Sandstorm Blog

Sandy
persona development - how much is too much information?

Part of our user-centered web design process includes the development of personas through research and analysis. Personas have a noticeable advantage over traditional demographics because we (you, me, clients, etc) can relate to a person far more naturally than a list of stats and demographics. It's human nature to bucket information into a way that you can remember, that you can relate to, that you can engage with - and a persona literally puts a name with a face on a fictional character that we can all discuss and create an amazing experience around.

So my big question is how far to go with the persona? How much detail is necessary to tell the story and paint the picture?

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 2, 2009.
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.

Sandy
Free user research for website hosting companies

I would like to personally offer a free user research opportunity here for website hosting companies - for those website hosting companies that question what their customers want, need and feel. For those website hosting companies that are serious about growing their hosting businesses by listening to their customers.

At the end of the day, what we value most, is the most simple of requests - that you please please please keep our websites up and running. What we fear the most, is that you are going to take our websites down for any number of reasons (fixing a bug, fixing a hack, server down for no particular reason, cold fusion crash, windows crash) and not let us know, and not have an answer to when it will be fixed, and quite frankly, move on with your day as if this is and should be expected. Many website hosting companies brag about their up time, but here's the catch. It's not the uptime of our websites, it's the uptime of your servers, which doesn't protect our websites enough. This makes us (your users) not trust your hosting company.

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 1, 2009.
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.

Sandy

We are officially announcing our prediction for the new marketing buzz word for 2010: "intelligence". Intelligence is going to be the new way of describing a multitude of already existing words including but not limited to: web analytics, overall business experience, experience in a marketplace or segment of the market, market research, data aggregation and reporting, interactive data driven web tools... okay, basically anything that uses data will now be referred to as "intelligence".

Coming to our web site soon. :)

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 31, 2009.
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
user centered web design drives the user experience

Think of a user experience team (like us at Sandstorm) as a group advocating for web site surfers... basically your web site users whoever they may be. It's easy to get caught up in business requirements while trying to build a web site/ interactive application/ online experience, but the goal of user centered design is to actually have your users drive some of your requirements.

We've been in more meetings that we can count where we'll spend an hour or two discussing what we "think" the user wants, what we "think" the user needs for education and content, what we "think" the user will do when we build our site - and we "think" how much easier it would be if we just picked up the phone and asked a few. So we do, and more often than ever before, user research is driving more and more of our web design decisions - ultimately enhancing a user's experience.

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 17, 2009.
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.

Sandy
social media marketing tips to B2B success

Social media marketing successes are strategic - now say that 10 times fast. Every client and prospect we're in front of now a days wants to talk about social media. It's the buzz, it's been the buzz, and now every B2B company is ready to do something... but the big question is what?

I think the bigger question is why? And do you have the capacity in house to either drive the strategy or execute on it? And what is the strategy or purpose for including social media into your integrated marketing campaign - because at the end of the day social media is yet one more marketing tactic you can add to your marketing mix. And it could be fun, and it's exciting, and more and more companies are playing around with it. But who is successful? And why are they successful?

My social media marketing tip for the day is to do your research and study your competitors and companies in the marketplace that you believe are successfully utilizing social media. It's one of the first steps in planning a strategy, and social media should be no different. So start your competitive analysis and start gleaning some insights from those that are further along.

This blog was posted by Sandy on .
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.

Sandy

Ready to conduct some usability testing because you have no budget and something is better than nothing? Then read on my friend...

You only need 5-6 participants to catch 80% of your problems (Jakob Nielsen, March 19, 2000), so what are you waiting for? Assuming you don't have access to your end user, grab a coworker or two (who isn't on the project) and watch their expressions and their navigational habits complete a series of tasks that you have deemed most important. It's basic, and rudimentary, but it's a start. And you've just started the beginnings of a task analysis - which will be important when you start to implement your web analytics.

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 6, 2009.
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.

Sandy
How many Chicago web design companies are there?

I once heard that there were 2,000+ web design companies in Chicago alone. And the average staff size for these web design companies were a mere 4 people, with the majority being 1 person shops. I know only 4% of the companies in the U.S. ever hit $1M in revenue, so that basically means that of the 2,000+ web design companies out there, less than 100 hit that mark statistically speaking. A creative magazine once published that only 1 out of 7 designers held a salaried job, but that seems pretty low so I either misread the statistic or have a memory block. So I did some research on my own...

According to the bureau of labor statistics, graphic designers held about 286,100 jobs in 2008, and they consider everyone in interactive media to be graphic designers as well. I couldn't find anything on web developers other than computer scientists (28,900 jobs recorded) or computer support specialists (565,700 jobs recorded). So maybe 2,000 Chicago web design companies is actually a low number. If anyone finds the stat somewhere, please post a comment. Would love to know...

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 4, 2009.
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
Web design vs. user interface design

According to Wikipedia, user interface design is the design of computers, appliances, machines, mobile communication devices, software applications, and websites with the focus on the user's experience and interaction. Utilizing the same source, web design is the skill of creating presentations of content that is delivered though the web.

I searched google to see if I could find anyone debating the two terms as they are used often interchangeably, but I don't necessarily agree that they are one in the same.

Our agency is a user interface design firm that utilizes a user-centered design approach to improve the user experience in a creative and conceptual way. Google searches done today are looking for a web design firm in Chicago, but are they really? Hmmm...

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 25, 2009.
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
Inside the Sandstorm office

As a boutique interactive marketing agency, we're always keeping an eye out on the big interactive players in the marketplace. Forrester's report for Q2 this year includes Sapient, imc2, Razorfish, IconNicholson, and IBM Interactive as the star performers, with a few of our Chicago locals also being noted including Critical Mass, Whittmanhart and Ogilvy Interactive. These companies have multiple locations - and often are found in NY and CA, in addition to Chicago. Take a slice of one of them, and you have us here at Sandstorm...

We've gone head-to-head with Whittmanhart, Sapient, and Ogilvy in the past, but the reality is that we're a great example of a boutique shop and they represent the bigger players. So when the time comes, companies have to first make the choice to go boutique or go big - and then they get a short list from there.

Go boutique agencies!!!

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 24, 2009.
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

 

We've had companies tell us they feel like there is less risk with a big interactive agency player (like Razorfish, IBM, Ogilvy). But as a business owner of a solid, stable, and growing firm I think the challenges are different, but the risk level is the same.

Boutiques get a bad rep sometimes due to being one client away from going out of business, or shutting down because of cash flow issues. Big agencies have a bad rep of being "fat" or over managed, of missing deadlines, and blowing budgets. I had a grad school teacher tell me that clients are won because of the relationships they build. So when we hear that a potential client went with a bigger agency with multiple locations, we clearly didn't do a good enough job building the relationship and easing their concerns. A lesson learned and we move on. I would love to get to know a CEO from one of the larger interactive agencies mentioned above to see how they see companies like us.

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 24, 2009.
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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