Sandstorm Blog

Karen
Chicago marketing firm Sandstorm Design featured in 2011 Inc. 500|5000 Fastest Growing Companies

Hooray! We are in the top 350 for companies in marketing and interactive on the 2011 Inc. 500|5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country! “It’s a really exciting time for Sandstorm,” said Sandy Marsico, our marketing firm's Principal, as I snapped a photo of her with the package Inc. Magazine sent us. “I am so proud of our team’s relentless dedication to our clients and the exceptional work they produce.” Inc. Magazine releases the 500|5000 list each year to celebrate the companies who are thriving in their industries. The Inc. 500|5000 site has the full list, along with features, graphics and multimedia.

Be sure to check out the Sandstorm Design Inc. 500|5000 profile. “We’re honored to be a part of such an inspiring and aspiring group of companies,” said Marsico. Everyone at Sandstorm is enthusiastically looking forward to continued growth. Learn more about Sandstorm Design and our unique blend of marketing strategy, web design and usability services.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 23, 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

Another year, another guac off, and another amazing slew of recipes! This year we had eggs, asparagus, radishes and more snuck into the guacamole for that extra-special kick. But it was our User Experience Architect Alma Meshes who took home the gold with her amazing recipe for chocolate avocado truffles with chives, pink peppercorns and a cinnamon crisp. Yummy!

There is now discussion as to whether we need to rethink the rules (since chocolate truffles don't fit under the "guac" category) which currently state that the base ingredient should be avocados. Our Interactive Designer Zak Orner says changing the rules would stifle creativity, and after all, we are a creative firm! Watch video of the fun below:

Chocolate Avocado Truffles with Chives, Pink Peppercorns and a Cinnamon Crisp

Chocolate Truffle

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large very ripe avocados, peeled and pit removed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Hershey's baking cocoa (unsweetened)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Decorations

  • Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa (unsweetened)
  • Hershey’s Milk chocolate icing (melted)
  • Fresh chives Pink peppercorns Cinnamon Crisp (Store bought crescent rolls, rolled flat and covered in butter and cinnamon sugar. Follow baking directions on the package, cool and cut into small triangles)
  • Small paper cups (optional)

Directions

  • In a medium sized bowl, mix together vanilla extract, baking cocoa and powdered sugar.
  • In a medium sized sauce pan, melt butter over low heat.
  • In a food processor, mix melted butter and avocado together until smooth and there are no chunks of avocado left.
  • Return butter and avocado mixture to sauce pan and slowly incorporate vanilla, cocoa and sugar mixture.
  • Place truffle batter in the freezer for 2 – 4 hours or until set enough to roll into balls.
  • Using a melon baller, small ice cream scoop or your hands, roll out balls approximately 3/4” in size. Immediately roll truffle in Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa. Place into individual paper cups. (This keeps storage container from getting chocolate all over it!) Return to freezer or refrigerator if the truffle batter gets too soft to form balls.
  • To decorate, use melted chocolate icing as “glue” to hold 2 small chive pieces and 1 peppercorn in place. Place one cinnamon crisp per truffle in the paper cups.
  • Refrigerate until ready to enjoy!

At Sandstorm Design, we know our way around an avocado, but we're also pretty good with the web too! Find out how we can help you with our unique blend of strategy, marketing, web design and usability services.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 16, 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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Karen

We recently logged onto Skype from our Chicago office for a conversation with web developer and web design lover, Patrick McNeil. He is the author of the Web Designer’s Idea Book series, and his latest book, The Designer’s Web Handbook, will be coming in the summer of 2012. He has also recently released the Web Designer's Idea App, which compiles his first two books into an iPad app. We talked design trends, industry standards and more. The following is the first part of our two-part edited conversation, so be sure to check back for the second half of the interview!

SD: You’ve been following design trends for a long time. Which ones do you believe have the strongest staying power?

PM: [The trends with the strongest staying power] are definitely ones that aren’t trends any more, they’re just normal ways of doing anything. I guess at some point in the history of the web putting the logo in the top left was a trend, and then it just sort of became the norm. One that you noticed popped out a couple years ago—I always called it the pitch—on a homepage you have this nice, clear, bold text that basically sums up what a site does. At some point people started doing that and now it’s just what you do so that people know what the heck they’re looking at… This new trend became a norm and now it’s a fundamental part of every site.

SD: Are there any trends that you don’t like, that bother you?

PM: [Laughs] Yeah, every trend kind of goes through that for me. For example in the whole web 2.0 craze everybody was putting badges on their sites—those little starry badges—and it was kind of like, God that’s annoying. At the time it's just part of what you’re doing but as you look back you’re just like, I’m so glad that’s over. The irony is now you can still use them; people just use them when it actually makes sense. Most annoying trends eventually fade away and then just resolve to what they should have been in the first place—which is very functional.

SD: Which sites have web designers been able to look to consistently for industry standards?

PM: I actually think there is an overwhelming amount of design work that’s not necessarily mainstream or the big name stuff, it's just normal designers doing their job everyday. And in a lot of ways that’s what fills my books. I don’t focus on the facebooks or the amazon.com type of stuff because we all see that. I much prefer to focus on small studios or lesser-known resources…That’s been most definitely the source for me over and over—the unknowns.

