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Karen
Chicago marketing firm Sandstorm Design just moved

Following a year of exceptional growth, Sandstorm Design is excited to announce its move! Don’t worry, we’re still in Chicago—just a couple blocks north of our old address. In the heart of the Ravenswood Corridor, this architecturally inspired space is perfectly suited for the strategy and execution of Drupal web sites, interactive web applications and creative marketing campaigns.

With this relocation, we have expanded space for collaboration and day-to-day activity. This includes an on-site usability lab, ideal for conducting formal and informal usability studies. Our “zen room” is the ideal place to find inner peace.  The new office is distinctly Sandstorm with our giant swirl logo painted at the entrance (It’s 8-foot by 11-foot!), and 4700 feet of exposed ceiling pipe was hand-painted Sandstorm blue to give some added color to this former warehouse space. To see more about this exciting development, check out the Sandstorm Photostream. We even tallied all the numbers from the move, and put together this infographic.

Be sure to update your records, CRM system, and iPhones. Our marketing firm is now located at 4619 N. Ravenswood Suite 300, Chicago, Illinois 60640. Our phone number is the same, 773-348-4200, but all extensions have shifted with an upgrade to a new Shoretel phone system. 

This blog was posted by Karen on October 17, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen
This blog was posted by Karen on October 5, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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Karen

Not too long ago we explained why your logo is not your brand. However, sometimes there is a brand so strong the only thing missing is a logo. Consider human rights. It is a cause that touches every part of the world yet lacks a single symbol to represent it. Until now, of course. The human rights logo design competition has come to a close and the winning logo is beautiful. It brilliantly blends two universal symbols for humanity and peace: a hand and a dove. The new identity is reminiscent of the peace symbol, which does not belong to any company or organization, but rather stands as the symbol for all things peaceful. Only time will tell if the world adopts the human rights logo with the same enthusiasm. Learn more about the Human Rights Logo Design Competition and download the logo.

This blog was posted by Karen on September 27, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen
Chicago marketing firm Sandstorm Design featured in 2011 Inc. 500|5000 Fastest Growing Companies

Hooray! We are in the top 350 for companies in marketing and interactive on the 2011 Inc. 500|5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country! “It’s a really exciting time for Sandstorm,” said Sandy Marsico, our marketing firm's Principal, as I snapped a photo of her with the package Inc. Magazine sent us. “I am so proud of our team’s relentless dedication to our clients and the exceptional work they produce.” Inc. Magazine releases the 500|5000 list each year to celebrate the companies who are thriving in their industries. The Inc. 500|5000 site has the full list, along with features, graphics and multimedia.

Be sure to check out the Sandstorm Design Inc. 500|5000 profile. “We’re honored to be a part of such an inspiring and aspiring group of companies,” said Marsico. Everyone at Sandstorm is enthusiastically looking forward to continued growth. Learn more about Sandstorm Design and our unique blend of marketing strategy, web design and usability services.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 23, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

Another year, another guac off, and another amazing slew of recipes! This year we had eggs, asparagus, radishes and more snuck into the guacamole for that extra-special kick. But it was our User Experience Architect Alma Meshes who took home the gold with her amazing recipe for chocolate avocado truffles with chives, pink peppercorns and a cinnamon crisp. Yummy!

There is now discussion as to whether we need to rethink the rules (since chocolate truffles don't fit under the "guac" category) which currently state that the base ingredient should be avocados. Our Interactive Designer Zak Orner says changing the rules would stifle creativity, and after all, we are a creative firm! Watch video of the fun below:

Chocolate Avocado Truffles with Chives, Pink Peppercorns and a Cinnamon Crisp

Chocolate Truffle

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large very ripe avocados, peeled and pit removed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Hershey's baking cocoa (unsweetened)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Decorations

  • Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa (unsweetened)
  • Hershey’s Milk chocolate icing (melted)
  • Fresh chives Pink peppercorns Cinnamon Crisp (Store bought crescent rolls, rolled flat and covered in butter and cinnamon sugar. Follow baking directions on the package, cool and cut into small triangles)
  • Small paper cups (optional)

Directions

  • In a medium sized bowl, mix together vanilla extract, baking cocoa and powdered sugar.
  • In a medium sized sauce pan, melt butter over low heat.
  • In a food processor, mix melted butter and avocado together until smooth and there are no chunks of avocado left.
  • Return butter and avocado mixture to sauce pan and slowly incorporate vanilla, cocoa and sugar mixture.
  • Place truffle batter in the freezer for 2 – 4 hours or until set enough to roll into balls.
  • Using a melon baller, small ice cream scoop or your hands, roll out balls approximately 3/4” in size. Immediately roll truffle in Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa. Place into individual paper cups. (This keeps storage container from getting chocolate all over it!) Return to freezer or refrigerator if the truffle batter gets too soft to form balls.
  • To decorate, use melted chocolate icing as “glue” to hold 2 small chive pieces and 1 peppercorn in place. Place one cinnamon crisp per truffle in the paper cups.
  • Refrigerate until ready to enjoy!

