About the Author

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Karen Bartuch
Karen Bartuch

Karen Bartuch is passionate about data and uncovering hidden insights to help her clients make better business decisions. She enjoys taking an innovative yet evidence-based approach to her work.

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Ron Brown
Ron Brown

As a digital strategist, Ron is focused on creating campaigns and unique communications that drive engagement.

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Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson

As an Associate Digital Strategist, Emma has a background in ad sales and a desire to create strong brand identities.

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Terribeth Beasley
Terribeth Beasley

As a QA Analyst, Terribeth is detail oriented and driven to provide excellence within every project.

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Amanda Heberg
Amanda Heberg

As the VP, Business Development, Amanda leads new business development, sales, partnerships and marketing strategy across Sandstorm. Amanda collaborates closely with new clients to build strong, long-lasting partnerships while aligning Sandstorm's capabilities to solve client business problems.

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Eric Savage
Eric Savage

Eric Savage is a JavaScript Developer with expert knowledge and extensive experience in front-end development.

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Megan Durst, digital strategist
Megan Durst

Building strong client relationships in between running 5Ks

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Bill Kurland, Copywriter
Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

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joshua sovell
Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

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Jeff Umbricht
Jeff Umbricht

Jeff is an Illinois native with a passion for web development. Making code into great things drives him every day. He’s often busy building awesome experiences for Sandstorm clients, and there’s a high probability that he’s rocking out to metal while he codes.

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John Rausch
John Rausch

Over his 25 years in the advertising industry, John has produced award-winning work for many B2C and B2B clients. He is a passionate believer in the power of the brand and brings a strategic approach to every piece of creative.

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Lisa Goepfrich
Lisa Goepfrich

Lisa is a Digital Strategist who is extraordinarily adept at building visual stories.

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Nick Meshes
Nick Meshes

Nick is Sandstorm’s Director of Analytics and Technology. He’s boosting our quantitative focus. He’s busy increasing our capabilities in web analytics, website optimization testing, SEO, SEM, display advertising, business intelligence, and personalization.

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Alicia Newland age 5
Alicia Newland

Alicia is an Account Director with 15+ years of experience on the agency side. Her first job as a paper carrier back in the 80’s, planted the seed for her dedication to building solid client relationships and her love of media.

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Tracy Graham
Tracy Graham

Tracy is Senior Designer at Sandstorm. His background in design and photography for print and web with experience in multiple industries makes him a Swiss army knife of creative awesomeness.

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Sean Fuller
Sean Fuller

As Technology Director, Sean is a hands-on developer and technical lead on projects. He works with design and strategist teams from kick off through launch to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects. 

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Reilly Willson
Reilly Willson

Someday I'll need a real bio, but for now I'm busy creating awesomeness for our clients!

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Amanda Tacker
Amanda Tacker

Amanda is a Digital Strategist with several years of experience on both the agency and client sides, with both B2B and B2C clients.

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Kellye Blosser
Kellye Blosser

Kellye’s unique approach involves a delicate balance of left and right-brained thinking. She most recently hailed from the corporate video world. Here at Sandstorm, she’s excited to bring strategic, innovative thinking to every project.

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Emily Kodner
Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

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Megan Culligan
Megan Culligan

Megan knows the importance of picking a winner. With a background in politics and PR, she knows that a successful marketing campaign requires coordination of many moving pieces and a team focused on achieving a great goal. You’ll see her analytical point of view on the blog, providing insight and tactics for success.

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Meaghan Glennan
Meaghan Glennan

Meaghan is a storyteller. From the Granite State to the City of Broad Shoulders, she's created impactful true-life tales about people, places, businesses and events. As she guides Sandstorm's story by directing our marketing communications, you'll see a lot of her unique perspective and style.

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Holly Brinkman
Holly Brinkman

Holly's title at Sandstorm Design is Strategy, Research, and Writing, as she does a little bit of everything. She loves clever advertisements, strong brands, social media, and intuitive web sites.

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Matt Chiaromonte
Matt Chiaromonte

Matt is a copywriter and social media guru in Sandstorm’s Internship Program. With a background in marketing, journalism, and improv comedy, Matt brings equal parts knowledge and entertainment to our little corner of the Internet. When he isn’t generating social media content, Matt can be found enjoying pizza, podcasts, and many other things that begin with the letter “p”.