SD: If you could give web designers one ultimate challenge for the future, what would it be?

PM: Learn to code a little bit. [Laughs] A lot of people disagree with that. I don’t expect designers to be full-on developers and coders but I think that the people who are getting the most fanfare as awesome designers can also code. They just understand both sides of the coin and how to work with the medium the best, essentially.

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We love Patrick's books, and can't wait for the Designer's Web Handbook to be released. At Chicago-based Sandstorm Design, our entire team works closely to create powerful brand experiences supported by user research and a strategic marketing approach. Let us help you stay ahead of the curve with custom web solutions that are one step ahead of your competition.

This blog was posted by Karen on July 25, 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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Karen

Sandstorm Design recently launched a health care web application for a large insurance company. The interactive experience educates users on Medicare health care coverage options. To offer this helpful tool to an even broader audience, the application has now launched in Spanish!

This blog was posted by Karen on April 22, 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

Sandstorm Design is thrilled to kick off the new year by launching a new web site and brand for Gregg Communications! What started with a web site has grown into a full on partnership to reinvent Gregg’s brand. And it has been so wonderful to have a client as enthusiastic about the process as we are! With a new website and identity, the Gregg brand is now aligned with the quality service and expertise of their staff. We are so proud to announce this launch and look forward to more growth with Gregg!

This blog was posted by Karen on January 18, 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

They say you learn something new everyday. And today we learned quite a bit from our Technology and Usability Director, Michael Hartman, who shared some key takeaways from a ‘Putting Research into Practice’ training seminar by Human Factors International, Inc. One of the most intriguing findings was from a study by Tractinskya, Cokhavia, Kirschenbauma, and Sharfib (2006) where participants made a split second decision (500 milliseconds) about the attractiveness of a web site. 

Turns out the average attractiveness ratings stayed about the same when the exposure time was extended to 10 seconds. This means users’ impressions about a web site’s aesthetics are made in less than a second. They don’t really change their mind after more time on the site. We all know how important first impressions are. Which is why aesthetics are extremely critical if you want a user to stay on your web site for, well, more than a second. If you ever need a little help with your website design, you know who to call.

This blog was posted by Karen on January 14, 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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Karen

Sandstorm Design is hiring! We're looking for a freelance ASP.NET Developer with Sitecore CMS experience. We have been (and will be) busy creating the concepts, designs and information architecture for a site for a large local non-profit and need your development skills to build it. The project will be starting in development in January 2011 with some up front consultation needed immediately. Ideally, we would like to find a local Chicago ASP.NET contractor with whom we can build a long-term relationship to help with this project as well as future projects.

Candidates must have 4+ years .NET experience, preferably with a Microsoft certification, 1+ years hands-on experience using Sitecore CMS and 2+ years experience with MsSQL. We would like someone with experience developing high volume web applications, and the ability to design database tables, stored procedures and SQL Queries. You will need to know HTML and CSS. We also need you to be able to meet project timelines and budgets, collaborate with peers on a project to meet client needs, and have strong written and verbal communication skills. We're looking for a highly motivated, detail-oriented individual with excellent problem solving skills and a passion for delivering high quality products and creating highly usable web sites that optimize the user experience. A few pluses that will give you an edge: experience with AJAX/Jquery, developing e-commerce sites, and/or familiarity with Shopsite shopping site software.

Think you might be the one we are seeking? Submit your resume and work samples and/or links to jobs@sandstormdesign.com. Please NO phone calls.

This blog was posted by Karen on November 15, 2010.
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

We are proud to announce the launch of the new F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen web site! We love working with this construction company, some say we’re almost as “Paschen”-ate as they are. Great people, great work, and a great history. We couldn’t wait for this site launch!

In addition to a new branded look and feel, the web site is filled with interactive video and functionality. We built a searchable project database that includes over 100 of their top projects. We also created an interactive experience on the homepage, new custom videos, an interactive map and a dynamically building ‘Contact Us’ form. To top it all off, custom photography highlights one of the company's strongest points of pride – their people. We couldn’t be more passionate about launching this web site for F.H. Paschen, a company we are proud to call our client and partner.

This blog was posted by Karen on November 15, 2010.
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

It’s easy to love your job when you work for Sandstorm Design, and it’s even easier when the projects that come your way are for organizations that are working to make the world a better place – like The Cradle, an open adoption agency in Chicago. Along with giving them a fresh, new look, we also made their site easy to update by completing development in Drupal so that they can change their content regularly with current news, new waiting families, and new stories of success.

We loved working with The Cradle and being a part of helping birthparents, adoptive families, and adopted children come together to create their own unique family stories. We are so proud to launch this web site!

This blog was posted by Karen on .
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

Sandstorm Design is excited to announce the launch of SRES.org! We’re so happy to provide this excellent resource to anyone age 50+ with real estate needs, helping them connect with SRES® designees all over the country. The SRES® designation, offered by the National Association of REALTORS®, indicates specialization in the real estate needs of those age 50+. Baby boomers can visit this web site to easily search for an SRES® designee near them, and prepare themselves for what types of considerations they’ll face with their real estate decisions.  We love working with the National Association of REALTORS® and marketing to seniors, and couldn’t be more excited to launch this web site!

This blog was posted by Karen on November 2, 2010.
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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