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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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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.

Recent Posts

Emily Kodner
NICB Drupal 8 E-Commerce Site

At Sandstorm®, we take security seriously. For the not-for-profit National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), that means preventing insurance fraud and theft across the United States. NICB turned to Sandstorm to design and develop a brand-new website that could better help them advance their mission.

The launch of this site represents a significant shift for NICB. The previous website addressed two audiences: the general public and current members. By focusing on non-member audiences, NICB can more clearly convey their message and raise awareness with common consumers.

With an iterative, user-centered approach that utilized usability testing to refine navigation items and page layouts, we designed an intuitive user experience that we developed in Drupal 8. By building in the newest version of Drupal’s content management system, we were able to give NICB a robust e-commerce platform with an intuitive administrative interface.

We are honored to help NICB raise awareness of their mission and help combat insurance fraud and theft. Check out the new NICB website for yourself.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on November 21.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

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.

Sandy
Sandstorm winner of Inner City 100 for fourth year.

With a five-year growth rate of 120% and 2016 revenue exceeding $5 million, Sandstorm® once again made the list of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies in America recognized by Fortune and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC).

ICIC’s Inner City 100 list seeks to celebrate and enable urban entrepreneurship. Over the course of nearly 20 years, ICIC has awarded 928 companies whose success illuminates the innovation and business growth happening in our inner cities.

The list of 2017 Inner City 100 companies was revealed at the 19th Annual Awards and Conference in Boston. Sandstorm rocketed up the list more than 30 places from 2016, coming in hot at #66. The full list can be viewed on the Fortune website.

“We are extraordinarily proud of these pioneering entrepreneurs who lead the way in innovation, job creation and the economic revitalization of America’s inner cities,” said Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC. “In addition to excellence in business, they have also demonstrated a deep commitment to and passion for their communities, which plays a huge role in the wellbeing of their local economies,” he said.

At Sandstorm, we couldn’t be more honored and excited to be among these amazing winners, and we can’t wait for 2018.

This blog was posted by Sandy on October 24, 2017.
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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Sandy
Sandy Marsico at Solutions Day

Recently I had the honor of speaking at .orgCommunity’s Solutions Day 2017. Usability testing is a big part of how Sandstorm eliminates subjectivity from the creative process, so I wanted to show attendees how usability testing can help drive significantly improved user experiences.

With as few as 5–6 users, usability testing can identify 80% of user issues on a website or mobile app. Our Sandstormers have learned many lessons while performing more than 3,000 usability studies. These are just a few of the findings that can help you.

1. Members want to see real images of their peers.

We performed usability testing for the American Planning Association as part of a redesign of their website. During testing, we learned that their members found the stock photography used on their existing site inauthentic and unengaging.

APA before test

This simple finding led us to use professional photos of real APA members that improved engagement on key pages, including the homepage, Events page, and About Us page.

APA after test

2. Don’t put too many events on the homepage.

The Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) holds 1,200 events for 58 chapters across the globe each year, and they were struggling to find a way to highlight events.

Before we tested, ACG was including 25 events on their homepage, which was harming the user experience.

ACG before test

We needed to make it easy for members to find the events that were of interest, in their location, etc. So we created a featured event section on the homepage that links to an events page allowing users to filter by keyword, chapter, date, and event type.

ACG after test

3. Navigation items that require user action need an active verb in the title.

We made a surprising discovery while testing wireframe designs for a large non-profit organization: users thought the navigation items were too unclear and passive.

By adding active verbs to these items—for example, changing “Theft & Fraud Awareness” to “Prevent Theft and Fraud”—we were able to make the navigation clearer to users and let them know what they would be able to accomplish when visiting the page.

4. People miss content when there’s no visual cue.

Weber was redesigning the website for their grills and accessories and wanted to test several UX changes on a development environment before going live.

One of the issues we uncovered was that users didn’t know that the navigation items in the main menu expanded.

To solve this, we added carets next to the menu titles to indicate action. After making this simple fix, users clearly understood that they would find additional pages in the menu.

Weber after test

5. Using a search icon without an input field confuses users.

While redesigning the website for NOW Foods, we found that users were confused by a small change: we removed the input field for the search bar.

NOW Foods before test

By merely adding the field back to the search area, users could search the site with ease.

NOW Foods after test

Usability testing is a quick, simple way to improve the user experience, whether you’re creating a new site or app or redesigning what you have now. Contact us to learn more about how to execute your own usability test today.

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 29.
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.

Answering the Eternal Question: To Hamburger Menu or Not?

Should you use a hamburger menu for your mobile navigation?

That’s a matter of ongoing debate here at Sandstorm®. It’s a debate we carry out in email chains linking to the latest articles, with subject lines like, “Hamburger menus were (bad/good).”

So I’m here to finally end the debate and offer a definitive answer on whether you should use hamburger menus by saying, “It depends.”

Because that’s the truth: Hamburger menus aren’t uniformly bad or good. It all depends on your audience, your goals, and how best to structure your information so that it serves your users and your needs.

