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.
Dr. Karen Bartuch, Sandstorm's Director of Data Science, presented 10 practical innovation tips at the Association Forum Holiday Showcase.
For most organizations, innovation is table stakes for long-term growth and a competitive advantage. Yet, according to McKinsey, 94% of managers surveyed were dissatisfied with their organization's innovation performance. So why are some organizations better at it than others? Google employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time, in addition to their regular projects, to work on what they think will most benefit Google. Both AdSense and Google News were created this way. But I know what you're thinking, we're not Google.
Innovation is a deliberate choice, and in most organizations, it doesn't accidentally happen as your people need permission to explore and create. And everybody has the capacity to create according to the Componential Theory of Creativity, "..all humans with normal capacities are able to produce at least moderately creative work in some domain, some of the time—and that the social environment (the work environment) can influence both the level and the frequency of creative behavior."
Below are 10 practical tips to unlock your inner innovator and incorporate it into your daily life:
- Don't worry about critiques
- Forget the need to be 100% original
- Go from specific to abstract
- Be aware of shortcuts and biases
- Practice diversity
- Get hands on
- Spend a day in the life
- Carry a sketchbook
- Work during your “peak time”
- Inject humor into the workplace (check out Karen's TEDx Talk)
During this session, attendees got the opportunity to synthesize what research is telling us about the need and desire for innovation, and understand key strategies to infuse creativity and innovation in your organization. Contact us if you want to discuss any upcoming innovation initiatives you'd like help with.
Recently, our vice president of UX and brand innovation, Janna Fiester blew us all away!
Janna is involved with TEDxOakParkWomen, an independent group of Oak Park-based women (and men) committed to bringing forward-thinking innovators together to discuss important topics and spread new ideas throughout the community. In December, Janna co-organized the group’s annual event, which sold out! The room at the Nineteenth Century Club in Oak Park was filled with more than 300 people excited to hear unique point of views from 10 unique speakers.
It was an evening that embodied a Sandstorm value: Be curious! (We recently renamed our value of "learning and sharing" to really highlight what drives us.)
Themed and titled Showing Up, the event covered an array of topics including talking to kids about embracing your own power from within, prioritizing human connection, and how to have a happier relationship.
When Janna took the stage to welcome everyone, you would think that putting it all together was a breeze. She was calm, confident and engaging. She was Janna! And it’s not that there was trouble behind the scenes, it’s that putting a TEDx event together is no small feat. Finding and booking the speakers, promoting and selling tickets, making sure the production went off without a hitch, all while making sure that the 300-plus attendees and the 100-plus watching via Facebook Live witnessed a true TED experience.
But this is the Janna we all know and love. She works hard behind the scenes to create experiences that enhance brands and build relationships, whether they be in her community or between our clients and their customers. And even when she breaks a sweat, she’s always having a good time doing it.
This was Sandstorm’s fourth time partnering with TEDxOakParkWomen, and it’s not only because of Janna’s involvement, though it was Janna who brought the opportunity to us. A TEDx event is just the kind of thing we like to do. We work with brands seeking to transform their customers' experiences and their own digital presence in an ever-changing digital world. Our team is encouraged to engage with forward-thinking and innovative organizations that are making real change in their industries and communities because that’s what we aim to do each day at Sandstorm.
Janna’s awesome success with Showing Up is proof that she understands that if anything is to be successful—an event, a client project, an innovative idea—you have to identify all aspects required for that success then make sure you have the right people involved at the right moment. And that being curious often leads to great things.
The Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) is the authoritative source for the treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal injury. So when they came to us with an underperforming website, we made sure they got the best treatment possible.
OTA’s website exhibited a lot of the traditional symptoms of an aging online presence: disorganized content, a lack of information architecture (IA), overall poor member experience, and outdated design and functionality. They were struggling to come up organically in search and it was critical that OTA engage a partner who could quickly get them where they should be in site rankings, and keep them there. OTA planned to rely upon their selected partner not only to redesign their site, but also to help them maintain their site moving forward in a manner that would promote SEO.
Based on OTA’s website goals, technical requirements, API integrations, SEO concerns and content authoring needs, we determined that Drupal 8 would be the recommended content management system (CMS) for the OTA team. With Drupal, we were easily able to implement single sign-on (SSO) through OTA’s association member platform—ACGI. And by utilizing Apache Solr Search, we were able to make the search more robust throughout the site – improving the overall user experience for members.
