James Wynne is Director of User Experience for Sandstorm and has been in digital product development since 1996. He has worked as a UX designer for a myriad of clients including large eCommerce brands, mobile device manufacturers and integrated marketing agencies.
Targeted Keyword Phrase
After a three-year hiatus, the Guac Off has finally, and gloriously, returned to Sandstorm®!
We were a much smaller company when the Guac Off was created; we held the first one at my house on a Saturday and everyone attended with their families. As Sandstorm grew bigger and bigger, it became harder to find a day and time when everyone could attend. Eventually, the event dropped off the calendar, but it was never forgotten.
I really wanted to bring back this fun event, but knew that we had to change it up to make it happen. Every month we have a “You Rock” meeting where the whole company gathers to celebrate our awesomeness, have lunch together, and talk about our growth. Usually we have pizza, but this time we had Chipotle and all of our secret guacamole recipes.
Ten Sandstormers brought their guacamole to the table. Many were delicious, and a few boozy options raised some eyebrows, but in the end, there was one clear winner. Congratulations to Megan Culligan, who was crowned our new “el Champion” on Tuesday! She won in a landslide with her very tasty mango guacamole.
In true Sandstorm fashion, we’ve posted pictures and a quick victory speech from our champion on our Facebook page.
The revival of the Guac Off proves that it’s never too late to come back to a good idea and refresh it. If you need help bringing your ideas back to glory, let us know.
I just got back from a fun conversation with Kristi Ross and Tony Battista at Tastytrade for their show Bootstrapping in America. It was an honor to be asked to share my experience as an entrepreneur with a CEO I admire.
And it’s that passion for new ideas and perspectives that’s helped us find inspiration in the unexpected for our clients. Just one example that came to mind during my talk with Kristi and Tony was how we found inspiration for a community bank in 1871, the Chicago incubator.
Hear more about Sandstorm’s beginnings, how our culture helped differentiate us, and how we differentiate our clients. Check out our episode of Bootstrapping in America.
I wrote my first song at the age of two; it was called “I Can Do It By Myself.” Unfortunately, that became my mantra for longer than I’d like to admit, and it wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered the profound impact mentoring could have in my career and personal life. Since then, I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet men and women with the passion to guide me through my exploration of the world. And I’m especially grateful to work alongside so many of them every day.
Mentorship is an essential part of our culture at Sandstorm®. As our founder and CEO Sandy Marsico recently shared with ABC News, having a great mentor was essential to her success, which is why learning and sharing is one of our three core values. Our amazing directors not only share their decades of expertise with fellow Sandstormers, they’re active in the community, educating and inspiring the next generation of developers, designers, and strategists, too.
I’ve benefitted immensely from our creative directors’ mentorship—shout out to John and Janna for anything I missed during our company You Rocks. And it got me thinking about how mentorship has helped other Sandstormers in their careers and personal lives.
Learning From the Best
As a budding copywriter, Creative Director John Rausch was fortunate to be mentored by the creative genius who wrote the immortal "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun" jingle for the Big Mac. “In the years I worked for him, I learned a lifetime's worth of insights into developing impactful creative work,” John shared. “But perhaps the most significant thing he taught me was the importance of paying it forward—sharing my own passion and acumen with the creative professionals who would come to work for me.”
Finding Solutions Through Empathy
As a resident assistant at Central Michigan University, Strategist Megan Durst found a mentor in her resident director. “He taught me a lot about understanding people’s motivation,” she said. “It really helped me empathize with my students and help them find solutions to their problems. Not only have those skills been critical in my personal life, they’ve been equally essential in my career as well.”
Teaching the Next Generation
Executive Creative Director Janna Fiester’s undergrad professor has remained a mentor ever since her time at Ball State. Her professor even encouraged Janna to earn an MFA and become a professor herself, which she did. It was during her time as a professor at UIC that Janna began mentoring students of her own. “Now one of my mentees is also a client. She still calls me her mentor and a strong influence to choosing design as a career.”
