Automation you can nurture leads, and analyze and optimize your campaigns to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. With out-of-the-box support for forums, blogs, groups, and more, Kentico helps you build active communities for even greater brand advocacy. It's great for large scale web implementations with complex integrations into Sharepoint and Salesforce too.
 

Hubspot web development and content management services
HubSpot COS Web Development 
HubSpot's Content Optimization System (COS) delivers a personalized user experience perfect for inbound marketing (you need to be a HubSpot customer to use their tool). It's both a content management system and a personalization system built into one. Using the HubSpot COS, we can deliver both content and images based on the user's behaviors (via email and on the web). It's your inbound marketing platform with landing pages, blogging software, and smart content for more relevant user experiences. 

Get help identifying which content management system best suits your needs

This blog was posted by Sandy on March 1.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Responsive Web Development Company Chicago

Over 60% of all mobile phone owners in the United States use a smartphone. To achieve the experience and scalability of responsive web design, Sandstorm employes an agile development process including extremely close collaboration with our UX designers, architects, and responsive web developers. 

Developers and designers work side-by-side to find natural break points within the content, prioritize functionally based on top user tasks, and remove unnecessary assets as the site responds to a user's device. This partnership produces a better end result in less time, and our clients get the opportunity to see our progress along the way.

With thoughtful execution on the initial design concepts, our in-house team develops with constant testing at every step of the way on all supported devices, including phone, tablet, and desktop experiences on Apple, Android, and Windows operating systems. This ongoing checking and rechecking ensures that the responsive web sites we develop are compatible with the most up-to-date software and devices, AND delivers a user experience aligned with user goals and expectations.

At Sandstorm, responsive web development is an attentive and agile process of building, problem-solving, innovating and, ultimately, producing a web site that creates the best user experience for our clients and yours. Whether we're developing in a responsive code base in Drupal, or native HTML, the development methodology remains the same.

Contact us today to discuss your responsive development needs.

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 25.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Chicago: Heuristic Evaluation of User Interfaces: Heuristic Analysis

Heuristic what? Plainly put, a heuristic evaluation (also referred to as a heuristic analysis) is a systematic review of your website, intranet, and any other user interfaces for usability based on general rules derived from usable interfaces. The end goal is to identify usability problems of existing designs (e.g. proposed shopping cart checkout process). Heuristic evaluations are part of our user experience design process and a cost effective way to identify interactions that need to change in order to support a positive user experience.

How do you do it? A typical evaluation consists of one or more usability professionals examining your interface design using recognized usability principles (i.e., heuristics). For example, content and terminology on your website needs to be familiar to the end user. If you use acronyms on your website make sure the user knows what the acronym stands for. Every usability issue identified is related to one or more heuristics. As a result, you do not just get opinions; you get a complete analysis with recommendations based on successful interface designs.

Your end result? A full report including easy-to-implement suggestions on how to immediately impact the usability of your current website or online application. Our report includes the usability heuristics used for the evaluation, a summary of key findings and recommendations, and detailed issues and recommendations based on each of the usability heuristics included as part of the evaluation. Once implemented, you can be sure you have improved your user experience!

Want to learn more? Request a quote for your heuristic evaluation today.

This blog was posted by Sandy on November 3.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Chicago Usability Consulting and Website Usability Testing

Website usability testing consistently demonstrates value by creating the optimal user experience BEFORE the cost of development begins. 

With an onsite usability lab, mobile testing equipment, and remote testing capabilities (perfect for COVID-19), working with Sandstorm is like having your own in-house user research and usability department. We've conducted 3,400+ hours of UX research and usability studies globally for everyone from tech start-ups to Fortune 500 organizations, retail commerce to membership organizations, on mobile devices, tablets, and desktops. Our usability service and methodology were developed by a Ph.D. in Human Factors.  

Below are the 5 most commonly asked questions regarding usability testing.

website usability testing example


1. How does it work?
Our website usability testing involves watching people trying to use your website for its intended purpose. Starting with real-life scenarios, Sandstorm will observe, record, and take notes while a user performs the task to get to the core of what works and what doesn't on your website.

