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
Everyone at Sandstorm is excited about the Chicago Blackhawks winning their sixth Stanley Cup!
As we’ve all anxiously watched games throughout the season(s), we noticed something familiar. (No, not “Chelsea Dagger.”) The Hawks display core values similar to ours. (If you need a reminder they are: Learning and Sharing, Warrior Spirit, and Have Fun) We haven’t changed our business to be more hockey-centered, but the connections between our winning formula and theirs is pretty clear.
Learning and Sharing
The Hawks are always training. They’ve never rested on their laurels from past wins. They don’t rely on their skill and natural talent. Every day they’re practicing and training to be a stronger and more agile team. They’re studying their past games to improve their performance and to make note of what their competition is doing.
Some of them have been at this for a long time, consider the coaching staff. Everyone has an experience or expertise that they can share with their teammates to help them improve.
How much do I have to say about this? HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED THEM PLAY?!
They take every game seriously, and they have each other’s back. They’re a team first and foremost. There are stars (the ones on commercials and billboards), but on the ice they are all working toward the same goal.
Everyone is putting out their best to win, not for themselves, but for the whole team. Look at Duncan Keith logging over 715 minutes in the postseason. Goalie, Corey Crawford shutout 25 goal attempts in Game 6 of the finals alone. That’s a LOT of Warrior Spirit.
After all the hard work they’ve put in this season, now is the time to have fun. Following the intensity, the team can finally unwind. If you’ve seen the news this week, you’ll know that they have, too, in clubs, parties, and the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
Yesterday they’ve had a ticker-tape parade through downtown Chicago with at-capacity rally in Soldier Field. They have the attention of the city and the world, and they all get the opportunity to share their excitement and win with their day with the Stanley Cup at a venue of their choosing. Many choose to go to their hometowns to share with their families and friends.
Getting to the Cup
All of these factors come together to win. We at Sandstorm don’t have a cup we’re aiming for, we just want to do good work for good people. While we’re not in the national spotlight, we work just as hard together to make great things happen. Whether it’s a responsive website or a rebranding project, our team is working to make our clients scream “GOOAALLLLLLLLLLLL!”
[Our image for this post is of delicious Stanley Cup-cakes that Alicia brought in from Bennison's. Celebration never tasted so good!]
What's website optimization testing? You have all the content there for users to understand what you offer. You have calls to action to drive them toward a goal. You have flashy graphics and informational videos. But you're just not getting the response you want. Why aren't you getting the conversions? We can help. We propose and implement some tests on your website: to change the content, to call out certain actions, to recolor the buttons, to grab your audience, and to lead them through the goal paths. Then, we measure what works and provide recommendations on how to make those changes the most effective. Now, you're getting the results you want.
How does it work? Based on information from our marketing workshop - including business requirements, segmentation of audiences, conversion goals, and target metrics tied to conversion strategy - we will devise a website testing optimization strategy. The testing strategy will confirm the prioritization of your goals, provide a set of UX experiments to run, specify variations to the websites targeted in those experiments, identify success criteria to achieve target metrics, detail tools and practices for data collection and analysis. We implement the tests on your site and measure responses from visitors, keeping you informed of trends as the tests run. Once we have conclusive results, we provide you with an insights report of findings and recommendations - what delivers the most results, who responds the best to each change, what could be done better, and what to do next.
Whether your target conversions are increasing website visitor count, leads through newsletter subscriptions or contact forms, online orders, traffic to your physical location, hits through organic search, engagement over social networks, referrals from social channels, or effectively leveraging advertising platforms, we use optimization to test, measure, and deliver results.
Optimization testing is made most effective when used in combination with brand strategy, user experience research, heuristic evaluation, and a variety of the other comprehensive services that Sandstorm offers.
Want to know more? Reach out to us today and tell us how we can help.
At Sandstorm, our in-house, senior-level team of web developers have successfully built websites and data-driven web applications that other web development firms said weren't possible. We push technology in new ways, build custom code when necessary, and leverage existing code when it makes the most sense. And in their spare time, our web development team improves on already existing technologies; they contribute to Drupal, develop new interface layers for our clients so administrators have a better experience updating their own sites, and spend hundreds of hours on learning and training to stay in front of the constant changes in web development.
