Sandstorm Blog

Laura
Brand strategy - empathy

The importance of empathy in business cannot be denied. It will create efficiencies across the board. It provides a construct from which to accelerate the speed of solving business problems. Multi-functional collaborative teams are a given for today’s economy, and leveraging these teams to their full potential requires each individual to think about the other. How do they think? What is their situation? Why? These questions help to create an empathic solution.

This is more than active listening. This is tapping into imagination and fully embracing the challenge through another person’s point of view. Once this is accomplished, solutions can be more quickly implemented with less friction within an organization. This cuts down on rework and shortens timelines by leaping forward from the beginning.

For example, we currently have a global client who is outsourcing much of their tradeshow support to Sandstorm. This organization has been successful by embracing sophisticated processes for developing high-end mathematical software. They have a meticulous process for everything and trusting Sandstorm with this process will be critical to their continued business growth.

Sandstorm is filled with passionate, non-linear thinkers who are always looking for a better way. Sandstorm’s creative process and culture generally produces unorthodox solutions. This is why we are enlisted by our clients to assist them in building their businesses.

Bridging the above mentioned cultures and processes to create something larger and more effective for our client requires active empathy. I challenge our teams to actively empathize with this particular client in order to solve their problems more quickly. This quickly innovates in small and big ways to move their business forward.

Honing your empathy takes practice, particularly if you are driven. Reacting and pushing our agenda and/or ideas forward is the more reflexive mode for most successful business people. It will be scary at first, believe me, I am a control freak; but in the end, better results will abound with a more empathetic worldview.

This blog was posted by Laura on August 22, 2013.
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.

Janna
Great User Experience

Imagine it is your first time. You are probably excited, anxious, hoping everything will go right and you don’t do anything too embarrassing.

Afterward, you may think “overall not bad,” but you should have tried a different technique, approach or way to make the experience better or maybe closer to what you expected.

Now, get your mind out of the gutter…

These same emotions and concerns can be said about the first time you visit a new web site. Users have high expectations and feel anxious, hoping they can find everything they need and will be able to perform all necessary tasks quickly and easily.

During the initial visit, users may try trusted approaches in using the site until they stumble upon or otherwise discover how to complete the task at hand. If the process takes longer than expected, users often berate themselves thinking they did something wrong or are not savvy enough to use the site. If they become frustrated enough, users lose their patience and leave.

I have seen this emotional rollercoaster first hand in usability studies. No matter how challenging the task, web site or overall experience was, the users usually blamed themselves for failing and expressed they “just need more time to learn how to use the site.”

In a recent blog post, Jakob Neilsen wrote, users invest a lot of time “learning” sites they often visit. That is, by spending time “mastering” the site, the user will be able to quickly and easily complete what they need to do each and every visit.

As UX experts, we strive to create user-centered web sites that are easy and intuitive the first time, no handbook required.

Knowing users are willing, and at times expect, to spend time learning a new site, adding teaching moments to key steps enables the first-time user to be guided, even taught how, to use the site immediately.

Here are some areas of your site’s experience that might need some first-time love:

Key Tasks: You don't need an instruction manual.

  • Break long, key tasks into stepped processes for quicker completion
  • Integrate a robust help and search functionality

New Elements: It's strange at first, talk them through it. 

  • Tutorial-style pop ups for new features
  • Microsites and/or videos to explain larger new features (FB on open graph)

Forms: Keep it simple and don't be afraid to give suggestions.

  • Indicate required fields clearly
  • Include inline tips and suggestions
  • Provide formatting prompts for dates, phone numbers and zip codes

By using these tactics along with other UX techniques, users will not have to learn the web site, instead they will be free to use it. Each and every web site encounter will be exciting, engaging, intuitive, informative… and, perhaps, earth-moving.

This blog was posted by Janna on June 13, 2013.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's Executive Creative Director, 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.

Amanda
Will Biby, our writing, research and production Sandstormer

After over a year of Sandstorming, Will has been promoted to Writing, Research and Production—a title reflective of his many talents. As Sandstorm continues to grow, so do its employees. Will said the transition period has been one of his strongest growth spurts. He's reached a personal and professional goal: do more great work, better.