Website usability testing allows us to determine whether or not users can accomplish specific goals. It is part of our user experience design philosophy that allows us to collect first-hand behavioral data from real users. Each usability test consists of creating a test plan, conducting the study with actual users, analyzing findings, communicating results, and making design recommendations based on our findings. As a result, we save development time and money and reduce guessing and subjective arguing.

2. How long does it take?
On average, a series of usability studies can be conducted over 1-2 days. The entire process including protocol development, recruitment, scheduling, and testing lasts about 3-4 weeks. 

3. Where do you conduct the study?
Usability testing can be done anywhere -- onsite in our usability lab, across the globe, or virtually based on your requirements. This flexibility has become much more important in the midst of the pandemic.

4. What is my end result? 
A full website usability report including the usability study details as well as key findings AND a recommendation for every finding (most reports don't - that's where our consulting comes in). Upon request, we also provide detailed presentations that highlight our findings and include audio and visual of users participating in the usability study. We can also create detailed wireframes, flow diagrams, or design updates based on our findings to get you to your end result quicker. 

5. Where do you get your participants from? For B2C clients, recruiting from the extensive Sandstorm network and supplementing with social media works great. For B2B organizations it's often a combination of our client providing contact info of customers (or members); social media recruiting; and if it's a specific request (c-suite, etc.), we include a recruiting firm in our search. People are happy to provide their feedback, and we always pay a gratuity. 

Did you know we only need 5-6 users to uncover 80% of your usability problems? Happy to chat about our website usability testing - reach out!

This blog was posted by Sandy on December 1.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Chicago User Persona Development Services

We mold user research to drive extraordinary creative results through the development of a "persona." A user persona (also called a UX persona) is a fictional character created to represent a particular market segment. This character is given a name, picture, biography, and personality. Sandstorm uses personas in the same way that an actor looks at a role. Before deciding on a creative direction for the UX design concepts, questions are posed related to a specific persona's motivation, needs, and biases to guarantee the usability of a particular website or application.

persona development example


Personas provide a noticeable advantage by creating a face to represent an entire group, and can be an ideal to way gather content and functional requirements, and prioritize features. It can be difficult considering a whole audience's point of view, but from the perspective of a persona (or a face to represent an entire group), it makes the audience seem more real.

Our UX and creative team ask the question "What would Rita do?" instead of "What would a pediatrician, 37–58 years old, with a private practice, 15+ years experience, living on the West coast, do?" Personas result in a user experience designed for the user.

Our methodology for developing user personas: 

  1. Identify initial audiences and possible scenarios
  2. Write protocol for the research (may include in-depth user research, surveys, card sorting, participatory design, etc.)
  3. Schedule participants, mock the study with the moderator and note taker
  4. Conduct research to gather insights to validate initial beliefs or discover new audiences and scenarios
  5. Analyze results, build personas and list of scenarios
  6. Use personas as references for recruiting participants for usability testing 
  7. Design the UX from the user personas, scenarios, and usability research results  

To see how UX persona development differs from traditional demographics, request a proposal on user persona development today.

This blog was posted by Sandy on March 5.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Chicago User Experience Research Firm

How well do you know your customers? How much insight do you have into your user's experience with your product, web site or mobile application? We've conducted over 3400+ hours of user research interviews and usability studies, and there's always a learning moment.

Our user experience research includes web site surveys, web analytics reviews, and in-depth interviews with your customers and potential users to uncover common goals, needs and wants, and how your customers use your application or website. Our one-on-one conversations uncover a common set of tasks performed on your website — all enriching the user experience design.

dashboard requirements from user experience research


Why conduct user experience research? User research provides us with tangible insight into how people interact with your brand (i.e. the user experience). Discover how your users absorb information, how they expect to use your product or web site, and what motivates them to use you over the competition. The information we collect will help you understand the behavior of your users and drive the development of the information architecture and wireframes.

How long will it take? Studies can be as short as 2-3 weeks, or as long as 3-4 months depending on the number of user groups, organizational goals, recruiting factors, and budget. 

Your end result? A comprehensive report to walk you through the research process, including: interview outlines, noteworthy comments, user opinions, and content/functional requirements. We can take the research even further and break down our recommendations by user group, and give each user group a name, face and personality through the development of a "persona."

Want to learn how to quickly gain insight to enhance your user experience? Request a proposal today. 

This blog was posted by Sandy on February 5.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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