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Amanda Elliott
Amanda Elliott

Amanda Elliott is the Marketing Coordinator at Sandstorm Design. She absorbs the creative energy from our leadership team and facilitates the team so they can focus entirely on solving client challenges. She is passionate about anticipating needs, solving problems, and making projects fun.

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Sharonda Thomas
Sharonda Thomas

Our newest social media marketing and copywriting intern Sharonda has a passion for producing read-worthy content. Knowledgeable with various social platforms she will combine her communications and journalism background with her love of social media to keep our audience engaged. An artist at heart, Sharonda spends her free time cooking, painting, and barbering.

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Karen Boehl
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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Jason Dabrowski
Jason Dabrowski

Jason is one of Sandstorm’s designers and also helps keep the office running smoothly. As a veteran of the theatre—from acting to directing, lighting to set design—he knows the value of hard work and a positive attitude. Look for his unique voice on the blog.

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Nathan Haas
Nathan Haas

Nathan is a User Interface Art Director at Sandstorm. He is a proud alum of The University of Tennessee. His main focus was print design, but he soon realized the potential of pixels. This combination of print and interactive gives him a unique view of design possibilities.

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Kyle Lamble
Kyle Lamble

Kyle is your stereotypical bluehat hacker, by day, who wants you to upgrade your browser to support his love for cutting edge web development techniques. By night, he is a curator and publisher of art. Co-founder of Loosey Goosey Art, Kyle spends much of his off time helping artists find their inner potential.

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Will Biby
Will Biby

Will wears many hats at Sandstorm. From writing web content to executing social media strategies, he is quick to act and insistent on a job done right. Will enjoys writing, so expect to hear from him often on the blog.

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Andy Cullen
Andy Cullen

Someday I'll need a real bio, but for now I'm busy creating awesomeness for our clients!

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Derek Vanderlaan
Derek Vanderlaan

Derek Vander Laan is Sandstorm's Senior Design Architect. With 20 years of experience, he designs web sites, infographics, and interactive digital experiences. His creative skills are always at work either at his desk or plotting a prank for someone else's.

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Andrew Jarvis
Andrew Jarvis

Andrew lives in Bucktown with his wife and three cats in various states of hairlessness. When he's not at Sandstorm doing front-end development he is passionate about creating 3D art.

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Michael Hartman
Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

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Janna Fiester
Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's Executive Creative Director, Janna, is a design-thinker. Showcased in several design publications and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, she is talented in taking nuggets of good ideas and nurturing them into solutions that are always strategic, engaging and visually delightful.

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Alma Meshes
Alma Meshes

Alma likes to help get things done at Sandstorm. She's worn many hats in her many years here and knows a little bit about everything.

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Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO
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.

Industry Insight

Emily Kodner
5 Key Themes Everyone on Drupal Needs to Know From DrupalCon 2019

Since 2005, the Drupal community has gathered at DrupalCon to learn, explore and share. Embracing our “Be Curious” core value, Sandstormers headed for Seattle, WA to the 2019 DrupalCon conference, in order to glean new insights, stay on the pulse of the Drupal roadmap, and uncover better ways to leverage Drupal, all while experiencing the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Here’s what you need to know from this year’s conference.

1. Don’t wait for Drupal 9. If you’re on Drupal 7, start planning your migration to Drupal 8 now.

Drupal 7 will no longer be community supported as of November 2021. Powerful new features are being released for Drupal 8 every six months, and the path from Drupal 8 to 9 is being engineered to be easy. Moving to Drupal 8 now is the smarter business decision and better investment for most websites.

Why upgrade now instead of later?
Migrating sooner will significantly reduce the delta of the platform, module and architectural changes that need to be addressed. The migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8/9 is a significant shift, there’s no getting around that. By upgrading now, you’ll be able to address these changes now, which should put you on a much simpler, less costly upgrade path, once Drupal 9 is released.

In addition, by moving to Drupal 8 now, your ongoing investment in the platform will sustain as you upgrade to Drupal 9. Short-term investments in Drupal 7 (custom development, modules, features, etc.) may need to be re-written once you’re ready to upgrade.