At Sandstorm Design, we know our way around an avocado, but we're also pretty good with the web too! Find out how we can help you with our unique blend of strategy, marketing, web design and usability services.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 16, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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Karen

During Part 1 of this two-part interview series, Patrick McNeil talked with Sandstorm Design about design trends, industry standards and the future. This time around McNeil shares his thoughts on typography, social media integration and responsive web design. McNeil is a web developer with an eye for design, and the author of the Web Designer’s Idea Book series. His next book, The Designer’s Web Handbook, will be coming in the summer of 2012. Be sure to also look for his recently released Web Designer’s Idea App, which compiles his first two books into an iPad app.

SD: What are your thoughts on the advancement of typography on the web?

PM: I definitely think it’s exciting because it brings a lot of basic options and beauty to the web. Typography can really enhance or kill a design and so its nice that we have a growing range of options to implement cool type and even better control over how it looks in general...The more control designers have, the better off the end result is.

SD: On the same topic of control, what do you think of the social media APIs and widgets that designers might not have as much design control over?

PM: Yeah, like the standard Facebook box that just looks like total poo...You can add a Facebook “Like” button in any way you want. It can look any way you want. But if you want to put that flow of what people are saying, then you’re a little stuck because it’s just ugly. I think sometimes it’s about tradeoffs. And sometimes it’s about how far you go to program something to make it just look awesome.

SD: What is an issue the web design industry has yet to solve, that you would like to see web designers tackle?

PM: The biggest shift, even as a result of the whole responsive design movement, is just fully accepting that the web is not print. For how many years have we worked our butts off to make a web site render the exact same across all browsers? And responsive design blows this up because all of the sudden you’ve got tablets, you’re thinking about netbooks different, and you’ve got smartphones, and you’re even thinking about people seeing it on their TV. All of the sudden, by the basic definition of it, you’re required to not think that it’s going to look the same everywhere.

In that sense, it’s not print. You print a brochure or a business card—you can print 10,000 copies—it doesn’t matter what you do, where you go, its going to look the same. I think that’s probably the biggest thing I see people moving past in this time in the web, really forcing that issue.

So I’ll be glad if everybody else gets on board and just accepts that things look different in different interfaces or devices. We just have to embrace each of them for the opportunity that they create.

SD: Would you say that’s the web design industry’s biggest success recently?

PM: I think that combined with some of the advancements in typography. They have really been potent. Because when you think about displaying the same site in multiple ways and then you combine that with better techniques for controlling typography and less need for images, or even for sIFR where you’re replacing it with Flash. The more that happens in the browser it just means that you can cater those things to individual devices better…I think we’re seeing pretty powerful results.

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We really enjoyed talking with Patrick McNeil, and are looking forward to the release of the Designer’s Web Handbook. At Sandstorm Design, we work as a team to create powerful brand experiences supported by user research and a strategic marketing approach. We'll help you stay ahead of the curve with custom web solutions that are one step ahead of your competition.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 8, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

We recently logged onto Skype from our Chicago office for a conversation with web developer and web design lover, Patrick McNeil. He is the author of the Web Designer’s Idea Book series, and his latest book, The Designer’s Web Handbook, will be coming in the summer of 2012. He has also recently released the Web Designer's Idea App, which compiles his first two books into an iPad app. We talked design trends, industry standards and more. The following is the first part of our two-part edited conversation, so be sure to check back for the second half of the interview!

SD: You’ve been following design trends for a long time. Which ones do you believe have the strongest staying power?

PM: [The trends with the strongest staying power] are definitely ones that aren’t trends any more, they’re just normal ways of doing anything. I guess at some point in the history of the web putting the logo in the top left was a trend, and then it just sort of became the norm. One that you noticed popped out a couple years ago—I always called it the pitch—on a homepage you have this nice, clear, bold text that basically sums up what a site does. At some point people started doing that and now it’s just what you do so that people know what the heck they’re looking at… This new trend became a norm and now it’s a fundamental part of every site.

SD: Are there any trends that you don’t like, that bother you?

PM: [Laughs] Yeah, every trend kind of goes through that for me. For example in the whole web 2.0 craze everybody was putting badges on their sites—those little starry badges—and it was kind of like, God that’s annoying. At the time it's just part of what you’re doing but as you look back you’re just like, I’m so glad that’s over. The irony is now you can still use them; people just use them when it actually makes sense. Most annoying trends eventually fade away and then just resolve to what they should have been in the first place—which is very functional.

