Sandstorm Blog

Chicago Web Development Firm Attends Drupal MidCamp

Sandstorm is proud to once again be involved in Drupal MidCamp. MidCamp (also known as the Midwest Drupal Camp) is an annual event held in Chicago that brings together people who use, develop, design, and support Drupal. This year’s MidCamp will be March 19-22, 2015 at the UIC Student Center East.

Sandstorm is a bronze sponsor this year, and we’ve got web developers, strategists, and web designers attending. Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking about user research techniques, which was a blast. This year I'm looking forward to mingling with regional Drupal developers and attending sessions on Drupal 8, "headless" Drupal, and automated testing.We're also on the look out for another solid Front End Developer here at Sandstorm. If that's you, get in touch.

You don't have to be a developer to get something out of MidCamp. There are plenty of promising sessions for people new to Drupal and project managers working with the CMS. We hope to see you there, and have some fun!

This blog was posted by on March 13, 2015.
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.

A Friendlier Drupal Admin

At Sandstorm, we put a lot of care into ensuring our front end website interfaces look PERFECT. We match the designs to pixel perfection from IE8 to iOS8. But we don't stop there. I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the unsung successes in the user administration side from the past year for our Drupal web development projects.

Drupal admins can be a little overwhelming to site administrators, so we've been flexing our muscles to pare down and improve the interface for our clients. Here are three things I thought worthy of giving you a little peek under the covers!

Slimmer Admin Menus

A standard Drupal admin menu:
Our sleek pared down menu for client admins:

 

The Editable Fields Module

We value efficiency, and when data needs to be fixed across multiple nodes we are usually able to solve such problems with things like Views Bulk Operations. But sometimes there's no way around the need to touch every node. Sometimes a human mind has to make a decision about every one of a specific content type. Sad, but true. So when that happens, the Editable Fields module is our friend.

Here's a custom Drupal Admin view that lets our content administrators quickly and easily edit multiple nodes without navigating from page to page:

 

Highly Configurable Blocks

Sometimes there is a user experience design pattern on a site that justifies something really special. The designs for CNS.org called for highly configurable blocks.

Here are some examples of the many variations of this design pattern on just one page:

And here you can see the controls used to create these variations.

Site administrators are able to edit these blocks in real-time, clicking checkboxes on the left and watch the block preview update on the right! This is a very large site, so this UX design pattern had to be flexible enough to do different jobs on hundreds of different pages.

We wanted to strike a balance between flexibility, efficiency, and consistency. This was a lot of fun, and would obviously be overkill for many situations, but when it's called for, it's very rewarding for the Drupal web developers and content admins.

One Final Tip

Sometimes it makes sense to theme Drupal's administration pages, and sometimes it just makes infinitely more business sense to use one of the default themes like Seven for the admin. One compromise we recommend is developing your own version of your favorite default theme and use that as a starting point. Don't feel like you have to brand it like the rest of the site. The Administration pages need no decoration, but it is important to use your own version so that you at least have stylesheets that you can jump in and edit where need be. This preserves the efficiency of a default theme while providing the flexibility to make customizations.

This blog was posted by on December 19, 2014.
Andrew Jarvis

About the Author

Andrew Jarvis

Andrew lives in Bucktown with his wife and three cats in various states of hairlessness. When he's not at Sandstorm doing front-end development he is passionate about creating 3D art.

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Our “Yes, and” Philosophy with Responsive Web Design Concepts

I am extremely proud of the caliber of designs our team created in 2014.

One project in particular stands out to me. The client has been really fantastic about giving us a lot of freedom with creative. Freedom is great, because it lets you try new things and really think outside the box. However, opportunity to explore always comes with a little risk. If we’re too far out of the box, will the client be disappointed?

We met to present responsive web design concepts. Embracing Sandstorm’s “Yes, and” philosophy, we had one web design concept that was polished and on strategy. The other web design concept pushed the creative.

We unveiled the first concept to a lot of head nods, but when they saw the user experience design from the second, their eyes lit up and they leaned in. The client turned to us and said “I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t think you’d knock it out of the park, and you did.”

So this year, I’m proud to be working with a team that pushes the envelope and tries new things, and to get to work with clients who are willing to think a little differently, too.

This blog was posted by on December 18, 2014.
Kellye Blosser

About the Author

Kellye Blosser

Kellye’s unique approach involves a delicate balance of left and right-brained thinking. She most recently hailed from the corporate video world. Here at Sandstorm, she’s excited to bring strategic, innovative thinking to every project.

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.
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.

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 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.

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.
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.

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.

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 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.

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 on January 11.
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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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 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.

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