2. Your website speed directly impacts your revenue.

Speed matters- that’s not new. But the disparity between fast sites and slow sites continues to grow. It’s simple: the slower the site, the less revenue you’ll generate. If your site loads in less than 5 seconds, you’re generating about 2x more revenue than if your site was slower.*

…And if that isn’t convincing, consider Amazon, who loses 1% of sales for every 100 milliseconds of increased response time.

3. Seriously consider adding GraphQL to your Drupal environment.

GraphQL (www.graphql.org) is a querying language for APIs and acts as a common language between services and applications. GraphQL was created originally by Facebook as a data-fetching API, so it needed to be powerful, yet easy for product developers to use. Today it powers hundreds of billions of API calls per day.

Why does it make sense?
GraphQL is a powerful choice for businesses who have many disparate services and offerings that need to communicate as it serves as a common language between them. Think of it as the glue that binds the business’ functions together. For example, with GraphQL, the sales app can ask the inventory app if an item is in stock and if either app gets rewritten or modified the communication between the two will not break.

In addition to the simplification of service-service communication, apps using GraphQL can be quick even on slow mobile network connections. While typical REST APIs require loading from multiple URLs, GraphQL APIs get all the data your app needs in a single request.

"I think GraphQL wins my heart because it changes human behavior" - Garrett Heinlen, Netflix

In addition to Netflix and Facebook, companies like Shopify, Walmart, Yelp and the New York Times have embraced GraphQL.

4. Advanced Automated Visual Testing will be a massive step for QA.

Humans can’t detect the most subtle changes in a site but Advanced Automated Visual Testing can. With an automated system for finding discrepancies, we can expect shorter soft release cycles and a larger device operating matrix – making the job easier for QA. This also equates to reduced costs and time savings in identifying those sticky, small bugs.

There are many tools available to enable automated testing in the development cycle, such as WebdriverIO (https://webdriver.io/).

By leveraging the power of automated testing, QA can focus on meaningful work instead of “spot the difference” games.

5. Improving accessibility can produce a clear ROI.

Many companies think about accessibility as it relates to legal compliance. That's a valid concern, but improving your accessibility also presents a huge business opportunity. Improving accessibility can mean increasing the reach of your site by up to 20%.**

Beyond making your content more available to more users, your efforts will likely also drive more traffic through the natural SEO benefits of having well-structured content.

Improving the accessibility of your site is a lifestyle, not a one-time event. Contact us to schedule your Drupal Accessibility Audit.


Concerns with Drupal 7’s end of life for your existing Drupal site? Need a place to start?
Contact us to schedule your Drupal 8 Readiness Assessment to see if moving from Drupal 7 to 8 is right for you!


For more DrupalCon details, check out the State of Drupal presentation: https://dri.es/state-of-drupal-presentation-april-2019

 

*Joe Shindelar. “Gatsby & Drupal”, DrupalCon Seattle 2019
**Aimee Degnan, Caroline Boyden. “Accessibility Deep Dive”, DrupalCon Seattle 2019

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on May 15, 2019.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

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Sandy
3 Digital Trends Associations Should Start, Stop and Continue Doing

As part of our annual review process we use the start, stop, continue retrospective technique. We've found it's a great way to recognize successes and opportunities for growth for individuals, teams and organizations. Thinking about the digital transformations we've seen with associations lately, below are some retrospectives on what we see trending with membership organizations. 

START
Creating a culture of data. Using data to inform your decisions and weaving that into everything you do is critical to success. We are working with an association today where we're collecting and analyzing data to identify educational gaps and drive new products (and revenue). We're also utilizing data to drive content and functional requirements on new website builds to improve the member experience. By taking a fresh look at member data for a global membership organization, we were able to re-interpret the data and create new marketing campaign messaging to increase membership and product sales. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data helps associations turn subjective decisions into objective ones. Even when we're talking creative and UX – data science for us plays a huge role.