To improve the overall usability of the site, and increase organic search rankings, we conducted keyword research and analysis to identify heavily searched terms applicable to their industry, and built the sitemap, navigation and information architecture around the research findings. We designed with user experience (UX) best practices while creating consistent branding throughout the site—expanding the color palette, identifying fonts the OTA brand could differentiate with, and utilized custom imagery. Altogether, this made content easier to find for users and easier to update for the association.
Within the first month after launch, OTA’s new website experienced unprecedented results:
- 986% increase in traffic from Google
- 497% increase in organic search traffic
- 54% increase in new users
- 65% increase in pageviews
- 22% decrease in bounce rate
“Planning and implementing a website redesign can be a momentous undertaking, especially for a small staff association. Sandstorm could not have made the process easier for our team.
Their exceptional technical and creative talent, along with the high level of customer service provided throughout the project, made the process as seamless as a website redesign can be. And our new (and very much improved) website has been well received by the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) membership!”
– Kathleen Caswell, CAE, Executive Director
Visit the new site: https://ota.org/
What an extraordinary adventure it’s been! Twenty years ago, You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks had just come out. Modem speed had to be considered when we were designing websites. And it was easy to get a .com URL.
Reflecting on the past two decades, It’s the Sandstormers (past and present) who have made this company what it is today. Together, we’ve taken risks, competed for the best Halloween costumes, traded playlists, compiled crazy travel stories, sent a lot of memes, devoured a lot of guacamole, and created long-standing Sandstorm traditions.
So in honor of 20 years, here are 20 fun memories we’ve created together:
Sandstorm launches our first website in Flash.
We relaunch our website in HTML and get our first web lead, Careerbuilder.com — thank you for working with us for over a decade!
We partner with ReVive Center for Housing & Healing (formally Cathedral Shelter) and donate our time to create their annual report (which we continue to do today).
Sandstorm moves into our first official office space of 1,000 sq. ft.
We celebrate the holidays by sharing tapas at Cafe Ba-Ba-Rebba!, which has now become a Sandstorm tradition.
We ate so many bacon wrapped dates we lost count!
First Guac Off (Janna Fiester wins with her fancy roasted peppers!)
Sandstorm launches our UX practice and wins our first Fortune 500 client.
Sandstorm expands to a new office right off the ‘L’ line. It was so loud Mike had to put up plexiglass over our windows to help mute the train.
Who remembers us saying, “Hold on a second the train is going by… Okay, you can talk again.”?
We build our own usability lab and within days conduct a study for American Academy of Pediatrics.
We expand office space again and add new huddle rooms.
Our first Super Secret Event: All the Sandstormers go to see Harry Potter.
We expand. Again! This time, Sandstorm moves back into our first building and into Sandy’s dream office space in suite 300.
Our first time on the Inc. 500/5000.
We win Fortune’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies in America Award for the first time.
Featured on CNBC with Marcus Lemonis.
Our office space expands, and we reclaim the original office we had in 2005.
Sandstorm launches our data practice.
We finally redesigned our logo (thank you for your unwavering patience Janna and Nathan!)
We build a new chef’s kitchen, our Hogwarts library, and the Idea Lab as part of our continued expansion.
Today, Sandstorm celebrates 20 years by paying it forward with the Night Ministry, bagging lunches, and donating hundreds of pajamas for homeless youth.
How does one even begin to say thank you to everyone that has made celebrating 20 years in business possible? We have an amazing team, some of the smartest people I have ever met, solving some really interesting problems with technologies that didn’t even exist when we started. Thank you hardly seems enough.
To our clients: Thank you for your collaboration and partnership to create better digital brand experiences together. Because of you, we’ve gotten the chance to grow individually and as a company. I could never thank you enough. And I’m honored that so many of these relationships grew into long-lasting friendships.
To everyone at Sandstorm: Thank you for making Sandstorm yours. From moving furniture and leading social events, to bringing the warrior spirit to your work every day, your drive and passion and fearlessness to create is inspiring, and so much fun to be a part of. It’s an honor to work with you. And a special thank you to Mike Marsico, Alma and Nick Meshes, and Janna and Tim Fiester for believing in our vision to build a different kind of agency from the beginning.
To my advisory and peer advisory boards: Thank you for providing me with the direction and confidence to lead, sharing your pride in our growth, and for your encouragement through the challenges.
