Sandstorm Blog

Emily Kodner
Neurosurgeons Designing Websites?

Looking back at 2014, one of my favorite website projects was cns.org, the responsive website for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons built in Drupal.

Why was it my favorite? Because they were strategic and truly embraced user-centered design.

A focus on user needs

User-centered design takes the subjectivity out of the decision-making process. We didn’t have to define user needs because we had talked to users firsthand. And, as it turns out, neurosurgeons are some of the most direct and decisive users that we’ve ever interviewed.

Because we interviewed stakeholders, we knew the organization’s priorities and were able to strike the right balance between business needs and user needs (hint: you can’t meet the first without meeting the second).

Navigation designed by users

Who better to organize the navigation than the users themselves? We asked CNS members to sort cards (each corresponding to a page on the site) into groups and create labels for the groups they made. Those labels became our navigation. Best practices can tell us how many menu items to have or how flat or deep to make the navigational structure, but only users can really tell us how to intuitively group and label pages and sections.

User tested designs

A neurosurgeon’s time is particularly hard to come by. To ensure we had adequate participation in our usability study, we took our wireframe prototype to the CNS Annual Meeting where we had a captive audience. This was a great opportunity to identify potential stumbling blocks and to allow users to weigh in on areas where there had been internal debate.

We love making great user experiences, and we are able to make the best experiences when we talk to users early and often. That’s why this was one of my favorite projects of 2014.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on December 11, 2014.
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
Building a Website RFP needs these essential elements

Having trouble putting into words what you are looking to accomplish with your website? Not sure how to get all of your web development agencies aligned with your goals and objectives?

Writing a request for a proposal (RFP) is a challenging process if you don’t know where to start. By taking a moment now to think about your organization and your users’ wants and needs, you’ll save time later and increase the possibility of attracting the best agency to deliver success.

We can help! By following the website RFP response template below, you’ll have a clear strategy and a solid start for your next initiative:

 1. Brief Overview of the Project
Describe your current website situation or desired campaign and a description of what your investment will entail.

 2. Project Goals and Objectives
Define the motivation for your project. Why are you making this investment (i.e. expanded services, growth, new target audience, lead generation, attract job candidates)? What do you hope to accomplish? List your objectives.

3. Current Web Statistics
Include relevant web analytics such as top content, goal conversions, traffic sources, bounce rates, keyword phrases driving traffic, social referrals, mobile traffic, etc.

4. Technical Requirements
Are you integrating with any existing systems? List them. Do you require a specific programming language (e.g. .php or .net)? How is hosting currently handled?

5. Usability Requirements
How many different user groups do you have, and who are they? Are you interested in conducting usability testing? How about user research or developing a persona? 

6. Functional Requirements
What features and functionality do you need on your site? Some needs might include:

  • Secure user/password
  • Contact forms or dynamic forms
  • File uploading option
  • User account management
  • Social media integrations and social sharing
  • Database development
  • Video integrations
  • Member dashboards
  • Content management system (Drupal, Kentico, Wordpress, etc.)
  • E-commerce
  • Newsletter sign up
  • White paper lead capture
  • Blogs
  • 3rd party API integrations (LMS, AMS, HubSpot, Salesforce, etc)

7. Content Requirements
Approximately how many pages are on your current site? Do you have a content strategy? Who is going to be responsible for writing or editing your content? How will your social media channels be integrated?

8. Mobile Requirements
We only build websites that respond to your user’s device (i.e. mobile, tablet, desktop) – so we have that covered. Do you have any other special mobile needs that we should be aware of? 

9. Budget
Has your budget been set and approved? What is the range?

10. Timeline
What is your ideal project complete date? What is driving that time (i.e. trade show, new product launch, leadership change, board of directors, it should have happened last year)?


Ready to rock?

This website RFP response template can be the perfect tool to align all stakeholders on the essential building blocks for your project. It ensures you have a solid, thoughtful, and organized plan to guide your chosen agency, too.

A little upfront thinking and decision-making goes a long way in constructing an optimal site experience or campaign. You’ll be the rock star whose project launches on time, within scope, and under budget.

[Once you’ve completed all these steps, please send it to us. Sandstorm might be the right partner for your new project.]

This blog was posted by Sandy on April 3.
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.

Laura
David Ogilvy was a UX Pioneer

I have been in the ad biz for about 20 years and never read Ogilvy on Advertising. I recently finished it, and it struck me how much of his approach is anchored in user experience design principles.

Ads should have a purpose.