Our web development, usability, and UX design teams work together... every day
Having a close-knit web development team, usability team, and UX design team in-house allows us to develop a synergy that solves problems, encourages creative thinking, and explores new ideas to improve the user experience.
Our agile methodology and SCRUM framework
Sandstorm’s web development process is built on Agile principles and the SCRUM framework. In Agile, a cross-functional team of business stakeholders, designers, and developers work together on a daily basis to define, prioritize, develop, and test key system functionality, releasing complete product features frequently in stages. Utilizing the SCRUM framework, we prioritize and divide the requirements into 2 to 4 week sprints. Our team meets daily to discuss progress and identify risks. At the end of each sprint, the included functionality is considered done and ready for release. Release reviews are conducted with the client throughout the process to gain sign off and feedback.
We like this approach because we can better respond to changing priorities and requirements. It helps our clients more closely manage their budgets and make informed decisions about the value of features and functionality.
We have quite a few traditions at Sandstorm, and one of my favorites is our Holiday Party (and the 24 hours that follow it). After many years of battling calendars, I’ve discovered a human truth – just about everyone is free on Sunday night. I’ve also come to realize that the greatest gift I can give my amazing and hardworking team is the gift of… sleeping in.
So, we merged those ideas and another Sandstorm tradition was made! Every December we pick a Sunday night for our big bash at Chicago favorite, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (a group then goes out for an after party), and the following Monday we don’t open until 1pm. And when we do, it’s a comfy and casual pajama day – complete with pjs and slippers. With a cup of hot tea, sparkling lights and cookies galore, it’s the most wonderful (work) day of the year.
As we wrap up our “advent”ures for 2014, thank you for an awesome year of creativity, fun, growth, and collaboration! (And a special thanks to the Sandstorm team who worked together and managed to get everyone to write a blog post this year... anyone in digital marketing knows what a victory this is!)
It's been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it!
Happy Holidays from all of us at Sandstorm :)
Earlier this year, my roommates and I (one of whom is also a fellow Sandstormer) decided that we were ready for change. We looked to the east and found New York City calling our name. A few short months later we had our bags packed and were on the road leaving most of Chicago behind us. Fortunately for us, Sandstorm wasn’t quite ready to be done with with the two of us. They gave us the opportunity to stay a part of the web development and UX design team while working remotely from New York City. Not knowing exactly what we were in for, we were happy to stay on the team, so we said yes. Now only three short months, two internet routers, and one coffee maker later, I have to say that I couldn’t be happier that we did.
My mornings start with me joining a Google Hangout for our agency status meeting where everyone in the office discusses our tasks for the day. As a UX designer I find it easier to talk through my ideas, which is why a typical day for me is filled with short 1-1 video meetings discussing tasks, brainstorming projects, and learning and sharing new ideas. Because we’re a digital marketing agency, a lot of our work can be viewed and shared online and through the cloud, which means I’m still constantly collaborating with other Sandstormers.
A Part of the Team
It’s safe to say that our fellow Sandstormers go out of their way to include my roommate and I in whatever it is that’s happening around the office that day. Whether it's ordering us food to celebrate a co-workers birthday, or pulling a video of us up on the laptop so that we can make an appearance in the annual Halloween photo, we’re never out of the loop of the day to day office activities. We’ve even joked about making a makeshift robot by attaching an iPad to to a stick to a Roomba so that we can roam around the office just like old times.
The past three months with Sandstorm have definitely been a journey. Getting through the initial hurdles of setting up a remote office can be a challenge. But once you get the technology to work and everything starts to flow smoothly again, you can pick up right where you left off. And if you get the chance to work with as great a team as ours at Sandstorm, it can feel like you never left.
I am extremely proud of the caliber of designs our team created in 2014.
One project in particular stands out to me. The client has been really fantastic about giving us a lot of freedom with creative. Freedom is great, because it lets you try new things and really think outside the box. However, opportunity to explore always comes with a little risk. If we’re too far out of the box, will the client be disappointed?
We met to present responsive web design concepts. Embracing Sandstorm’s “Yes, and” philosophy, we had one web design concept that was polished and on strategy. The other web design concept pushed the creative.
We unveiled the first concept to a lot of head nods, but when they saw the user experience design from the second, their eyes lit up and they leaned in. The client turned to us and said “I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t think you’d knock it out of the park, and you did.”
So this year, I’m proud to be working with a team that pushes the envelope and tries new things, and to get to work with clients who are willing to think a little differently, too.
