Inside Sandstorm

About the Author

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Rachael, a white woman with curly, shoulder-length hair, smiles at the camera. She wears a mauve top and a brick building is reflected in the window behind her.
Rachael Penfil

Rachael is UX Manager and co-leads the accessibility team. Rachael advocates for users while keeping client needs in the forefront of her mind.

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Tom Jacobs

Tom, President, uses his keen strategic eye to help clients create groundbreaking creative campaigns. And he's been a thought leader appearing on Bloomberg, WGN, NBC, CMO.com, and Wall Street Journal.  

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Devin Owsley-Aquilia: light-skinned non-binary person smiling, with dark blonde hair pulled back, wearing a black turtleneck against a grey wall
Devin Owsley-Aquilia

Devin is Scrum Master, Agile Master Certified, co-leads the accessibility team and leads complex, enterprise web development for a diverse set of higher ed, consumer, and B2B clients.

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Anne Lentino
Anne Lentino

Anne, as a Product Owner, enjoys the opportunity to learn about her clients' diverse fields of expertise. She consistently advocates to make the best products to support each client's growing business, while keeping workflow efficiency and creativity top of mind.

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Laura Chaparro
Laura Chaparro

As Sandstorm's Senior Account Director, Laura helps clients grow their businesses. She has worked at both big and small agencies, with small local and global brands garnering extensive experience in B2B, B2C, and retail marketing.

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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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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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Nick Meshes
Nick Meshes

Nick is Sandstorm’s Director of Technology & Analytics. 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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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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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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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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Janna Fiester
Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's VP of UX & Brand Innovation, 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.

Inside Sandstorm

Targeted Keyword Phrase

Nathan
The Infamous Tale of a Sandstorm Friday Night

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

This blog was posted by Nathan on December 12.
Nathan Haas

About the Author

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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The Warrior Spirit, One Core Value of A Successful Digital Marketing Firm

One of the unique things that I am most proud of as a Sandstormer is our warrior spirit. This is not the kind of company where people say “that’s not my job”. It’s the kind of company where people say “what can I do to help?”

One day I came back into the office from using the restroom to find several people in the kitchen pulling together garbage bags and spraying Lysol. I found out that the garbage smelled funny, and 4 people just got up from their desks and started handling the situation. I asked if I could help, as the de facto “Office Manager” this is sorta my responsibility, but I was assured that it was all good.

At just about any other company, someone would send an angry email to someone like me, or there’d be someone elected to add this task to my plate. At Sandstorm, when the garbage needs to go out, it just gets done.

It was the same the day Janna and Laura brought in a Kia-load of things from IKEA. A group of us just made our way down to the loading dock, and pulled everything into the freight elevator. We brought it up and pretty much the whole office started pulling apart boxes and assembling things.

It extends beyond garbage detail and putting together Swedish furniture. Our wonderful Digital Strategists keep an eye on our workload and there have been many busy days where I come to find out a few large chunks of my project work has been handed off to someone else. Similarly there are those days where a project shows up end of day, or a simple project grows 6 heads right before it’s due, and folks spring into action to help each other out. Similarly, it’s not unusual for someone with a light day to simply come forward during our morning meeting and say they have time to help today, or in the middle of the day to start asking around to see if anyone needs any other help.

It’s the kind of team spirit that makes you WANT to help others, because you know they will be there when you need help next. It also inspires a certain level of self-reliance, at least in me, because I know everyone is busy, much of the time, so I only want to raise my hand when I need it. I’m proud to work for a digital marketing firm where “nobody gets left behind on the battlefield” and I can’t wait for the challenges of the New Year!

This blog was posted by on December 10.
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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Capturing Sandstorm’s “Cool” to Become One of Crain’s Coolest

Did you hear?!!! Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine chose Sandstorm as one of Chicago’s Coolest Offices. It’s a big honor, and it was a lot of fun to get us nominated (and ultimately chosen). The nominations took place over social media and required a lot of pictures (you can see most of them on our Instagram account).