STOP
Stop building websites in proprietary technologies on a web dev shop's server as you are trapping yourself and it’s completely unnecessary now. Many leading associations are utilizing off-the-shelf content managements systems like Drupal, Kentico, etc. to integrate with their AMS and LMS systems, provide personalized member experiences, and track analytics and KPIs. Then you have options when it comes to supporting your chosen system. You can choose to have the original digital agency maintain and support your site, you can select a new partner for support, or bring it in house. We also recommend you own the hosting relationship with a 3rd party provider such as Rackspace, Azure, or AWS so you are never "stuck". We have taken over the maintenance and support for so many association websites that didn't get the service, attention to detail, nor strategic thinking to drive their association forward, and it was all possible because of the CMS they selected (and it's always a smoother transition when a 3rd party hosting provider is involved but not necessary). 

CONTINUE
Continue focusing on member engagement, member value and the overall member experience. This is what we love most about associations. It doesn't matter if you're a trade association or medical, large or niche, everyone shares a common mission to help your members become more than they can on their own. One of the most common challenges and motivations we've seen for launching into a new website overhaul was to improve their members' online experience and increase online member engagement. And we get it – we, too, are all about the user. When you look into the member journey, continue at all touchpoints to remember we're all just people trying to be the best version of ourselves. Keep the humanity alive in your organization that you have already mastered.

This blog was posted by Sandy on February 19, 2019.
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.

Sandy
Innovation as a Learned Behavior


Dr. Karen Bartuch, Sandstorm's Director of Data Science, presented 10 practical innovation tips at the Association Forum Holiday Showcase

For most organizations, innovation is table stakes for long-term growth and a competitive advantage. Yet, according to McKinsey, 94% of managers surveyed were dissatisfied with their organization's innovation performance. So why are some organizations better at it than others? Google employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time, in addition to their regular projects, to work on what they think will most benefit Google. Both AdSense and Google News were created this way. But I know what you're thinking, we're not Google. 

Innovation is a deliberate choice, and in most organizations, it doesn't accidentally happen as your people need permission to explore and create. And everybody has the capacity to create according to the Componential Theory of Creativity, "..all humans with normal capacities are able to produce at least moderately creative work in some domain, some of the time—and that the social environment (the work environment) can influence both the level and the frequency of creative behavior."

Below are 10 practical tips to unlock your inner innovator and incorporate it into your daily life:

  1. Don't worry about critiques
  2. Forget the need to be 100% original
  3. Go from specific to abstract
  4. Be aware of shortcuts and biases
  5. Practice diversity
  6. Get hands on
  7. Spend a day in the life
  8. Carry a sketchbook
  9. Work during your “peak time”
  10. Inject humor into the workplace (check out Karen's TEDx Talk)

During this session, attendees got the opportunity to synthesize what research is telling us about the need and desire for innovation, and understand key strategies to infuse creativity and innovation in your organization. Contact us if you want to discuss any upcoming innovation initiatives you'd like help with.

This blog was posted by Sandy on January 28, 2019.
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.

Karen Bartuch
Why you need content personalization now

How great is it when you walk into your local coffee shop and the barista already knows your order? That personal attention makes you feel special, and it’s the type of experience that keeps you coming back every morning.

What if your website could deliver that same personalized experience for your customers? With the right data and tools, it can. Which is why content personalization has quickly become the norm, not the exception.

Why’s Personalization All the Rage?

Consumers want and expect that coffee-shop experience everywhere they go. According to a study from the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 76% of consumers said they would like to receive personalized content. And research from Janrain, a leader in customer identity, found that 74% of online consumers get frustrated when a website’s content is irrelevant to their interests.

If you can deliver on these desires, you’ll be rewarded. Gartner estimates that by 2020, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15%.

So How Does Personalizing Content Work?

As visitors navigate your site, their actions, demographic information and other personal data informs the content they interact with. For instance, if you’re a big box retailer and your 18-year-old female fashionista customer from Arizona visits the shoe section, it makes sense to show her Steve Madden sandals the next time she visits your site, instead of snow shoes and a parka.

One of the most effective ways to personalize content is through rule-based personalization. With this method, the first step is segmenting your audience. That means separating your users into smaller groups based on common attributes, which can be broad (age, income) or narrow (website visitors who’ve returned from a retargeting ad to purchase a specific product). Then you can set up if/then scenarios and rules that take each segment through their own journey.

