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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What can I possibly say about myself that hasn’t been said on the Sandstorm blog already...
Oh, I guess, anything and everything.
I’ve only been here a couple of days and it’s exciting to be the new guy. There is so much new information to absorb, so many names to remember, and so many personal settings on my new system, not to mention my chair, that I have to customize. But enough about that.
My high school journalism teacher used to tell “back in the day” stories, and I can work one of his quotes into a perfect intro here: “Who is Tracy Graham, and what are his credentials?”
Tracy Graham is me. I am a guy with a girls name, and I am the newest addition to the talented Sandstorm team, coming onboard as a Senior Designer. My background is an extensive blend of design and photography for print and web with experience in multiple industries.
I’m a designer, photographer, traveler, collector, listener, observer, dreamer and I’ve been raising a dog for the past 11 years. On most nights and weekends, if I’m not catching up on television and wondering what I want on my pizza (I prefer comedy and documentaries, and pepperoni and mushroom), I could be doing any one of the following: editing photos, planning my next adventure, hanging with friends and loved ones, making new friends, adding to my record collection, or riding my bike. Maybe all of those at the same time.
A few years back, a friend and I started an online music publication, so I’m constantly going to shows, taking pictures, and sometimes writing about music. It started as a way to attend shows for free, build a concert photography portfolio, meet people in the music and nightlife industry, and make awesome friends and memories. That soon turned into a lifestyle. In June of 2013, I moved to Milan, Italy for a year, traveled to 10 different countries, and took on design jobs and photo assignments while on the road. If you want to know more about me, feel free to poke around my website, tracygrahamcracker.com.
At Sandstorm, I’m here to produce awesome creative design work (for marketing and websites) and to share thoughts and ideas that help keep pushing the team to be the best. It’s a pleasure to be here amongst this team of bright and creative individuals.
We’re super excited to introduce our new Senior System Architect, Sean Fuller. Sean has nearly 2 decades of web development, agency, and Drupal development experience. He's worked on projects for brands in a variety of verticals: insurance, beverages, fast food, animal welfare, chemicals, transportation, nonprofit, publications, and early childhood education. (Whew, that’s a lot!)
As a Senior System Architect, Sean will be a hands-on application and Drupal web developer as well as the technical lead on projects. He will work with design and strategy teams from kick off through launch; to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects.
Sean just recently re-entered a carnivorous lifestyle after 22 years of being a vegetarian. In 2015, he and his wife, Rachel, have trips planned to Panama, El Salvador, and Ireland. Their cat, Missy Elliecat, will have to stay home.
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.
At Sandstorm, we strive to strike a good balance of having fun and getting work done. One of our three core values is to have fun. This is instilled in you from the day you arrive. I have been here for over two years and a day hasn’t gone by without laughter billowing through the office or a tasteful “That’s what she said” joke.
It had been a long summer of tight deadlines and late nights at the office so I decided to set a mandatory office gathering after work one Friday evening. The calendar invite was set for 5 pm (although some had to work a little later, while others started earlier). We wrangled up some cash and headed out to gather some adult beverages and bubbly. To haul the load, Will even bought a little granny grocery cart.
The afternoon started pretty standard with beverages while finishing up end-of-the-day tasks. Drew started the evening leading musical roulette. This is where everyone messages him their favorite song and he throws it into a queue. Someone always sneaks in a song that reminds them of their middle school dance days.
A good game of darts gets going as everyone finishes up their tasks for the week and it’s not too long until the music gets louder and significant others and friends start to show up. Teams pair up and beer pong begins. I won’t say who the best player in the office is, but she already knows!
Before we know it, it is nearing close to midnight and the heated battle of Logo Party is winding down. If you don’t know what Logo Party is, let me explain. It’s the best of all board and party games put together (think charades and/or Pictionary). You will be surprised how everyday logos are ingrained in your mind that you can recognize the Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum logo just by seeing a tiny bit of the red logotype. (We're always thinking about brands.)
The party started to dwindle as the clock struck midnight, and we all realized we needed to go home (or at least leave the office). We called some cabs, and those still standing decided to go to a local establishment to have a nightcap.
This will be a night I will never forget, and one where I wish I remembered more. Everyone woke up safely the next morning with great stories, major headaches, minor cuts, and random bruises*.
*No animals were harmed in the making of this story