David Ogilvy: UX from the Ad Age to the Digital Age

“A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”

David Ogilvy was passionate about having communication that provided real information to someone. From his famous Rolls Royce print ads to his campaign for Puerto Rico, he was adamant about providing something new and informative to the reader. (Click on the images to read their informative copy.)

Research is critical.

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

How can someone fully empathize with a user without research? Ogilvy was interested in pragmatic, actionable research. He wanted to know enough to garner a perspective for advertising that would successfully resonate with the consumer.

This approach was anchored in healthy skepticism for traditional researchers, as well as curiosity about what people really wanted and were thinking. He went so far as to outline nine things he did not like about the research community of his time.

  1. Take too long to answer a few simple questions: “they are natural slowpokes”
  2. Cannot agree on methodology
  3. Are too interested in sociology and economics, not advertising [Note: this is specific to Ogilvy's field]
  4. Have little or no system for retrieving research which has already been conducted
  5. Are too faddish; some techniques are useful, but still go out of fashion
  6. Use graphs that are incomprehensible to laymen
  7. Refuse to undertake projects which they consider imperfect, even when the project would produce actionable results. Quoting Winston Churchill; “PERFECTIONISM is spelled PARALYSIS”
  8. Lack initiative i.e. only do what they are asked for
  9. Use pretentious jargon

These principles can be and should be successfully applied to the agile technology world of today. Testing and learning and continuous improvement are the approaches to creating engaging user experiences that produce business results.

Readability cannot be compromised.

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or as an art form, but as a medium of information.”

A fanatic about details, everything was focused on the information. Ogilvy would not tolerate reversed out type. He felt that it was not legible and would lose the reader.

Back to 2013, legibility and organization of information can make or break conversion on a website. Unclear direction and cumbersome forms will cause high abandonment rates.

Uncompromising discipline to implement a thoughtful experience

“The best of all ways to beat P&G is, of course, to market a better product.”

An entire chapter is devoted to Procter & Gamble’s marketing discipline. His respect for their marketing acumen was anchored by their focus and commitment to creating a better product. The core of their marketing was the product itself. The times are long gone where great promotion can outsell a quality product. Quick access to information requires successful marketers to create great products to succeed.

I can’t help but think that if Ogilvy was around today he would have a chapter about Apple and their fanatical discipline. It starts with product design and resonates through the Apple experience, from iTunes to the Genius Bar. Everything consistently reinforces the brand.

Laura on Ogilvy on Advertising

What I am most amazed about is that we continue to create new business processes and vocabulary around “new” principles. These “new” concepts are attempts to reinvent the wheel. It would be most efficient to spend time being more disciplined about solving the challenges at hand. Answering tough questions accomplishes more than creating new names for existing tools.

Ogilvy’s approach to advertising and marketing with a user focus has stood the test of time. This approach can help you create something that can last, too.

There is no silver bullet, no social media magic, or algorithmic formula that will save your business, product or service. Time tested marketing discipline, when applied correctly will fuel, reinvigorate and grow your business but only when the appropriate level of time, money and thinking is applied.

[Editor's note: The images used in this post are owned by their respective company. Also, there is a great post by Fast Company that reviews Ogilvy's 11 principles for successful marketing campaigns through the lens of UX.]

This blog was posted by Laura on October 17, 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 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.

Michael
Mobiletanious responsive development on multiple devices and screen sizes.

I’d like to go on the record and claim the next catch phrase in UX and user experience design....Mobiletaneous!

Mobiletaneous is the art and discipline of building experiences for multiple screen sizes simultaneously, as opposed to starting from the mobile or desktop version. This a slight spin on the recent design trend “Mobile First” which was popularized by design guru Luke W. (Luke Wroblewski).

This is not to take anything away from the “Mobile First” philosophy. I’ve read “Mobile First”, practiced the mobile first methodology and extolled its virtues. There is no denying the expansive growth in mobile use, and the shift from desktop to mobile is indisputable. Any organization not focusing on their mobile experience is missing the boat.

Mobile First

However, as we’ve been designing and building for varying screen sizes, we’ve found it most useful to consider all screen sizes simultaneously. This applies to both the user interface design and front end development phases. It is particularly helpful when breakpoints for mobile, tablet and desktop screens are needed.

Mobiletaneous

This approach ensures designs for all screen sizes are getting the attention and consideration needed, rather than prioritizing one over the other. Because at the end of the day, the most important screen size to design for is the one your user is using.

We’ve learned this is a more efficient way to develop responsive designs. It’s no surprise it requires more time (and budget) to design and build responsive experiences, but we’ve found the mobiletaneous approach to be the most efficient.

