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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.

Karen

Chicago is a booming city with a robust pool of developers—web developers, software developers, application developers. We’ve got them all. (Chicago even hosted DrupalCon this year.) So we are pleased to see our government agencies taking notice and utilizing the city’s developer resources by challenging them to “build apps that solve problems and improve services in Metro Chicago” with the Apps for Metro Chicago Illinois Competition.

While our Chicago web design firm focuses on user-centered design, we'd like to give kudos to the City of Chicago, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Cook County, and the State of Illinois for taking a user-centered approach to government and working to build useful tools for Metro Chicago. Bravo! Now, while we're pleased to see Chicago building useful apps, there are some pros and cons to the competition method, also known as crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing has become very popular, even as a tool to leverage as part of a marketing strategy. But even with the possibility of benefiting from the talent that fills Chicago, in the end, there is just less creative control of the end product. Instead of choosing one dedicated team that builds a relationship with you, learns your business needs, and provides a customized solution to your problem, you end up hoping someone in the crowd finds the right idea.

But what if none of the entries solves your problem? During the two month entry period, how do you feel about sitting in the dark, unable to truly guide the direction your solutions are headed? And what do you say to all the unselected artists and programmers who put in dozens of hours creating an app for you and get nothing in return for their hard work? However risky their methods, we are still very excited to see Chicago focusing on technology! At Sandstorm we do custom quality work, gathering requirements to make certain that the end product meets the clients’ specific needs. Let us know what your needs are!

This blog was posted by Karen on June 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

Alma

Last Saturday, June 11, 2011, our User Experience Architect Alma Meshes joined more than 6,000 volunteers in the Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon. They came together to spruce up schools for over 18,000 Chicago students by painting classrooms, creating murals, planting flowers, organizing libraries, painting playgrounds and more!

During last year's Serve-a-thon, Alma and her husband Nick Meshes painted a mural at Mark Sheridan Math & Science Academy (That's Nick with the mural in the photo above). This year they painted a classroom at the same school. Now painting isn't exactly user experience design, but Alma is multi-talented!

We’re so proud of Alma for her volunteer efforts to give back to the Chicago community!

This blog was posted by Karen on June 14, 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
Aaron Equipment's creative marketing

Some people like to put their brand identity on business cards and letterhead, others prefer choppers. That’s right—choppers. One of our partners, Aaron Equipment, got a custom branded bike from Orange County Choppers and appeared on their TLC show American Choppers. The bike now sits proudly at their Bensenville headquarters. Of course, after visiting their office and seeing the bike, we had to take pictures. And who wouldn’t? This is really a great example of creative marketing—getting your brand out there by connecting with your audience on their interests. Now that summer is in full swing in Chicago and the festivals have taken over the weekends, it’s a perfect time to get creative with your marketing. And “creative” could be anything from a custom chopper to a clever sidewalk chalk stencil. If you need a little help brainstorming some creative marketing ideas, let Sandstorm Design give you hand!

This blog was posted by Karen on June 9, 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

Your logo is not your brand. This is a common refrain from designers that combats the common misconception that all you need for a brand is a logo. Our Creative Director, Janna Fiester, shared an article with the rest of the team recently that talked about building an unforgettable brand outside of the logo. It makes a great point that we wholeheartedly agree with. Now this doesn’t mean the logo isn’t important (it is!), but there are definitely other factors to consider when it comes to your brand identity—copy being one of them.

A recognizable voice and tone is as important to the brand identity as the logo. Think about Allstate, for example. You always know an ad is theirs long before you see their logo. That’s the brand in the copy. On your web site, blog, brochure and other marketing materials, the copywriting should capture your differentiator in the marketplace. Your content should reflect any marketing objectives and initiatives currently in place. (Are you reaching out to new audiences or offering new services? Is your voice changing to speak more directly to these new objectives?) And, of course, the voice and tone should be consistent.

To insure we build a complete brand, our copywriters are vital members of the marketing and creative teams here at Sandstorm Design. They work directly with designers during the branding phases, giving each company’s unique identity a unified presence—in the visual elements, the marketing copywriting, and everything in between.

This blog was posted by Karen on May 20, 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

MIT has challenged students all over the world to give their best elevator pitch with the YouPitch Contest. This is the first year they've taken the elevator pitch competition to YouTube, requiring students to upload 60-second elevator pitches to compete to win $2000 and international glory. The winner was announced on Facebook, and will receive their award at the grand finale show on May 11 at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium.

So, what makes an elevator pitch good enough to win a contest—or for many of us, good enough to win business? First off, it should be conversational. It should clearly point out the need you are filling, the competitive solution you are offering, and how the solution will be carried out. And it should be short, sweet, and to the point. The student competition at MIT called for 60-second pitches. At Sandstorm Design, we do ours in 30… but maybe our elevators are just faster here in Chicago!

You never know what opportunities could be opened with the right pitch. Whether the challenge is a competition or a new client, this part of marketing is always fun and exciting. Learn more about our take on marketing strategy.

Check out our favorite marketing elevator pitches from MIT’s YouPitch contest:

This blog was posted by Karen on May 10, 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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