Sandstorm Blog

Joshua
Ensono, branding, tech, mainframe, brand strategy, content strategy, marketing strategy, web development

Machines possessing hopes and dreams is a classic theme explored in science fiction. Sandstorm® explored this theme when Acxiom IT restructured their organization and needed a rebrand to reflect their new position as a tech company that dreams of the future.

Acxiom IT recently became a standalone infrastructure management services business, which required a new name and brand strategy to set them apart from their former parent company. Sandstorm® was hired to guide the 46-year-old business as they developed a new corporate identity. The result: the Ensono brand and a vision for the future.

Sandstorm®'s first step was diligent research. We examined the client's history, needs, behaviors and desires to understand where they've been and devised a marketing strategy to help them reach where they wanted to go. In speaking with their senior leadership, it became clear that they wanted to position themselves as a solution that meets the needs of the present and the future. Although they offered industry-leading mainframe solutions, Ensono needed help representing themselves as a company that develops and innovates for the future.

With renewed focus on addressing current client needs while engineering solutions for the demands of tomorrow, we turned to creating a new name. Sandstorm® went international while exploring the concepts of progress and dreaming: "enso" is a Zen concept that refers to strength and creativity, and "in sogno" is an Italian expression meaning "in dreams." By merging these words and concepts together, Ensono, or the company that dreams, was created. This idea of inventive and adaptable thinking followed through the positioning statement, key messages, content marketing tactics, and digital marketing strategies.

Sandstorm® assisted Ensono with their brand launch and website development and has continued to partner with them on many projects including: collateral materials, promotional video, product campaigns, corporate signage, and assisting with the interior design of their new office space.

If you are dreaming of a new marketing strategy, Sandstorm can make it a reality.  

 

This blog was posted by Joshua on August 4, 2016.
joshua sovell

About the Author

Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

Jeff
Jeff Umbricht: Front-End Developer, Outdoorsman, Metalhead

Hey, my name is Jeff, and I’m the new guy. I’m a twenty-something who grew up in the northwest suburbs and made my way to Chicago after a couple years in Evanston.

My interest for web development started at the age of 13 after making a website for a friend’s band. In college I started making a career out of this passion by studying web design and interactive media. I learned a little bit about everything from video production to graphic design to web application development. My focus gravitated toward the behind the scenes aspect: web development.

There’s nothing more satisfying than writing code to make a browser transform text into something amazing! After a few years into the industry and honing my dev chops, I’ve joined the amazing team at Sandstorm as the newest front end developer. I’m ecstatic to be surrounded by such passionate individuals and excited to do good work for good people!

A few fun facts about me:

  • I built a holiday wish list website for my family to keep track of who wants what and who bought what. This comes in very handy with 4 children who each have their own significant other.
  • I’m a metalhead. February 2016 will be the 3rd consecutive year I’ve gone on a heavy metal cruise called “70,000 Tons of Metal.”
  • I’ve been known to keep a tent in my car just in case my friends and I feel like an impromptu camping trip. I’m slowly checking places off my must see list including: Big Sur, Shawnee National Forest, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Death Valley.
This blog was posted by Jeff on October 8, 2015.
Jeff Umbricht

About the Author

Jeff Umbricht

Jeff is an Illinois native with a passion for web development. Making code into great things drives him every day. He’s often busy building awesome experiences for Sandstorm clients, and there’s a high probability that he’s rocking out to metal while he codes.

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Jason
Andy Cullen, Senior Engineer and Team Lead

Senior Web Developer Andy Cullen is expanding his role into Senior Engineer and Team Lead. In a position that is new for both Andy and Sandstorm, he’ll mentor our junior and mid-level developers as well as provide direction for the team for Drupal web development projects and beyond. Andy will make sure they have the support they need while helping them grow into larger projects and responsibilities.

Andy will also coordinate with our strategy team to provide valuable insight for clients, all the while keeping our projects rolling with the quality and cool determination he’s known for here at Sandstorm.

Congrats, Andy!

This blog was posted by Jason on August 6, 2015.
Jason Dabrowski

About the Author

Jason Dabrowski

Jason is one of Sandstorm’s designers and also helps keep the office running smoothly. As a veteran of the theatre—from acting to directing, lighting to set design—he knows the value of hard work and a positive attitude. Look for his unique voice on the blog.