To my family and friends: I couldn’t have started this journey, or continued this growth, without you believing in me.
I’m super excited for what comes next,
It’s an honor to be on Fortune’s list of the 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies for the fifth time. But it also gives us pause. Because while we’re extremely lucky to continue experiencing growth, large parts of Chicago—the city we call home—are struggling.
So instead of taking this moment to pat ourselves on the back, we’re rolling up our sleeves.
We’re partnering with our neighbors at The Night Ministry, who support Chicago’s homeless population. On November 9th, we’re hosting a lunch-and-learn event for our team members, where they’ll gain knowledge about this amazing charity, then create care packages using items we donate. And we’re encouraging you to #ShareYourGoodFortune with The Night Ministry and with us on social media. Together, we’ll make an even greater impact on those who need our help!
How great is it when you walk into your local coffee shop and the barista already knows your order? That personal attention makes you feel special, and it’s the type of experience that keeps you coming back every morning.
What if your website could deliver that same personalized experience for your customers? With the right data and tools, it can. Which is why content personalization has quickly become the norm, not the exception.
Why’s Personalization All the Rage?
Consumers want and expect that coffee-shop experience everywhere they go. According to a study from the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 76% of consumers said they would like to receive personalized content. And research from Janrain, a leader in customer identity, found that 74% of online consumers get frustrated when a website’s content is irrelevant to their interests.
If you can deliver on these desires, you’ll be rewarded. Gartner estimates that by 2020, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15%.
So How Does Personalizing Content Work?
As visitors navigate your site, their actions, demographic information and other personal data informs the content they interact with. For instance, if you’re a big box retailer and your 18-year-old female fashionista customer from Arizona visits the shoe section, it makes sense to show her Steve Madden sandals the next time she visits your site, instead of snow shoes and a parka.
One of the most effective ways to personalize content is through rule-based personalization. With this method, the first step is segmenting your audience. That means separating your users into smaller groups based on common attributes, which can be broad (age, income) or narrow (website visitors who’ve returned from a retargeting ad to purchase a specific product). Then you can set up if/then scenarios and rules that take each segment through their own journey.
At Sandstorm, we often deploy Kentico Content Management System (CMS) for our clients due to its native personalization functionality. In the scenario above, Kentico makes it easy to personalize the content displayed. Rules are created so that visitors meeting certain qualifications (e.g., geographic location, age, viewing history, etc.) are delivered specific content stored in the CMS. Given the vast amount of information available online and the decreasing amount of time people have, customers appreciate a tailored experience and are more likely to visit a site that delivers content specific to their interests and needs.
Making sure your customers are delighted and have a great experience is at the heart of what we do at Sandstorm. That’s why we continually conduct user research to better understand what consumers are seeking from a brand and its website. With over 3,000 hours of in-depth user interviews and usability tests under our belts, we take the subjectivity out of the process and use the research to inform our work, including content decisions related to personalization.
The Hermes Creative Awards has honored Sandstorm Design with a platinum award for the agency’s redesign of the CLR Brands® website. The 2018 award winners were announced by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), which administers the annual Hermes Creative Awards international competition.
Sandstorm’s reconstruction of the CLR Brands® website—which showcases CLR® and Tarn-X®, two of America’s favorite household cleaning products—delivered a clean, intuitive design and a significantly upgraded user experience. The site was built on the Kentico EMS platform, which enables enhanced integrated marketing automation, site searchability and personalization.
Kentico named the CLR Brands® website one of its top 10 sites for June 2018.
The Hermes Creative Awards recognize the messengers and creators of traditional and emerging media. The annual competition is judged by the AMCP, an international organization consisting of thousands of creative professionals. Entries are received from corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, graphic design shops, production companies, and web and digital creators.
Sandstorm Design was honored with a gold statuette at the 2018 Hermes Creative Awards. The award was presented to Sandstorm for its impactful print ad for Accuity’s payments data products. This year’s award winners were announced by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), which hosts the annual Hermes Creative Awards competition.
Sandstorm’s breakthrough ad was targeted at professionals at financial technology companies who develop products for the payments industry. The ad dramatizes the catastrophic consequences of choosing the wrong provider of payments data, and created an industry stir when introduced at the annual global Money 20/20 conference.