SD: Which sites have web designers been able to look to consistently for industry standards?

PM: I actually think there is an overwhelming amount of design work that’s not necessarily mainstream or the big name stuff, it's just normal designers doing their job everyday. And in a lot of ways that’s what fills my books. I don’t focus on the facebooks or the amazon.com type of stuff because we all see that. I much prefer to focus on small studios or lesser-known resources…That’s been most definitely the source for me over and over—the unknowns.

SD: If you could give web designers one ultimate challenge for the future, what would it be?

PM: Learn to code a little bit. [Laughs] A lot of people disagree with that. I don’t expect designers to be full-on developers and coders but I think that the people who are getting the most fanfare as awesome designers can also code. They just understand both sides of the coin and how to work with the medium the best, essentially.

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We love Patrick's books, and can't wait for the Designer's Web Handbook to be released. At Chicago-based Sandstorm Design, our entire team works closely to create powerful brand experiences supported by user research and a strategic marketing approach. Let us help you stay ahead of the curve with custom web solutions that are one step ahead of your competition.

This blog was posted by Karen on July 25, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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Karen
Crain's BtoB

2011 has been an award-winning year for Sandstorm Design! Earlier this year we were recognized by BtoB Magazine as a Top B2B Interactive Agency. Today, we've been recognized again—This time as a top Chicago Web Developer for 2011 by Crain's Chicago Business. Not only does this mean we're in the printed newspaper, but we'll also be included in the Book of Lists for 2011. Our developers work closely with the design team to create powerful results. And when it comes to content management systems, our Drupal 7 developers build robust and flexible web sites customized to your needs. We love the work we do, and are so honored to be included as a top Chicago Web Development firm!

This blog was posted by Karen on July 18, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen
Chicago Power Outage No Match for Sandstorm Design

We may have lost our electricity, but we certainly did not lose power as our web design company's office is still moving full steam ahead! The power outage that hit Chicago with Monday's storm left our office on Chicago's north side dark, muggy and ever so quiet without the hum and buzz of the computers. So we packed up and got to work at Sandy's house, where sandwiches, pop, chips and a very popular pasta salad awaited us. The whole situation reminded me of a recent post on brand strategy that discussed how your company's brand should carry over into every aspect of your business. What a great example this makes! We often talk about the "Sandstorm Way" around the office—which refers to ensuring any aspect of a project is up to our professional standards. Because this is at the core of who we are, it's a key part of our brand. And isn't this a perfect manifestation of the Sandstorm brand in the culture of the company? Electricity or not, we are still committed to delivering the strategic and creative results we're known for.

This blog was posted by Karen on July 12, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

Google has been rolling out changes one after another, with a new (but not that different) homepage design, the +1 button, and a social network in the trial phase. Here’s a quick, easy-to-digest breakdown of what these search engine and social media updates are all about: +1 Button This little button is yet another factor in search engine optimization, bringing more recommended sites higher in the search results. If someone you are connected to in your Google account recommends a site with the +1 button, you’ll see that they did. This is simply a tool to tally recommendations, and that’s it. The social aspect is just that you can see which of your friends have recommended a site. You should definitely be leveraging the +1 button in your search engine optimization and online marketing strategy. Google+ In plain English, Google+ is Google’s new social network (although they're not saying that). It’s in a trial phase right now, and isn’t open to everyone just yet. Here are its key features:

  • Circles: Similar to Facebook Groups, Circles let you put different people in different circles, allowing you to interact and share with each circle separately.
  • Sparks: This is a feed of content based on specific interests you have selected. From Sparks, it's easy to share with Circles, and create a thread of conversation around a piece of content.
  • Hangouts: Video chat with multiple friends at a time.
  • Mobile: There are a couple features that will be available for what Google calls a “pocket computer,” or mobile. Instant uploads let you instantly upload photos from your phone, and Huddles creates a chat-room style text conversation with friends.

What people are saying They’re saying a lot...Facebook already meets these needs...If Buzz didn’t have great success, why would Google+?...And while it’s nice to have our world tailored to our interests, don’t we need something to balance us? Something to remind us that there are alternative viewpoints we should consider, and our world isn’t the only world that matters? Eli Pariser raised some of these concerns this past February in a talk about The Filter Bubble. The gates through which we enter the Internet are changing. It will be exciting to see what happens in the not so far off future. And of course, we'll keep you up-to-date on how it will effect your search engine optimization and social media strategy.

This blog was posted by Karen on July 1, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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