Amanda, our Director of Business Integration, found an amazing mentor in her volleyball coach—even getting the opportunity to coach alongside him when her daughter reached high school. “He gave me great advice throughout my entire life: in business, coaching, and in my personal life. He truly cared about me and making sure I was successful. He's had such a profound impact on my life and always went out of his way to help me, even without asking.”
Friends in High Places
Front-End Developer Joe Ruel was fresh out of college when he met one of his mentors. As Joe recalls, “My mentor guided me through many aspects of development and helped me find my passion in front-end development.” Though his mentor moved onto another company, they kept in touch. Over the next year, Joe heard so much about his mentor’s new company that he applied for a position there. Sandstorm Senior Front-End Developer Jeff Umbricht continues to be a guiding influence in Joe’s life, and was quick to note that Joe got the job on the strength of his considerable skills alone.
How has mentorship impacted your life? We’d love to hear your story in the comments.
I really enjoyed attending .orgCommunity’s Disruption + Innovation conference this month! The .orgCommunity is an amazing resource for senior executives to lead their associations through innovation, and the event certainly delivered on that mission. Speakers and facilitators from across a wide variety of industries shared their insights on redefining digital publishing, generating new streams of revenue, and much more. These were my biggest takeaways:
- Adopt a disruption mindset. Act like a digital disrupter.
- Rethink the entire business, not just the technology.
- Get inspired outside your industry. Did you know: Ugg boots were created by surfers.
- Your goal is to create value—for every association.
- The membership subscription model is over. You need to think about other ways to earn revenue.
- Collaborate more, collaborate differently. Consider strategic partnerships and mergers.
So it’s with great pleasure that I can finally announce my position as a part of .orgCommunity’s advisory board! With almost two decades of experience working with associations of all sizes—including the National Association of REALTORS, American Medical Association, Rotary, and more—it’s an honor to share my experience with executives and help them utilize emerging technologies and techniques.
I look forward to sharing my expertise with the .orgCommunity while continuing to help our many association clients prepare for their future success.
Each year, some of the sharpest thinkers you’re likely to meet gather at Chicago’s Columbia College for a high-stakes advertising competition. They’re not professional strategists, copywriters and art directors—they’re college students taking part in The One Club’s Creative Boot Camp, and their work is insightful and inspired.
I know this firsthand because, along with Janna Fiester (Executive Creative Director here at Sandstorm), I was a mentor and judge at this year’s Creative Boot Camp. The annual event is presented by The One Club, the non-profit organization devoted to elevating creative work in the advertising industry. One of the missions of The One Club is to educate and inspire students of the business, and the Creative Boot Camp gives collegians the opportunity to work in teams to develop a multi-media marketing campaign.
Seventeen teams—comprised of students from Columbia, DePaul, Harper and other area schools—worked closely together for three days to develop campaigns for Kraft American Cheese Singles. Serving as mentors, Janna and I (along with a handful of other Chicago ad professionals) moved from team to team answering questions, resolving conflicts and sharing our perspectives.
“You could really sense the passion each team had for their work,” recalls Janna. “These were college students who had never met before being assigned to their Creative Boot Camp team. The research and strategy development they were doing to provide a foundation for the creative work was truly amazing.”
The teams worked around the clock on their campaigns and, on the fourth day, formally presented their work to a panel of judges comprised of Janna and me and four other ad executives. Each team presented its research, strategy and creative rationale for campaigns that spanned TV, print, social media, point-of-purchase and field marketing.
At the conclusion of the presentations, the judges selected the top three teams, each of which received a year’s membership in The One Club. The members of the first-place team were also awarded interviews at Leo Burnett, the agency which sponsored the event.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Janna, “and throughout the four days, the students were incredibly appreciative of the time and expertise we were sharing with them.” And while I concur with her assessment, I have to say that we got back at least as much as we gave.
We can’t wait til next year, when we get to do it all over again.