At Sandstorm, we often deploy Kentico Content Management System (CMS) for our clients due to its native personalization functionality. In the scenario above, Kentico makes it easy to personalize the content displayed. Rules are created so that visitors meeting certain qualifications (e.g., geographic location, age, viewing history, etc.) are delivered specific content stored in the CMS. Given the vast amount of information available online and the decreasing amount of time people have, customers appreciate a tailored experience and are more likely to visit a site that delivers content specific to their interests and needs.

Making sure your customers are delighted and have a great experience is at the heart of what we do at Sandstorm. That’s why we continually conduct user research to better understand what consumers are seeking from a brand and its website. With over 3,000 hours of in-depth user interviews and usability tests under our belts, we take the subjectivity out of the process and use the research to inform our work, including content decisions related to personalization.

If you’d like to learn more about content personalization, contact us today. Or check out some of our work in Kentico.

This blog was posted by Karen Bartuch on September 25, 2018.
Karen Bartuch

About the Author

Karen Bartuch

Karen Bartuch is passionate about data and uncovering hidden insights to help her clients make better business decisions. She enjoys taking an innovative yet evidence-based approach to her work.

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Jeff
Sandstorm developers Joe Ruel and Jeff Umbricht at DrupalCon 2018

Every year since 2005, the Drupal community has flocked to DrupalCon to learn, explore and share. This year, the Sandstorm® team headed to Nashville, Tennessee–site of DrupalCon 2018–to get the latest updates on one of our favorite CMSs, find inspiration, and get our hot-chicken fix. Here are a few of the things we took away from this year’s conference.

1. “Clients buy solutions not code.”

Software wizard Vladimir Roudakov reminded us that no matter how impeccable and innovative our code looks, what’s most important to our clients is that our code solves the problems they’re facing. It was a great message to ground us throughout our time in Nashville.

2. By 2020, there will be more than 50 billion connected devices
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3. Most traffic on the internet is non-human

Developer advocate Emily Rose made a pretty compelling case for why we’ll be developing for humanoids in the not-so-far future. With 61% of the internet made up of bot traffic and connected devices estimated to outnumber people 6:1 in two years, that’s a concept that’s hard to argue with.

4. Increasing page speed by one second can increase conversion by 27%

Google announced that by July 2018, pagespeed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches. For businesses to reach that coveted first position in the search engine, they’ll need to make sure their site loads lightning fast. And the reward—a big bump in conversion rate—will be worth it.

5. Drupal makes big dreams a reality

To celebrate the total solar eclipse, Miles McLean and Ken Fang used Drupal to create a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience, integrating more than 20 video feeds and real-time tracker. Forty million people used the tool to see the solar eclipse.

If you’re looking to do big things with your website, drop us a line.

This blog was posted by Jeff on May 2, 2018.
Jeff Umbricht

About the Author

Jeff Umbricht

Jeff is an Illinois native with a passion for web development. Making code into great things drives him every day. He’s often busy building awesome experiences for Sandstorm clients, and there’s a high probability that he’s rocking out to metal while he codes.

Sean
Website vulnerability to hacks

Whether it drizzles or pours, it’s good to be carrying an umbrella.

Back in 2014, Drupalgeddon rained cats and dogs.

Drupal released a critical security update on October 15, 2014 with express directions to address the vulnerability within seven hours of the release. Unfortunately, a large number of system administrators didn’t grab their umbrellas, and—to stretch this metaphor to its limit—they got soaked. It was a wake-up call, to say the least.

So four years later, when Drupal released a similarly critical security update that many people called Drupalgeddon 2.0, the admin community was prepared. At Sandstorm®, we started planning right after the announcement, and when the update was released, we secured more than 30 sites in a single afternoon.

But we’ve always understood the importance of taking security updates seriously, whether it’s 2014 or 2018. Because staying on top of these updates is just one easy way to keep your systems safe. And as recent hacks and data breaches like those from Saks and Lord & Taylor continue to show, your safety is under constant attack.

So what else can you do to keep your site as safe as possible?

