Sandstorm Blog

Sandy

The Web Marketing Association has honored us with the 2009 WebAward For Outstanding Achievement in Web Development and Design for National Association of Realtors' Green REsource Council website. The Green REsource Council was founded to make the knowledge of green real estate practices available to everyone and is the only environmental real estate designation addressing multiple specialties for agents and property managers. 

We are very proud to be recognized for our green design work, and continue to strive to build intuitive online user experiences.

This blog was posted by Sandy on October 16, 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
Chicago web design company's Client Spotlight

The Client: National Association of REALTORS, Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC)

The Goal: Create a user-friendly web site that addresses the needs of multiple user groups.

The Solution: After conducting usability testing, user research, and establishing personas, we identified what type of information the different user groups required, and what features and functionality they were looking for. We designed a clean web site design and navigation that organized information by user group, and tested the navigation to ensure key tasks could be completed with ease. Important information and tasks were called to attention in the form of graphic callouts to engage users and ensure that they found what they were looking for. Cool blues and greens were added to round out their color palette, and subtle textures were incorporated throughout the design to add dimension. A coordinating advertising campaign, brochure, and tradeshow were launched in conjunction with the new site to drive traffic to the site and brand REBAC consistently across all mediums.

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 11, 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

At Sandstorm Design, we had an incredible time designing and building the Broadway in Montgomery web site this summer! Our creative team explored a very visual, experiential design concept to draw the user into the essence of theatre - taking cues from Broadway. Adding to the theatrical drama are subtle hints of interactivity from the rotating home page show display to the interactive season ticket package selections.

Aligned with our mission, we had a great time challenging ourselves and our client to create a memorable and intuitive online user experience! Plus as an added bonus, we got the opportunity to take this brand and execute in print including ads, posters and brochures.

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 21, 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
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
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

You're ready to conduct a formal usability study and have some of your customers or potential prospects available to participate in this study (5-6 users is fine, but don't forget the gratuity). These one-on-one sessions start out with a single user interacting with a web site or wire frame completing a set of tasks, and then a moderator asking them follow-up questions regarding the experience. These sessions usually involve a quiet room, a camera and tracking software to watch a user's expressions and their navigational habits. After the study, the data is analyzed and a formal usability report with key findings and recommendations is written.

The goal of any usability test is to figure out what you're doing right, what you're doing wrong, and learn what your users want. So what are you waiting for?

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 23, 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 firm awards: Ego or Not?

So I struggle with web awards. Are they more for the creative team, the client, or the ego? Or are they a great way to celebrate innovative design work and share creative uses of technology and social media? The answer is most likely yes to all, but for some reason they still kind of sit funny with me. I am proud when we win, and I know our clients are proud too - but I know inside that I feel more pride when our marketing efforts really help grow our clients' businesses. That's my own personal mini award. :)

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 21, 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

I know it feels like no marketing and design firms are hiring right now. And when you go to careerbuilder.com (one of our fav clients we've had for over 6 years now) and do a search for web design, web development, graphic design, marketing and copywriting positions it seems like the opportunities are pretty slim. But here's the reality. Most marketing, interactive and web design firms are boutique, and boutique firms generally don't have HR departments, and they often don't post on the large job boards because they often can't manage the masses of resumes. So what do they do? (we are hiring despite what the media conveys).

I can't speak for all, but I can tell you a little about our marketing agency. We always go to referral sources first. We ask our employees if they have any friends. We utilize our social media connections to see if they have any friends or family that would be a great fit. We go to Craigslist. And we give Creative Circle a call. You know we always mean to post our open positions on our web site, but we often don't get to it. I think mostly because we're always looking for a blended position - someone who has a few primary skills with secondary skills that compliment others on our team, and it's tough to write a job description that is always fluid and in motion... kind of like our company.

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 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.

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Sandy
Web design portfolio updates: How often is too often?

It feels like we're always behind when updating our web design portfolio on the Sandstorm website. Does anyone have any feelings on how often we should be updating our creative work - monthly, weekly, quarterly, whenever we have time to? It's great that fresh work is always being produced, and I'm proud of the quality of award winning work we do, and want to give ample time showering our clients with pride and love by showcasing them on our web site... but right now our timing is pretty random. We're always working on content in our web site and changing that almost daily (as part of our SEO and keeping the site fresh), but those portfolio pieces tend to lag a bit. Maybe I should assign the portfolio update task to the new guy at our web design firm (he he he).

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 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
From a web design brainstorm to a BBQ

At our web design company, we often become friends with our clients, and some of our clients are referred to us by our friends. So the whole business client/friend relationship becomes one. Just yesterday I heard our client/my friend say - 'hey at Sandstorm, you buy a web site and get a free BBQ'. (she was coming over to my place for a BBQ after our brainstorm as we haven't seen each other for awhile and I was interested in catching up, and the weather was just so nice we just had to eat outside). So I was thinking, would the call to action "buy a web site, get a free BBQ" create buzz?

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 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.

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