The Hermes Creative Awards are an annual international competition recognizing and celebrating the messengers and creators of traditional and emerging media. Entries are judged by the AMCP, an international organization consisting of thousands of creative professionals. Marketing materials across a wide range of categories are submitted by corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, graphic design shops, production companies, and web and digital creators.
Every year since 2005, the Drupal community has flocked to DrupalCon to learn, explore and share. This year, the Sandstorm® team headed to Nashville, Tennessee–site of DrupalCon 2018–to get the latest updates on one of our favorite CMSs, find inspiration, and get our hot-chicken fix. Here are a few of the things we took away from this year’s conference.
1. “Clients buy solutions not code.”
Software wizard Vladimir Roudakov reminded us that no matter how impeccable and innovative our code looks, what’s most important to our clients is that our code solves the problems they’re facing. It was a great message to ground us throughout our time in Nashville.
2. By 2020, there will be more than 50 billion connected devices
3. Most traffic on the internet is non-human
Developer advocate Emily Rose made a pretty compelling case for why we’ll be developing for humanoids in the not-so-far future. With 61% of the internet made up of bot traffic and connected devices estimated to outnumber people 6:1 in two years, that’s a concept that’s hard to argue with.
4. Increasing page speed by one second can increase conversion by 27%
Google announced that by July 2018, pagespeed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches. For businesses to reach that coveted first position in the search engine, they’ll need to make sure their site loads lightning fast. And the reward—a big bump in conversion rate—will be worth it.
5. Drupal makes big dreams a reality
To celebrate the total solar eclipse, Miles McLean and Ken Fang used Drupal to create a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience, integrating more than 20 video feeds and real-time tracker. Forty million people used the tool to see the solar eclipse.
If you’re looking to do big things with your website, drop us a line.
Whether it drizzles or pours, it’s good to be carrying an umbrella.
Back in 2014, Drupalgeddon rained cats and dogs.
Drupal released a critical security update on October 15, 2014 with express directions to address the vulnerability within seven hours of the release. Unfortunately, a large number of system administrators didn’t grab their umbrellas, and—to stretch this metaphor to its limit—they got soaked. It was a wake-up call, to say the least.
So four years later, when Drupal released a similarly critical security update that many people called Drupalgeddon 2.0, the admin community was prepared. At Sandstorm®, we started planning right after the announcement, and when the update was released, we secured more than 30 sites in a single afternoon.
But we’ve always understood the importance of taking security updates seriously, whether it’s 2014 or 2018. Because staying on top of these updates is just one easy way to keep your systems safe. And as recent hacks and data breaches like those from Saks and Lord & Taylor continue to show, your safety is under constant attack.
So what else can you do to keep your site as safe as possible?
1. Move your site to HTTPS
More than half of internet traffic is now encrypted, which is great news. Having your site use HTTPS (SSL/TLS) helps protect against session hijack attacks, because all traffic between your server and the client is encrypted.
This is such a boon to security that Google has been talking about penalizing sites that don't use HTTPS. Most notably, the Google Chrome browser will start indicating sites without HTTPS as insecure, starting in July 2018. Just one more reason to get a move on.
2. Take charge of your passwords and access
A major line of defense for any infrastructure is good management of credentials. As individuals and institutions, we now have a number of tools at our disposal, such as password managers, policies, etc.
But what is often forgotten is to consistently and comprehensively review who has access to your systems. As a result, old employees still have access to sites and accounts, creating vulnerabilities that are just waiting to happen.
3. Keep your server and applications up to date
When security updates are released, they represent known vulnerabilities. It’s imperative to apply the updates immediately, or risk leaving a door open for malicious activity.
Ensure that your server is applying updates on a regular basis and that your web applications are updating any relevant frameworks or libraries. An ounce of prevention is much more cost efficient than trying to recover from a compromised server or application.
4. Ensure you have frequent backups
If something ever does happen, you want to be able to roll back to a safe state. That’s why it’s so critical to make sure your servers and your application have automated backups.
Most hosts offer backup services for a small additional fee, and you’ll want to ensure that these are configured and working.
5. Proactive threat management
Be proactive. Start a conversation with your host provider about threat management, and ask about automated systems that look for irregular traffic. Ask your web vendor about how code is managed on the server, and spend the time to find a solution that’s right for your organization.
Still not sure how you can stay protected? Sandstorm can help! Feel free to drop us a line, so we can help ensure your site is secure.