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Sean
Consider your options when comparing Content Management Systems

[This is second post of a series on choosing a CMS. Check out Part 1, and learn about the importance of your goals and requirements in the process]

Now that you have a solid set of requirements for your content management system (CMS), you can start to explore some different options. To narrow the conversation, it's sometimes helpful to consider them as a balance between simplicity versus flexibility.

5 approaches from simple to flexible

1: No development needed

Starting on one side, you'll find the most simple subscription-based solutions that require no development and minimal setup. As an example, think of a blogging site for which you just need to create an account. The options are limited. It doesn't give you much more than a running list of posts that you can create and edit. Google Blogger and Tumblr are examples. While some border on being social media more than CMS, they are in fact services that allow you to manage your content.

2: Simple and customizable

Moving up from there, you have simple frameworks that provide a medium amount of customization. This can be anything from services like SquareSpace to platforms like Ghost and Wordpress. These are designed to get you up and running quickly, but also allow you to heavily customize your site.

At this level, you can sometimes add basic online stores. You can create a unique look and feel. With something like Wordpress, you can even add some custom functionality. Eventually when dealing with options in this category you'll find that you're trying to do things for which the framework just wasn't built, so you'll move closer to flexibility.

3: Scalable and flexible solutions

The next level up are the more scalable and flexible solutions. Options like Drupal, SiteCore or AdobeCQ are in this category. While they are very different frameworks, they all have some basic preconceived notions about how content should be managed and structured. These are solutions that get you quickly up and going, but they are also intended for heavy customization. Advanced custom functionality can be added on top of them. Some can even be extended to the point where they are more than just a website and terms like "web application" start to emerge.

They are meant to be fast to deploy because much of the structure of how to manage your content has already been determined. However, this ease of deployment and development can sometimes come with the penalty of rigidity. Once you start to stray outside of their assumptions about how content should be managed, things can start to get messy. It's like strapping a howitzer on a sports car. Sure, we can get it to mostly work, but it just wasn't designed to do that.

4: Frameworks for fully custom sites

At the far extreme you find frameworks for custom-built applications that allow for advanced integrations, workflows, relationships and functionality. These are true development frameworks that allow you to build your own CMS or web application. Laravel and Django are two examples that fit in this category. They make sense when basic management of content is a secondary requirement, trumped by custom functionality. Or perhaps the structure of the content is unique enough that trying to get it to fit into some of the options in the previous category would not be ideal.

The primary benefit is that your application is faster because it was built to do exactly what you want. The primary downside is that it may cost more to build because you have more custom code and less community-tested extensions that effortlessly drop into your new site.

5: From the ground up

Of course out at the furthest edge you'll find the "from the ground up" option. This would be to pick a language and build a completely custom solution, without taking advantage of any frameworks. There are reasons that you'd do this, but if you're looking for a CMS, you're probably better off considering one of the many frameworks that exist today.

Proprietary versus Open Source

One of the key decisions is to consider when choosing a CMS whether you want to go with one that is proprietary software versus one that is open-source.

Proprietary

Proprietary software brings licensing fees and/or ongoing hosting fees. These fees are often in addition to the work required to design, configure, customize and host your site. Solutions like SquareSpace, SiteCore, AdobeCQ and others are businesses that provide a service in order to make money.

For some of these, the costs can get quite high (the average AdobeCQ license can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars). This can be fine if the CMS fits your needs. After all, part of what you're theoretically purchasing is the peace-of mind that if something goes wrong, that vendor will be there to help.

Open Source

In contrast, open-source software is free to download and use. Solutions like Wordpress, Drupal, Django and Laravel are all built by a community of developers and released under open licenses. Generally you want to look for a knowledgeable partner who you feel confident can properly build your CMS solution using one of these frameworks.

Final considerations

Budget

A final step is to consider your budget. You can make strategic decisions to create a CMS-based site with a small budget or invest heavily in some items to ensure your site covers the full extent of your needs.

Maintaining your site after launch

A final cost consideration is ongoing maintenance and support. If you are considering a proprietary solution, be sure to budget for the ongoing licensing fees. You should also double check that these fees cover ongoing upgrades and security fixes.

If you are considering an open source solution, be sure to set aside some of your budget to have your developer perform security updates and proactive maintenance. In either case, consider also setting aside some budget for support requests – minor feature requests and other changes to how the site functions. Properly considering your ongoing maintenance and support costs will help you to finalize the amount you have to build your CMS.