The Myth of the Hidden Menu

In his article Why and How to Avoid Hamburger Menus, Louie Abreu lays out a thoughtful argument against the pattern of using sidebar menus. For him, the biggest issues are:

  1. Low Discoverability—the menu is out of sight and, therefore, out of mind.
  2. Reduced Efficiency—it creates navigation friction for the user.
  3. Navigation Clashing—it clutters up and overloads the navigation bar.
  4. Lack of Glanceability—information about specific items is harder to surface.

But I don’t quite buy the rest of his argument.

Since 2014, when the article was published, hamburger menus have become a common pattern for some of the most highly trafficked sites on the web, including Google and Facebook. And in countless usability studies, we’ve seen that most people don’t mind the ‘hidden’ menu on mobile devices.

The main issue we’ve seen in usability studies is some users don’t understand the three-horizontal-lines ‘hamburger’ icon. This is consistent with an A/B testing experiment conducted by Sites for Profit, which suggests that the three-horizontal-lines ‘hamburger’ icon is less effective than the ‘menu’ label. So there is definitely evidence that supports adding a menu label underneath the icon or simply using the word ‘menu’ instead of the icon.

What users really want is something that’s designed for them, whether it includes a hamburger menu or not—and I’d argue that most users don’t know that this is even a debate.

So how do you effectively use a hamburger menu without alienating users?

Considerations Before Using Hamburger Menus

1. If your navigation structure is small and simple, why not just show it?

Websites with a deep menu structure—like large enterprise software companies—can benefit from hamburger menus. But small websites, like those for a local business, have limited functionality and can display their full navigation. Or you could use one of these emerging patterns for mobile navigation.

2. Label your menu with the word menu.

Our own tests and others have shown that just adding the word ‘menu’ below the hamburger icon increases user engagement. Or ditch the icon and just use the ‘menu’ label.

3. If you have the screen width to display your menu, you should do it.

Avoid hiding your navigation on larger screens. If you don’t have to use a hamburger menu on tablet, then don’t.

4. Nesting can be a problem, if your menu structure is too deep, there’s probably something wrong with your architecture.

The hamburger/offscreen navigation pattern can get tricky if your menu structure is deep and wide. It’s probably not a good pattern to use if this is the case, but the first thing you should do is consider revising your site architecture so it’s less complex.

If you need help with your mobile navigation, Sandstorm can help. From usability testing to user experience design, we’ll help you find the solution that works best for your users.

This blog was posted by on August 31.
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.

Sandy
Social Media Marketing Chicago

Our social media strategists develop overarching strategy recommendations, content strategy suggestions, content calendars, follower strategies for re-sharing content, response strategies, and sharing opportunities to capitalize on current news and events. We are always at-the-ready to investigate your audiences, uncover what they like, and the way they behave in order to multiply the impact of your social media marketing efforts. We've achieved significant results with B2B social media marketing.

Here's an example for a B2B technology SAAS client: 
One of our B2B tech clients reached over 50,000 people in 24 hours because of a pair of strategically placed socks! A consumer packaged goods B2C client went viral and went from <100 - 23,000 Facebook fans and 32,000 contacts in their database in 4 weeks. All from identifying and building relationships with those influential content producers who make other word-of-mouth marketers drool. View more of our work.

Using proprietary tools that allow us to learn as much as we can about what is being said about your brand, we can swiftly and efficiently determine the strongest social media marketing strategy and messaging campaign to inject your ideas or angles into the conversation in order to generate more social media engagement, improve search engine optimization, integrate with your web design strategy, and amplify your brand experience

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 26.
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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It's Time to Consider Video

In 2017, people are more engaged with video than ever before. Content might be king, but video is the king’s hand.

Visual Content Is Up

You want someone to read your tweets? Include a visual.

Across the board, posts that have images or video just perform better. It’s why Twitter and Facebook not only let you add an image, they often auto populate the main image from your shared article into the post.

And users can’t get enough. According to Hubspot, 43% of users want more video, and marketers say it has the best ROI.

Businesses Are Catching On

According to Vidyard, 85% of businesses have staff and resources for producing video. And those videos serve a wide range of industries and purposes. Technology and manufacturing companies produce the most videos, which makes sense considering that most videos are demos, tutorials, and testimonials.

At Sandstorm®, our creative team has experience in video creation, and we’ve created video for several of our clients.

Keep It Short and Sweet

Attention spans aren’t getting any longer—at least according to a study from Microsoft that says our attention spans are shorter than a goldfish—so there’s no need to make lengthy videos. Most videos should be less than 3 minutes—with the exception of product demos, which can be longer. Nobody’s cozying up with popcorn to watch your video; they want to see it and move on to the next.

Could a video be right for your company? It all depends on your brand and your audience, but video can be a simple way to easily and quickly introduce your company, products, services, or even highlight your culture. Let us help you tell your brand story through video.

This blog was posted by on August 25, 2017.
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
Get in the Gamification and Boost Your Member Engagement

Stronger member engagement. Increased traffic. Connecting with Millennials.

If I just listed everything on your association’s wish list, then gamification has a lot to offer you.

Gamification is all about motivation. It plays on people’s competitive nature and love of recognition to encourage them to accomplish goals. And gamification works wonders. Studies show that gamification can lead to a 150% boost in engagement, which is why more than 70% of the Global 2000 according to badgeville.com have at least one gamified app.

