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.
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Starting bright and early at 7am this morning, the metal studs were cut to unite our two spaces. When I first called the office, Zak answered the phone "It's a loud day here at Sandstorm" which made me laugh "out loud". If you call Sandstorm enough and are fortunate to get him to answer, he's always got a witty and generally funny phrase for the day.
I could tell in the background that the noise was annoying pretty much everyone, so to thank them all for their patience and tolerance through the noise today, I took the Sandstorm team out to Jury's for lunch. Yum!
Now it's nearly 4pm and our construction crew is gone. We finally have some peace and quiet to do our interactive and marketing magic, and the huge draping plastic wrap is a unique creative inspiration. It's actually so eerily quiet in here that it feels a lot like a serious corporate environment... I can actually hear the hum of my laptop and the slight clatter of a few keyboards.
Our new neighboring space was painted today (woo hoo!), and has such a creative, fun, lofty yet still marketing and interactive agency look to it. The old walls were gray and electric blue, which was interesting, but didn't have our more signature sandstorm look. Plus the gray made me sad, so I just love the new shade of blond that replaced it.
In addition, we are introducing "the fishbowl". It's one of two new huddle rooms with tons of glass windows, with interior walls painted blue, so it kind of feels like you are in a fishbowl when you are working in it. It's going to be great to reduce the sound of the trains on conference calls, and is a great brainstorming room. Jon is donating some old floor lamps for ambiance. Thanks Jon!
And I can't forget our newest lunchroom. Ah... no more having to clean up the conference room or usability lab last minute because a group decided to grab lunch together, and leave random things behind. Now we have a large, bright space that will probably always have hot sauce packets on the table or tables - we haven't decided if we want a few smaller tables or one big one.
So right before Christmas we're going to get just the greatest gift... A new and improved, much larger space for 2010! Thank you to my fabulous and dedicated staff and to our clients for making this possible as we continue to grow as one of Chicago's emerging boutique interactive agencies. :)
The new huddle rooms sure went up fast! It took only 2 days and we were able to walk in and experience the basic layout of our new space. Very cool! We are all anxiously awaiting our two new brainstorming rooms so we can hold internal meetings, conference calls, and additional research work (for when we are doubled up on our usability lab). They will also be a great place to get some quiet time when the crew gets a bit rowdy - usually near the end of the day. And it's been said that Sandstorm is one place is the morning, and a totally different place after 4pm :) We're also getting tons of new space for new workstations, and will have the room we need for growth in 2010.
Here at Sandstorm, we take being creative and interactive pretty seriously. Even our holiday party is interactive and ultra creative, but I don't mean the technically-savvy, online kind of interactive. We share tapas for hours, play "dirty santa" and have developed our own traditions... All staff and significant others are invited to a tapas feast at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba (open bar, open table of unlimited tapas - this year we had 8 plates of bacon wrapped dates . We get our own room now because we kind of need it so we don't bother the other patrons).
Anyone who wants to play buys a gift and wraps it up all fancy. My gift wrapping ability is poor, so I blamed it on my 3 year old son. Anyway, gifts are piled on a table while we sip sangria, scope out the size/shape/wrapping of the gifts, and prepare to draw numbers to see who gets to go first. Number 1 goes first, and gets to select any gift from the table. He/she opens it, and then the second person gets to either steal #1's gift, or make a new selection. This process of swapping and unwrapping goes until all the gifts are open. Then #1 gets to see everything and get the gift of their choice. Holly has some how been #1 two years in a row... hmm.
Somehow along the way we all manage to eat hundreds of tapas, and still have room for desert. Due to everyone's schedules, we have our holiday party on a Sunday night. So we give everyone the day off that Monday. Yep, a free Monday during the holiday shopping season. This year we had it over Thanksgiving so everyone got 5 day weekends. And we might just add that to the tradition next year. The coolest part about being a small company is that we can build traditions, and we learn each year how to make them even better. Happy Holidays everyone! And to my staff, thank you for an incredible and memorable holiday party 2009!
Today they started the demo in the space next door that we are taking over! They are doing a really great job as it's not too loud nor disruptive. Thanks Hugh and Joe Hayes! We've decided to add a larger lunchroom and kitchen area, along with two huddle rooms for brainstorming, conference calls, quiet meetings, private phone calls and some more work space as we continue to grow - all to enhance our user's experience (which in this case, our users are our staff).
It's a really fun and exciting time here at Sandstorm as we continue to grow with our user centered design methodology, creative Facebook applications, and strategic interactive tools. We are all looking forward to a busy and exciting 2010.
It's a major breakthrough moment for us. The tenants next door to our office are moving out this month. This is pretty exciting. This is our chance! This is our moment... to break into that space and commit to our explosive growth. It's our opportunity to embrace change, and start to design the newly added space. (which is the really fun part). So I am printing out floor plans of our current loft office and of the office next door for all of the staff to draw up what kind of space they need as we continue to grow.
Do we finally need a full lunchroom? Do we need a game room? A creative brainstorm room outside of our kind of cool conference room. Someone mentioned huddle rooms? Do we need quiet rooms? Or maybe a nicer place for the fantastic contractors we know and love so they don't have to work so close to the microwave and micro their brain waves out...
When we moved into this space 2 years ago I always envisioned that we would knock out part of the wall and make a curved archway into the new space. But after visiting the layout, I think the entire wall is going to have to go to really break through. My friend Ron told me that companies are the most efficient after a move, I'll let him know how it goes.
Sandstorm Design is thrilled to be ranked 21st in Brill Street's list of the top 50 most Generation Y friendly companies in Chicago. Joining Sandstorm on this list are huge companies like Google and Orbitz and local gems like Threadless and The Field Museum.
Brill Street selected honorees based on extensive quantitative and qualitative research. Judging criteria was based on what mattered most to Gen Y employees, including the use of social media, allowing flexible hours, and maintaining a work/life balance. Sandstorm Design is about 50% Gen Y and embodies a Gen Y’s ideal corporate culture.
We made the list - the top 21 list that is! We are so proud to be in Brill Street's Top 50 Generation Y Employers Chicago. Yep, we're #21 (hence the top 21 list). And they wrote a nice bio about our company on their site that really exemplifies who we are as a company, and what it's like to work with us, and for us. They even mentioned our guacamole contest! This recognition means a lot to me - and has easily become one of my favorite highlights of owning a business for the past 11 years. I am honored and proud that Sandstorm is a company and has a culture that people want to work for. That's why I started Sandstorm, to build a place that I would want to work at too.
Sandstorm Design and the Green REsource Council have been awarded a Standard of Excellence WebAward by the Web Marketing Association.
The Web Marketing Association annually honors sites in 96 industries based on their design, innovation, content, technology, interactivity, copywriting and ease of use. Entries are judged by an expert panel using a 0-70 points system, and only the top performers receive an award. Sandstorm and the Green REsource Council were honored in the Associations category. Learn more information about the WebAward Competition and check out the winning site.
The Client: National Association of REALTORS, Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC)
The Goal: Create a user-friendly web site that addresses the needs of multiple user groups.
The Solution: After conducting usability testing, user research, and establishing personas, we identified what type of information the different user groups required, and what features and functionality they were looking for. We designed a clean web site design and navigation that organized information by user group, and tested the navigation to ensure key tasks could be completed with ease. Important information and tasks were called to attention in the form of graphic callouts to engage users and ensure that they found what they were looking for. Cool blues and greens were added to round out their color palette, and subtle textures were incorporated throughout the design to add dimension. A coordinating advertising campaign, brochure, and tradeshow were launched in conjunction with the new site to drive traffic to the site and brand REBAC consistently across all mediums.