As Nathan has already illustrated, we take having fun very seriously here at Sandstorm. One of my favorite memories of the past year came after a particularly busy month when Laura decided that the Strategy team would embark on a much-needed outing to decompress and get away from the office for a bit.
Since the Strategy team was all female at the time (until Reilly arrived!) we decided to get our nails done on a Friday afternoon. This was followed by cocktails and catch up. While the pampering was fun, the best part of the afternoon for me was sitting around a table with my fellow Sandstormers talking about everything from likes and dislikes, to family, to funny stories about bad dates. Around 6:00pm I realized that I had to leave because I had somewhere to be, and I was genuinely bummed to be going elsewhere.
When you work at a place as busy as Sandstorm, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day deliverables and strategic thinking. But when you have a team as tightly knit as we are, you truly consider them a second family. Outings like this one keep us all grounded and allow us to reconnect over a cocktail and have a good laugh, which, to me, is such an important part of the Sandstorm culture.
I can’t wait for our next outing. Don’t worry, Reilly, we’ll choose a different activity!
I am going to brag about my team of Strategists. They are, as Sandy would say, “Awesome!” Why, you ask, are they awesome? Well, first off they are extremely passionate about what they do and how they serve our company and our clients. There is never a day or assignment where they just “get something done.” They embrace our clients’ challenges as their own.
This passion helps ensure that our clients get the very best work possible, while also staying on time and on budget (which is no easy feat). They also are highly accountable and when there is a miscommunication or problem, they always think of how they could have avoided it and how they can mitigate it in the future.
Additionally, they are big sponges. Not only do they never shy away from a learning opportunity, but they run toward any opportunity that is presented. This means that we are always getting better, every single day.
Oh, did I mention that they are selfless, too? They are always willing to help out someone on the team, no matter how busy they are. They are always looking for ways to ensure the creative and development teams have the time and resources they need to do the best work possible.
Earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to take part in launching the new Sandstorm website in Drupal. For those of you who’ve been here before, you know it’s a long winding road from the initial concept, marketing, content strategy, and design before you even begin the black magic known as Drupal web development.
It’s an ongoing, almost never ending, process.
Once you push through those phases and launch your first website, it can come as a surprise, to some, that the website isn’t actually complete. In fact, some of the most exciting features from the initial concept may have not made it into the final product. Instead, at launch, you’re more likely left with a large todo list of development ideas you would still like to see implemented.
What can we do next?
This is when most of us toss around the phrase “phase two”, but a website is, and always will be, a work in progress. This is one of the most exciting parts about working on the Sandstorm website in Drupal, because I knew when developing each section that this was just the first draft. Now that we are finishing up the year I have begun thinking about our website again. A year is a long time and, with “learning and sharing” being one of the core values at Sandstorm, I have learned a lot and can’t wait to begin pushing our Drupal development further than where it is right now.
A new website, responsive web design or Drupal module is a great way to see each department flex their creative muscles and show the industry what we can really do, and good work immediately pays off. The increase in high-quality leads led to new clients, which led to our explosive growth, which ultimately led to taking over that office next door. This might be one of the coolest aspects of the entire project.
As the most recent addition to the Sandstorm team, I figured I would just speak about my current experiences at Sandstorm as if I have been working here for a very, very long time. I mean, time is nothing but an illusion anyway (shout-out to my fellow philosophy majors). So, here it goes:
Ah, as I look back fondly on that first day I came in to work at Sandstorm, I can hardly believe a full three days has passed. Where did the time go? It seems like just yesterday I was walking up the stairs to the third floor of this office building for the very first time. In truth, it was the day before yesterday, but the vivacity of my memories betrays the vast gulf of time that separates me from those distant events.
Sounds good, right?
Not only was my first day at Sandstorm very recent, but it was also very eventful - full of highs and lows. High: we got free lunch! Low: mine didn’t get delivered. I’m choosing to believe the restaurant messed up and it wasn’t some kind of Sandstorm hazing. In fact, Sandy herself offered up her bread roll to hold me over until my food arrived, so I’m sure there was no intended ill-will.
In all seriousness, I am very excited to be the new Digital Coordinator at Sandstorm. In the past, I have done a little bit of everything - from content writing to house demolition - and I look forward to continuing that tradition of wearing many hats in my new role in the world of marketing strategy.