1. Move your site to HTTPS

More than half of internet traffic is now encrypted, which is great news. Having your site use HTTPS (SSL/TLS) helps protect against session hijack attacks, because all traffic between your server and the client is encrypted.

This is such a boon to security that Google has been talking about penalizing sites that don't use HTTPS. Most notably, the Google Chrome browser will start indicating sites without HTTPS as insecure, starting in July 2018. Just one more reason to get a move on.

2. Take charge of your passwords and access

A major line of defense for any infrastructure is good management of credentials. As individuals and institutions, we now have a number of tools at our disposal, such as password managers, policies, etc.

But what is often forgotten is to consistently and comprehensively review who has access to your systems. As a result, old employees still have access to sites and accounts, creating vulnerabilities that are just waiting to happen.

3. Keep your server and applications up to date

When security updates are released, they represent known vulnerabilities. It’s imperative to apply the updates immediately, or risk leaving a door open for malicious activity.

Ensure that your server is applying updates on a regular basis and that your web applications are updating any relevant frameworks or libraries. An ounce of prevention is much more cost efficient than trying to recover from a compromised server or application.

4. Ensure you have frequent backups

If something ever does happen, you want to be able to roll back to a safe state. That’s why it’s so critical to make sure your servers and your application have automated backups.

Most hosts offer backup services for a small additional fee, and you’ll want to ensure that these are configured and working.

5. Proactive threat management

Be proactive. Start a conversation with your host provider about threat management, and ask about automated systems that look for irregular traffic. Ask your web vendor about how code is managed on the server, and spend the time to find a solution that’s right for your organization.

Still not sure how you can stay protected? Sandstorm can help! Feel free to drop us a line, so we can help ensure your site is secure.

This blog was posted by Sean on April 12, 2018.
Sean Fuller

About the Author

Sean Fuller

As Technology Director, Sean is a hands-on developer and technical lead on projects. He works with design and strategist teams from kick off through launch to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects. 

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Sandy
Sandy Marsico at Solutions Day

Recently I had the honor of speaking at .orgCommunity’s Solutions Day 2017. Usability testing is a big part of how Sandstorm eliminates subjectivity from the creative process, so I wanted to show attendees how usability testing can help drive significantly improved user experiences.

With as few as 5–6 users, usability testing can identify 80% of user issues on a website or mobile app. Our Sandstormers have learned many lessons while performing more than 3,000 usability studies. These are just a few of the findings that can help you.

1. Members want to see real images of their peers.

We performed usability testing for the American Planning Association as part of a redesign of their website. During testing, we learned that their members found the stock photography used on their existing site inauthentic and unengaging.

APA before test

This simple finding led us to use professional photos of real APA members that improved engagement on key pages, including the homepage, Events page, and About Us page.

APA after test

2. Don’t put too many events on the homepage.

The Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) holds 1,200 events for 58 chapters across the globe each year, and they were struggling to find a way to highlight events.

Before we tested, ACG was including 25 events on their homepage, which was harming the user experience.

ACG before test

We needed to make it easy for members to find the events that were of interest, in their location, etc. So we created a featured event section on the homepage that links to an events page allowing users to filter by keyword, chapter, date, and event type.

ACG after test

3. Navigation items that require user action need an active verb in the title.

We made a surprising discovery while testing wireframe designs for a large non-profit organization: users thought the navigation items were too unclear and passive.

By adding active verbs to these items—for example, changing “Theft & Fraud Awareness” to “Prevent Theft and Fraud”—we were able to make the navigation clearer to users and let them know what they would be able to accomplish when visiting the page.

4. People miss content when there’s no visual cue.

Weber was redesigning the website for their grills and accessories and wanted to test several UX changes on a development environment before going live.

One of the issues we uncovered was that users didn’t know that the navigation items in the main menu expanded.

To solve this, we added carets next to the menu titles to indicate action. After making this simple fix, users clearly understood that they would find additional pages in the menu.

Weber after test

5. Using a search icon without an input field confuses users.

While redesigning the website for NOW Foods, we found that users were confused by a small change: we removed the input field for the search bar.

NOW Foods before test

By merely adding the field back to the search area, users could search the site with ease.