I worked with Nathan (he’s got a nice camera), and I went to town. Our office is cool as it is, but it’s chock full of easter eggs. The team all have fun trinkets on their desk (or in my case a whole bunch of bric a brac). We also have a lot fun details around, too, such as samples and our chandeliers (check out our “Purple Palace” and “Cheese Room”). I thought about interesting angles and lights and got some pretty cool shots, so cool that we got selected ;).

I really loved getting to play around and show off our awesome space (I especially love the up-close shot of Megan’s solar powered toys). With an expansion underway and more cool things to come, I’m sure we’ll catch some attention for our coolness next year, too. (I’ve already got some ideas.)

This blog was posted by on December 9, 2014.
Will Biby

About the Author

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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The Axelrod's Clockman!

Earlier this year, a few of us had the fortunate opportunity to work with Dick and Emily Axelrod, of The Axelrod Group, offering marketing strategy around their latest book, Let’s Stop Meeting Like This. (If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a workplace productivity book that doesn’t feel like a stale, dusty textbook that you’ll be quizzed on later).

This project was special because we were able to truly have a good time with the client, felt the impact of our marketing plan and content strategy, and watched them succeed to great heights.

Keeping Time with Clockman

The Axelrods also introduced us to Clockman. Their timesaving superhero. I won’t spoil the book, but Clockman always finds a way to step in a give you the most important bits of information you need to know. He’s stuck with me since. I always find myself picturing the little guy when I start to get too verbose and ramble during a meeting.

One of the things I am most grateful for in 2014 is getting the chance to work with this dynamic duo and learning about ways we can all save in our workday by getting down to what is most important. As if all of that wasn’t cool enough - Clockman’s also a rockstar (see above).

This blog was posted by on December 8, 2014.
Megan Culligan

About the Author

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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http://www.sandstormdesign.com/blog/working-hand-in-handEnsuring User Experiences from Coast-to-Coast Are Not “Taxing “

I love doing usability testing. I always learn something new and there is usually at least one surprise. For the past 3 years we’ve partnered with Fast Enterprise, who among other things, provide tax processing software to state and local governments. Our work with them involves visiting state capitols across the country conducting 1 to 2 day usability studies. These studies are often followed by a working session with our client’s development team to review our findings and recommend solutions.

While tax software may not sound super exciting, our client is engaged and passionate about making the user experience of their software better, and we get to collaborate with them in doing so. Over the years we’ve seen our recommendations make their way into our client’s core product, which actually is super exciting.

Another bonus, we get to travel to exotic places like Bismarck, North Dakota and Montpelier, Vermont.

This blog was posted by on December 7.
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.

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Janna
Sowing the Seeds to Sprout a New Brand

Coming from a small agrarian community, I have always wanted a small plot of land here in the city to grow a few veggies and herbs among the weeds. Sadly, this past, cool summer did not enable my tomatoes to flourish and the squirrels decided to feast on the small crop I was able to grow.

Germinating Brands for Years to Come

As 2014 comes to a close, I realized my green thumb was most bountiful here at Sandstorm. Instead of sowing seeds for nourishment, the Sandstorm Team and I were able help plant and cultivate the strategic seeds for three new brands. Even though these three projects all started with user research, competitive analysis and positioning deliverables, the resulting strategies were truly personal. The Sandstorm Team was able to capture the spirit and uniquely position each organization that included an awesome sales enablement platform, an association all about awards and an amazing credit union focused on delivering the unexpected.

A Diverse Mix of Branded Crops to Sprout Lots of Green

This wide range in businesses is just a glimpse into what makes each day (or year) at Sandstorm truly different. Being able to partner with my fellow Sandstormers and these three organizations to bring their individual brands and marketing strategies to life has been an incredible experience and my highlight for 2014.

Looking ahead to 2015, maybe I will have some tomatoes to go along with the launch of these three new brands. That is if the Polar Vortex stays north and the squirrels are willing to share.

 

This blog was posted by Janna on December 6, 2014.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's VP of UX & Brand Innovation, 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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Trekking to the Suburbs for Sandstorm

So most of you don’t know me, but I have an innate aversion to the suburbs. I am an urbanite through and through. For the purposes of my curiosity, as well as seeing family, friends, and clients, I can venture out to the suburbs on occasion.  I also get the shpilkes when I have to visit anything classified as a “big box” store (Target does not count).