So our interpretation of the “mobile first” philosophy is slightly different. We believe your mobile experience is crucial. So is your tablet and desktop experience. That’s why we’re on the leading edge of the mobiletaneous movement.

This blog was posted by Michael on May 23, 2013.
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.

Karen
Happy New Year From Sandstorm

Sandstorm is ringing in 2013 by inviting you to collaborate for a cause. Scroll through our interactive New Year's Greeting. At the end, choose a charitable organization, and Sandstorm will give them a contribution.

We love how well parallax scrolling fits the theme of collaborating for a cause. Your participation begins before you even vote for a charity—it starts the moment you start scrolling. Your movement down the page activates snowflakes and triggers year-end greetings. So travel with us through the seasons and learn about our accomplishments in 2012. You'll be part of the experience in motion and part of the collaboration to give back. You'll even get to see a cameo from the SkiFree guy (sans the yeti).

Check out the greeting and choose a charity at the bottom!

This blog was posted by Karen on January 11, 2013.
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.

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Karen
Sandstorm Launches Community Drupal Web Site for PROmeasure

Standardization is a hot topic in the PRO (patient-reported outcomes) community. It’s hot enough that the amount of information out there can be difficult to filter through, and makes it impossible to get your voice heard. PROmeasure is taking on these challenges with the beta launch of their site PROmeasure.org.

The site aims to involve the PRO community of authors, medical practitioners and health care IT professionals in enhancing the use of PRO in clinical practice and research by standardizing its use of measures (questionnaires). Users can download an open-source data model for measure standardization, search through a database of measures and participate in discussions with the community.

The PROmeasure web site is built in Drupal and includes a PubMed integration, user dashboards, commenting and personalization features, community forums, and content-manageable rotating graphics on the homepage.

Learn more about the possibilities available with Drupal development.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 21, 2012.
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.

Will
Sandstorm takes home silver in the prestigious 13th annual Web Health Awards℠

Sandstorm takes home silver in the prestigious 13th annual Web Health Awards℠. (WOO HOO!) This competition recognizes the nation’s best digital health resources and top interactive agencies. A panel of 32 experts in digital health media served as judges and selected gold, silver, bronze, and merit winners.

Our work creating an interactive Medicare conversation received a coveted Silver Award for the Web Based Resource Category. This interactive web application helps users understand Medicare health care coverage options from a large insurance company.  With closed captioning as well as the ability to increase the type size, this application was designed to educate people around 65 years old on the benefits available through Medicare.

We launched this highly interactive and accessible application in August 2010.  To offer this helpful tool to an even broader audience, the application was also launched in Spanish in April 2011.

We’re really excited about this accomplishment and look forward to developing more award-winning web applications, Drupal websites, and interactive user experiences in 2012.

This blog was posted by Will on December 22, 2011.
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.

Karen
Realtor University - Example of a Drupal web site

REALTOR® University and the National Association of REALTORS® partnered with Sandstorm's Drupal development team to build their first ever master's degree program. The web site was developed through a combination of marketing messaging, copywriting, tagline development, user interface design and implementation of the Drupal 7 CMS. Featured on the homepage are rotating graphics emphasizing the core advantages the university offers. We are so excited to announce this launch!

This blog was posted by Karen on October 20, 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.

Karen
Chicago marketing firm Sandstorm Design just moved

Following a year of exceptional growth, Sandstorm Design is excited to announce its move! Don’t worry, we’re still in Chicago—just a couple blocks north of our old address. In the heart of the Ravenswood Corridor, this architecturally inspired space is perfectly suited for the strategy and execution of Drupal web sites, interactive web applications and creative marketing campaigns.

With this relocation, we have expanded space for collaboration and day-to-day activity. This includes an on-site usability lab, ideal for conducting formal and informal usability studies. Our “zen room” is the ideal place to find inner peace.  The new office is distinctly Sandstorm with our giant swirl logo painted at the entrance (It’s 8-foot by 11-foot!), and 4700 feet of exposed ceiling pipe was hand-painted Sandstorm blue to give some added color to this former warehouse space. To see more about this exciting development, check out the Sandstorm Photostream. We even tallied all the numbers from the move, and put together this infographic.

Be sure to update your records, CRM system, and iPhones. Our marketing firm is now located at 4619 N. Ravenswood Suite 300, Chicago, Illinois 60640. Our phone number is the same, 773-348-4200, but all extensions have shifted with an upgrade to a new Shoretel phone system. 

This blog was posted by Karen on October 17, 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.

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