NOW Foods after test

Usability testing is a quick, simple way to improve the user experience, whether you’re creating a new site or app or redesigning what you have now. Contact us to learn more about how to execute your own usability test today.

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 29, 2017.
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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Michael
Answering the Eternal Question: To Hamburger Menu or Not?

Should you use a hamburger menu for your mobile navigation?

That’s a matter of ongoing debate here at Sandstorm®. It’s a debate we carry out in email chains linking to the latest articles, with subject lines like, “Hamburger menus were (bad/good).”

So I’m here to finally end the debate and offer a definitive answer on whether you should use hamburger menus by saying, “It depends.”

Because that’s the truth: Hamburger menus aren’t uniformly bad or good. It all depends on your audience, your goals, and how best to structure your information so that it serves your users and your needs.

The Myth of the Hidden Menu

In his article Why and How to Avoid Hamburger Menus, Louie Abreu lays out a thoughtful argument against the pattern of using sidebar menus. For him, the biggest issues are:

  1. Low Discoverability—the menu is out of sight and, therefore, out of mind.
  2. Reduced Efficiency—it creates navigation friction for the user.
  3. Navigation Clashing—it clutters up and overloads the navigation bar.
  4. Lack of Glanceability—information about specific items is harder to surface.

But I don’t quite buy the rest of his argument.

Since 2014, when the article was published, hamburger menus have become a common pattern for some of the most highly trafficked sites on the web, including Google and Facebook. And in countless usability studies, we’ve seen that most people don’t mind the ‘hidden’ menu on mobile devices.

The main issue we’ve seen in usability studies is some users don’t understand the three-horizontal-lines ‘hamburger’ icon. This is consistent with an A/B testing experiment conducted by Sites for Profit, which suggests that the three-horizontal-lines ‘hamburger’ icon is less effective than the ‘menu’ label. So there is definitely evidence that supports adding a menu label underneath the icon or simply using the word ‘menu’ instead of the icon.

What users really want is something that’s designed for them, whether it includes a hamburger menu or not—and I’d argue that most users don’t know that this is even a debate.

So how do you effectively use a hamburger menu without alienating users?

Considerations Before Using Hamburger Menus

1. If your navigation structure is small and simple, why not just show it?

Websites with a deep menu structure—like large enterprise software companies—can benefit from hamburger menus. But small websites, like those for a local business, have limited functionality and can display their full navigation. Or you could use one of these emerging patterns for mobile navigation.

2. Label your menu with the word menu.

Our own tests and others have shown that just adding the word ‘menu’ below the hamburger icon increases user engagement. Or ditch the icon and just use the ‘menu’ label.

3. If you have the screen width to display your menu, you should do it.

Avoid hiding your navigation on larger screens. If you don’t have to use a hamburger menu on tablet, then don’t.

4. Nesting can be a problem, if your menu structure is too deep, there’s probably something wrong with your architecture.

The hamburger/offscreen navigation pattern can get tricky if your menu structure is deep and wide. It’s probably not a good pattern to use if this is the case, but the first thing you should do is consider revising your site architecture so it’s less complex.

If you need help with your mobile navigation, Sandstorm can help. From usability testing to user experience design, we’ll help you find the solution that works best for your users.

This blog was posted by Michael on August 31, 2017.
Michael Hartman

About the Author

Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

Janna
Get in the Gamification and Boost Your Member Engagement

Stronger member engagement. Increased traffic. Connecting with Millennials.

If I just listed everything on your association’s wish list, then gamification has a lot to offer you.

Gamification is all about motivation. It plays on people’s competitive nature and love of recognition to encourage them to accomplish goals. And gamification works wonders. Studies show that gamification can lead to a 150% boost in engagement, which is why more than 70% of the Global 2000 according to badgeville.com have at least one gamified app.

How can you start taking advantage of gamification’s benefits? We’ve created a quick walkthrough to help you power up member engagement.

1. Add a profile progress bar.

Users want goals and they want to feel like they’ve accomplished something. More than 75% responded to a survey saying that they want an indication of progress.

LinkedIn has mastered this technique to get members to build out their profiles: rewards for completing a profile, clues that offer direction, and tapping into users’ competitive nature to see who is looking at their profile.