What Your Employees Want (And How Company Culture Can Give it To Them)
Culture has a huge impact on your brand. It’s something I recently talked about with Forbes, and I’ll shout it from the roof of our office if it helps other leaders avoid learning the hard way like I did.
In Sandstorm’s early days, I discovered just how important creating a positive culture really is. By not focusing on our culture, I ended up not looking forward to working at my own company. But after we took the steps to transform our culture, we added more than 30 Sandstormers to our roster and grew business by 425%. Best of all, I’m absolutely sure that Sandstormers love coming to work every day.
Creating a great culture is as much an art as a science, but it starts by knowing what employees want. A study from PwC shows that these are the four things people want most from their job, and this is how we address them through our unique culture.
1. Job Flexibility
It’s not just Millennials who want flexibility at work; everyone wants a healthy work-life balance. The world’s full of tools that let us work anywhere at any time, so why should we miss our daughter’s first soccer goal or be at the office early after a late-night code deployment?
One of our core values is warrior spirit. To us, warrior spirit means being on an endless crusade to make great ideas a reality and bring out the best in each other. We’re problem solvers, champions, and collaborators who architect client success. And that’s something we do whether we’re in the office or working remote, at work and at play.
2. Professional Development
Career growth is essential to Millennials, and it’s why learning and sharing is another of our core values. If we want to be the best, we need the tools and time to learn how. That’s why we spend thousands of hours every year attending conferences, taking classes, exploring new technologies and trends, and sharing what we learn with each other.
Our senior staff has decades of experience, and they use it to mentor younger members of our team. They’re also active members of the community, sharing their expertise at events and boot camps and speaking at conferences, which helps us discover the next member of our team.
3. To Do Good While Being Great
Reputation matters to clients and employees, and what a brand says and does needs to align. Our mission is to do good work for good people, and we don’t work with organizations we don’t believe in.
We do good outside of work, too. Sandstormers get paid time off each year to volunteer, and we organize volunteer opportunities where we work together at a food pantry or collect for a clothing drive.
4. Have Fun
We’re people, not drones. And nothing builds stronger bonds than having fun together. It’s extremely rare for a week to go by at Sandstorm without there being a birthday lunch or a happy hour. That’s not even counting our super secret events to Cubs games, scavenger hunts, or other outings organized by our Co-Captains of Fun.
And this year I was finally able to give everyone the last week of the year off to go on vacation or spend some much-deserved time with friends and family. I was so happy!
Changing our culture really transformed our business. We can keep growing while making sure our lives are rich, meaningful, and full of fun. And that’s the real reward of focusing on your culture.
With 2017 right around the corner, the Sandstorm team has been dreaming about what’s to come in the new year. Taking our core values as inspiration (Warrior Spirit, Learning and Sharing, and Have Fun!), we each set a New Year’s resolution. From running 5Ks to learning a new language to dancing more, our goals for 2017 ran the gamut (you can see all of them here).
Dreaming is never enough for us, so we activated 6 of our resolutions as GIFs to celebrate the season with all of you.
core value: warrior spirit
resolutions: compete in a 5K race
Many of our staff have the classic resolution to run a 5K, but our Copywriter Bill wants to compete in a race to raise money for Open Heart Magic. Bill is a magician for the nonprofit Open Heart Magic, which brings the surprise and excitement of magic to children in Chicago area hospitals.
core value: warrior spirit
resolution: plan a beautiful wedding
Lisa, one of our Digital Strategists, just got engaged! So who can blame her for having the big day on her mind? Her resolution is planning a beautiful wedding and fun reception while keeping her type A personality at bay.
core value: learning and sharing
resolution: learn a new language
Most of our staff have been bitten by the travel bug, but our Creative Director John and Production Designer Jason are taking it one step further by learning Italian and Japanese, respectively.
core value: learning and sharing
resolution: learn new tech skills
Staying on top of the latest tech developments is just part of being a Sandstormer. Andy, our Senior Engineer and Team Lead, is going to extend his knowledge by becoming a Drupal 8 expert and Joshua, our Marketing Manager, wants to master HTML so he can perfect our email newsletters.
core value: have fun!
resolution: dance like nobody’s watching
Our Front-End Developer Adam will be relieving some stress in 2017 by letting loose and not caring what anyone thinks.
core value: have fun!
resolution: I want to be the very best, like no one ever was.