How can you start taking advantage of gamification’s benefits? We’ve created a quick walkthrough to help you power up member engagement.

1. Add a profile progress bar.

Users want goals and they want to feel like they’ve accomplished something. More than 75% responded to a survey saying that they want an indication of progress.

LinkedIn has mastered this technique to get members to build out their profiles: rewards for completing a profile, clues that offer direction, and tapping into users’ competitive nature to see who is looking at their profile.

Gamification: Add a progress bar

 

2. Include provocative language in the profile form.

Asana challenged its users by asking them to describe themselves in seven words. When they made that switch, their response rate increased 98%. With just a simple form change, you can get your members to be more engaged right from the start.

Gamification: Include provocative language in the profile form

 

3. Use points to incentivize members to come back.

Learning a new language can seem daunting, unless you use Duolingo. The popular language education app grew to 110 million users in just three years, and it keeps those members coming back by giving them experience points for each completed task.

Gamification: Use points to incentivize members to come back

 

4. Award badges for participation.

It can be difficult to get off the couch, but Fitbit encourages users to push harder by awarding badges for milestones. And the awards aren’t just for running a marathon, they start with tasks that the user can actually achieve and build from there.

Gamification: Award badges for participation

 

At Sandstorm®, we can design new and exciting ways to engage your members through gamification.

Watch the video below for more ideas, or contact us to talk about what we can do for you.

This blog was posted by Janna on August 10.
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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Sandstormers Volunteering

Sometimes it feels like there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. Until we give back.

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently conducted a study that says, “Giving your time to others can make you feel more ‘time affluent’ and less time-constrained than spending your time otherwise.”

In a rapidly moving, technology-driven, deadline-oriented work environment, it’s easy to feel time deficient. Think about it: Not only do we find ourselves heads down in our day-to-day work, we seldom make time to relish our colleagues and get to know them on a deeper, personal level outside the office.

Cue the volunteer work. Over the past 2 summers, Sandstorm® has been supporting Ravenswood Community Services (RCS) by volunteering at their pantry and distributing food to over 250 families on the north side of Chicago. But the reality is that this opportunity provides us with a much-needed pause and sense of awareness—while giving us a chance to accomplish our mission of doing good work for good people.

Sandstorm volunteering in Chicago

The same Wharton School research shows that thinking about the present moment, instead of the future, can make you feel less hurried or rushed because it slows the perceived passage of time. During our volunteer windows, not only are we focused on our tasks and ensuring that the local residents are being assisted properly, we also find ourselves in a relaxed yet spirited environment. In other words, we’re living in the moment.

Through these volunteer experiences, it’s not surprising that the time to bond and serve others has other advantages. According to the Huffington Post, volunteering through the workplace can actually boost employees’ productivity, pride, gratitude, and ethics.

So the next time you or your team get caught up in a hectic work week, live in the moment, polish your sense of purpose, and positively impact others around you by volunteering. You’ll feel like a million bucks.

 

This blog was posted by on July 20.
Alicia Newland age 5

About the Author

Alicia Newland

Alicia is an Account Director with 15+ years of experience on the agency side. Her first job as a paper carrier back in the 80’s, planted the seed for her dedication to building solid client relationships and her love of media.

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Alma
Digital Marketing Firm brings back Guac Off

After a three-year hiatus, the Guac Off has finally, and gloriously, returned to Sandstorm®!

We were a much smaller company when the Guac Off was created; we held the first one at my house on a Saturday and everyone attended with their families. As Sandstorm grew bigger and bigger, it became harder to find a day and time when everyone could attend. Eventually, the event dropped off the calendar, but it was never forgotten.

I really wanted to bring back this fun event, but knew that we had to change it up to make it happen. Every month we have a “You Rock” meeting where the whole company gathers to celebrate our awesomeness, have lunch together, and talk about our growth. Usually we have pizza, but this time we had Chipotle and all of our secret guacamole recipes.

Ten Sandstormers brought their guacamole to the table. Many were delicious, and a few boozy options raised some eyebrows, but in the end, there was one clear winner. Congratulations to Megan Culligan, who was crowned our new “el Champion” on Tuesday! She won in a landslide with her very tasty mango guacamole.

In true Sandstorm fashion, we’ve posted pictures and a quick victory speech from our champion on our Facebook page.

The revival of the Guac Off proves that it’s never too late to come back to a good idea and refresh it. If you need help bringing your ideas back to glory, let us know.

This blog was posted by Alma on July 13, 2017.
Alma Meshes

About the Author

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
Website personalization from simple to complex

Personalization is the best way to engage your users in a conversation, and it’s increasingly something that they expect from your website. Almost 75% of users prefer to do business with organizations that use personalization to make their experience more relevant; the same percentage of users get frustrated with websites when content has nothing to do with their interests.

I recently partnered with .orgCommunity to help associations better understand how to leverage website personalization. In the webinar Spectrum of Personalization, you’ll see 5 examples of personalization in action, from simple to complex, and take away some tips to help you get started today.

Get inspired! Watch our webinar below.

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 6.
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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