Gamification: Add a progress bar

 

2. Include provocative language in the profile form.

Asana challenged its users by asking them to describe themselves in seven words. When they made that switch, their response rate increased 98%. With just a simple form change, you can get your members to be more engaged right from the start.

Gamification: Include provocative language in the profile form

 

3. Use points to incentivize members to come back.

Learning a new language can seem daunting, unless you use Duolingo. The popular language education app grew to 110 million users in just three years, and it keeps those members coming back by giving them experience points for each completed task.

Gamification: Use points to incentivize members to come back

 

4. Award badges for participation.

It can be difficult to get off the couch, but Fitbit encourages users to push harder by awarding badges for milestones. And the awards aren’t just for running a marathon, they start with tasks that the user can actually achieve and build from there.

Gamification: Award badges for participation

 

At Sandstorm®, we can design new and exciting ways to engage your members through gamification.

Watch the video below for more ideas, or contact us to talk about what we can do for you.

This blog was posted by Janna on August 10, 2017.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's Executive Creative Director, Janna, is a design-thinker. Showcased in several design publications and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, she is talented in taking nuggets of good ideas and nurturing them into solutions that are always strategic, engaging and visually delightful.

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Jason
How to make your website more inclusive by design

If your website was a physical location, would you build it without access for people with disabilities?

Of course not. You’re not a heartless monster.

But a surprising number of websites forget about the needs of people with disabilities. Inclusive design seeks to change that.

The principle behind inclusive design is creating products and services that everyone can use. Not only does that provide accessibility to your website for people with disabilities, it creates a better experience for all of your users.

Color contrast is a big part of inclusive design and web accessibility. As one of the most important tools in our utility belt, color choice is a big part of a designer’s work. We use it for emotive and illustrative purposes. Red, for example, can be a great color to highlight importance and urgency. Contrasting it with white type can help draw the eye, and that color combination is great for getting users to address alerts.

So what happens when a user has difficulty seeing the color red?

Well, it turns out that white text on a red background is completely invisible to people with color blindness—something we discovered during one of our usability studies. In fact, there are a number of color combinations that cause problems for the visually impaired.

Luckily, there are organizations like World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to create standards for accessibility issues like color contrast. In fact, W3C went so far as to establish extensive Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and the web community responded by developing tools that help designers create more inclusive sites.

Some of those tools, like WebAIM and Colorable, focus specifically on color contrast. To meet WCAG, normal, non-bolded text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1; for large text it should be at least 3:1.

What else can you do to start making sure your website is more accessible and inclusive?

1. Add Alternative Text to Images

“Alt text” is essential to web accessibility. Assistive technology, such as screen readers, relies on alt text to turn images into braille or speech for the impaired.

Most content management systems, like Drupal or Kentico, include an alt tag field for images. Start with your company logo, then add descriptive alt text for each image on your site.

2. Use the Right Heading Structure

Correctly ordering the HTML headings on each page makes it much easier for screen readers and the visually impaired to navigate your site. While design considerations might require this order to shift, try to follow it where you can. At the very least, make your page title and h1 consistent—it’ll help the people using screen readers to make sense of the content.

3. Stop Using “Click Here”

For many reasons, please stop using “click here” as link text. Not only does it make content seem outdated, “click here” is a vague and confusing link description for people who use screen readers. Instead, use strong verbs that tell users what you want them to do and what they get in return:

  • Register for the event
  • Request more information
  • Download this report

4. Utilize Free Web Evaluation Tools

In addition to color contrast tools, enterprising developers have created lots of free tools that evaluate your website’s accessibility.

WAVE, for example, provides a breakdown of errors, alerts, and features in a list form and a visual overlay so you can identify opportunities to improve your site.

Web accessibility isn’t a cut-and-dried, check-it-off-the-list process. But when you design with all of your users in mind, you make your website a more inclusive place to be. And who doesn’t want to be a part of that?

This blog was posted by Jason on August 2, 2017.
Jason Dabrowski

About the Author

Jason Dabrowski

Jason is one of Sandstorm’s designers and also helps keep the office running smoothly. As a veteran of the theatre—from acting to directing, lighting to set design—he knows the value of hard work and a positive attitude. Look for his unique voice on the blog.

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