Pokemon took over the world this summer, and our office was no different. Interaction Designer Jesse’s new life motto also happens to be lyrics from the Pokémon theme.
Sandstorm is happy to assist in dreaming up 2017 marketing resolutions with you and help activate them in the new year.
The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and Fortune has announced that Sandstorm has been selected for prestigious 2016 Inner City 100 list. This recognition places Sandstorm in an exemplary lineage of nearly 900 fast-growing and innovative inner city businesses.
ICIC’s Inner City 100 is an annually compiled and released list featuring high-power, high-potential businesses from around the country with headquarters in inner cities. Each company is selected by ICIC with help from a national network of nominating partners who seek to identify, spotlight, and further enable the named companies’ innovative urban entrepreneurship. Ranked by revenue growth, the esteemed recipients go on to have their names published in Fortune.
Sandstorm ranked 95 overall on the list of 100 and it is the third time we have been honored with this distinction. We reported 2015 revenues of 4.29 million and a five-year growth rate of 117% percent from 2011-2015. In the past year Sandstorm has added a number of new positions, including a Digital Strategist, Marketing Manager, Front-End Developer, Director of Analytics & Optimization and a Creative Director.
The full list can be viewed on the Fortune website here.
“We are extraordinarily proud of these pioneering entrepreneurs who lead the way in economic revitalization in America’s inner cities,” says Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC, of the list of 100.
The Inner City 100 program recognizes and supports successful inner city business leaders, and celebrates their role in providing innovation and job creation in America’s cities. These companies strengthen local American economies, provide job opportunities for underrepresented communities, and drive forward economic and social development.
There seems to be a holiday for everything now, including user experience. And Sandstorm couldn’t help but celebrate it.
The theme for World Usability Day 2016—Sustainable User Experience (UX)—unites UX and sustainability through the shared objective of creating unparalleled experiences. At Sandstorm, we understand the impact UX research and design can have on projects and, most importantly, people.
So we got excited to capitalize on our UX expertise while cleaning up our office recycling habits.
We assembled a team of eco-warriors—aka UX architects and marketing specialists—to investigate our team’s recycling habits. By utilizing user interviews—one of many types of user research—for this project, we were able to better understand current behaviors in the office and identify opportunities for improvement.
We asked our team members questions about their basic recycling knowledge, why they recycle, and what keeps them from recycling at the office. We uncovered two key findings from our research and, as a result, devised four ways to improve recycling.
- The majority of Sandstormers want to, and do, recycle
- The most significant barrier to recycling is Sandstormers’ uncertainty as to whether an item can be recycled or not
Ways to Improve Recycling at Sandstorm
- Ensure bins are present by every desk and in every conference room
- Clearly communicate what can and cannot be recycled
- Reduce plasticware/food waste
- Explore purchasing a dishwasher
Usability is about tweaking what you currently have to create a more effective experience; our user research showed that—with Sandstormers already in the habit of recycling—we need only to implement a few minor changes to encourage greener behaviors.
And just because we have action items now doesn’t mean our process is over. We will continue to track office recycling, and do follow up user research, to ensure office recycling is optimized for a greener tomorrow.
Here at Sandstorm we don’t simply “refresh” a website, we help businesses evolve their brand. Which is exactly what we did for Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) when they wanted their website to project a more modern feel with digital prowess.
Our first move was a content audit to get our arms around the site and understand the complex mission of AAM (empowering media professionals with trusted verification and data). From there we created a set of information architecture (IA) guidelines that informed the responsive website design. Through our thoughtful research and strict IA guidelines we were able to deliver a new website, with approachable messaging, that spoke to their various audiences.