As you may know, Marcus Lemonis was here featuring Sandstorm on CNBC. If you have ever entertained, you know that there is “the house” as it appears for guests and “the house” that is lived in. This is no different for our office.

So guess who ventured to IKEA in Schaumburg to prep the office for guests? Janna, our ECD, and ME!

Thank goodness Janna is an expert IKEAer and had a methodical plan to get us through without me having a panic attack. (I did almost take out a few people with my cart as I we approached the checkouts.) We selected and bought: chairs, lamps, a rug, a plant, plates, platters, napkins, tables, pillows (with covers), all in less than an hour. That HAS to be a record, someone please call Guinness.

On Monday, the Sandstormers were like little elves: unloading and putting it all together to transform the office before the CNBC arrived. Thankfully, I think my IKEA days are done. (Please, please, don’t make me go again!)

This blog was posted by on December 2, 2014.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

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Sandy
Sandstorm is making another major breakthrough

We’ve grown over 30% this year, and today is our first day in our newly expanded office space!

The smell of fresh paint combined with vapors from the newly installed charcoal carpet normally would cause me to evacuate, but now they elicit a mix of excitement, awe, anxiety, gratitude and nostalgia. This is the fourth time we’ve been under construction to propel our growth, but this one is different.

The office we took over isn’t any ordinary office space – It’s the original “Suite 301” I leased for Sandstorm before I had any staff. I remember having one desk in that space, and purchasing a second so I would be encouraged to fill it. With this expansion, we’ve added a second conference room, six 3-foot dandelion lights hanging from our 15-foot ceilings, and many more desks for us to fill in 2015.

We have come full circle from humble beginnings. Looking back, I am in awe of the inspiring and amazingly talented people I get to work with.

As we head into the Holiday Season, I invite you to follow us these next 24 days as we share our “advent”ures and memories from 2014.

Interested in reminiscing with us?

February 21, 2008
NEW YEAR, NEW SPACE

January 4, 2010
Top Chicago marketing agency, Sandstorm Design, featured in the Chicago Tribune for their significant growth and new expansion

October 17, 2011
Sandstorm Design Moves to Accommodate Company Growth 

This blog was posted by Sandy on December 1, 2014.
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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Giving Thanks in Our Own Way

At Sandstorm we are a team of unique people. And in recognition of that I asked our crew
“What is the most Unique, odd, or interesting Thanksgiving Tradition?”

Responses were varied, but centered around 3 main categories.

GAMES!

  • A rowdy game of Taboo
  • Board games (perhaps too passionately)
  • A 1K Turkey Trot around the neighborhood that ends with Bloody Marys, orange juice, bagels, and donuts
  • Video Games

FOOD!

  • Half Price dinner fixin’s the day after
  • Philosophical disagreements over potatoes
  • Triple-layered Jello
  • A Thanksgiving that lasts all weekend because there’s just too many good dishes to fit into one day

THINGS NOT DONE!

  • Skipping Thanksgiving altogether
  • James Bond marathons or Doctor Who instead of football and beer
  • No special traditions at all!

No matter who you are, or how wacky your family is, Sandstorm hopes you have a pleasant, safe, and happy holiday, even if you’re not celebrating it.

This blog was posted by on November 26, 2014.
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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Janna
Sandstorm honors Massimo Vignelli

At Sandstorm, we wear black to honor the passing of the original Information Architect, Massimo Vignelli.

Massimo Vignelli on Black: "There is no other color that is better than black. There are many others that are appropriate and happy, but those colors belong on flowers. Black is a color that is man-made. It is really a projection of the brain. It is a mind color. It is intangible. It is practical. It works 24 hours a day. In the morning or afternoon, you can dress in tweed, but in the evening, you look like a professor who escaped from college. Everything else has connotations that are different, but black is good for everything.

To me, black is black and red is color. That’s it."

This blog was posted by Janna on May 29.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's VP of UX & Brand Innovation, 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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