Passionate about communication, Will explains that every facet of his new position—writing, research and production—encompasses it. "Writing is obvious. Usability testing and user research involves listening to people," Will says, and his production role results in creating pieces that communicate a client's brand to their audience.

Being the culture vulture that he is, Will spends his spare time writing sketch comedy and going to the opera. "Whether it's through the written word, on stage or through music, conveying our thoughts, ideas and feelings are at the core of the human experience." With an extensive music background to boot, Will is Sandstorm's triple threat.

This blog was posted by Amanda on April 11, 2013.
Amanda Elliott

About the Author

Amanda Elliott

Amanda Elliott is the Marketing Coordinator at Sandstorm Design. She absorbs the creative energy from our leadership team and facilitates the team so they can focus entirely on solving client challenges. She is passionate about anticipating needs, solving problems, and making projects fun.

Karen

I’m not here to report how a particular ad campaign went. I want LinkedIn to view this as free user research – they need to improve the user experience and usability of LinkedIn Ads.

The ad campaign setup consists of what seems to be three simple steps. But as the user moves through the experience, what initially felt simple becomes rigid and constrictive when trying to make changes, update, or delete.

The top three key items LinkedIn Ads could fix to improve usability and the user experience:

  1. No delete? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve heard this complaint within other areas of LinkedIn before, so I wasn't surprised to find it in LinkedIn Ads. Once created, there is no way to delete an ad campaign or ad variation. You can hide them, but not delete them. Users should always be allowed to delete anything they create (just make them confirm it's really what they want to do).
  2. No “Save” option. If you leave the ad campaign setup process at any time, LinkedIn saves everything you started. This is great, except they don’t tell you they’re going to do that. So if you leave before finalizing a campaign, you would assume you're losing what you started. Upon coming back to find it's still there—you might be surprised, and also annoyed you didn't know it would be saved in the first place. If the functionality is there, tell the users upfront so they can plan for it.
  3. Cannot add new ad variations. I love that LinkedIn gives users 15 ad variations per campaign. But after you go through the initial three steps, there’s no way to come back and simply “Add a new variation.” You have to use a workaround where you duplicate an existing variation and just make changes to that. Users should never have to use a workaround for something that should be basic functionality. In fact, they should never have to use a workaround, period.

Despite my rant here, I love LinkedIn, and am very pleased to see it growing so much (100 million members as of March 2011!). As they grow, usability and the user experience is definitely something they'll want to put more focus on. For now though, these few items would make a nice improvement.

Don't forget to follow our usability and user experience design agency on LinkedIn!

This blog was posted by Karen on April 27, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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
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 August 13, 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
The importance of Information Architecture

It blows my mind how many web sites are designed and built without considering information architecture. We don't let a project get to our creative team without an information architect (IA) building a few wireframes first.

Maybe it's one part of our "secret sauce" (this is one of my favorite new sayings) but it should be a necessary part of every web design process. The IA is "the one" that ties together the strategy, business requirements, user requirements, and messaging. The IA considers a layout from the user's perspective, ensures the site is easy to use, brings the most important features to the front, and aligns the marketing goals with the web site goals. An IA is highly strategic, is intuitive, and has a strong knack for common sense. My favorite book on the subject is Steve Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability".

At Sandstorm, everyone in the creative department has to read it as part of their onboarding process. And we've added to the developers as well so we are all speaking the same language. Information architecture for us here at Sandstorm is just a part of who we are.

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 14, 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

So our web analytics consistently show a decline in unique visitors on Fridays, but on a month to month basis, Fridays drive the most leads verse any other day of the week for our web design firm. Why is that? Is everyone so tired of putting out fires all week that by Friday all they want to do is some browsing on the web? Or do they finally get a few minutes to themselves to get to that 'to do' on their list of finding a new interactive agency? Or is Friday subconsciously the most creative day (and fun) day of the week? Any insight would be great!

This blog was posted by Sandy on April 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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