Making your final CMS decision

With the term CMS covering such a wide range of digital platforms, it's no wonder that many feel overwhelmed when choosing one. Defining your goals and requirements can help you to navigate your options. We've found that walking through these steps is a great way to reduce apprehension, provide clarity and deliver a solid final product. We hope you find them useful also.

[If you enjoyed this post, read Part 1: Goals and Requirements]

This blog was posted by Sean on July 30, 2015.
Sean Fuller

About the Author

Sean Fuller

As Technology Director, Sean is a hands-on developer and technical lead on projects. He works with design and strategist teams from kick off through launch to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects. 

Sean
How to Compare Content Management Systems - Goals and Requirements

Deciding which Content Management System (CMS) to use can be a daunting task. It can be difficult to sort through the plethora of irrelevant recommendations and confusing information to find the best solution. Many of our clients come to us with a rough sense of what they want, but need help making the final recommendation.

How to compare CMS?

Comparing Content Management Systems is challenging because it means different things to different people. The phrase has evolved to cover a range of web frameworks and applications. It is a broad term that covers any program which facilitates content creation and updates (usually on the web). On top of that, many popular CMS options are highly customizable – two sites built on the same framework can look very different. 

Going beyond the simple editing of an organization's "About Us" page, modern websites demand a great flexibility in how they handle content. They often need different types of content, each one requiring specific workflows or relationships aimed at solving various goals. For example, consider the differences between a blog post, an event listing, and a product detail page. Each one has unique data associated with it. Each one is organized in different ways. Being able to handle unique types of content while still providing a consistent interface is an important part of any CMS.

A CMS often has other advanced functionality. They pull content in from other systems. Some integrate with different authentication systems. Some have an online stores. Others allow a community of users to login and participate in some way. Still others might pull in raw data from one source to display it to users in a completely new way. These are all managing different kinds of content at some level. 

Create Goals

Not every site needs every possible option. So, what does it your site need? It's good to get back to your goals and requirements. Your website has needs that are just as unique as your organization. A needs-based assessment can help to focus your requirements and narrow down the search.

Start by defining your goals. Create a list of what you want to achieve with this new CMS. Starting with your goals will help to focus your efforts.

  • What problems are you looking to solve? 
  • Are you looking to increase your brand perception as part of this project? 
  • Is increased membership or sales a primary goal? 
  • If you have a current website, what is it not doing well? 
  • How will your CMS need to support your organization? 

Identify and prioritize your requirements

Once you have a good list, start writing a list of requirements. Some will just require a quick rephrase of a stated goal. Others will lead to a whole new list of items. For example, if your goal is to publish your events calendar online, but your events are currently managed in a different system, integration with that system is a potential requirement. 

Next start to prioritize these requirements. Rank your requirements from must-haves to nice-to-haves. This exercise helps you make the most informed decisions as you start to build your budget. Some items might need to come in a second phase after the first version of the site launches. 

Eliminate some options from the start

Understanding your organization's technical requirements can also help to eliminate some options. For example, if your IT infrastructure requires you to use .Net, then a Ruby, Python or PHP-based solution (like Drupal) may not be possible. More and more these restrictions are no longer a problem with modern hosting options, but it's one of the first questions to ask.

[Continue to Part 2: Consider Your Options]

This blog was posted by Sean on July 24, 2015.
Sean Fuller

About the Author

Sean Fuller

As Technology Director, Sean is a hands-on developer and technical lead on projects. He works with design and strategist teams from kick off through launch to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects. 

Front-End Developer Adam Smetana Joins Sandstorm

My name is Adam Smetana and I'm the newest addition to the Sandstorm dev team! Also, I have a twin sister. Fun fact: that's been my go-to icebreaker for as long as I can remember. (And no, we are not identical.)

I hail from Wisconsin, the land of cheese, kringle, and really, really good beer. As my favorite writer Hunter S. Thompson once said, "Good people drink good beer." My favorite cheese is parmesan, favorite kringle flavor is pecan, and favorite Wisconsin beer is anything from Lakefront Brewery.

My development experience and passion

I've been in the Chicagoland area for about 6 years now, ever since moving down here to go to Lewis University in Romeoville. I graduated with a degree in computer science and the goal of working in web development and web design. I also got minors in social media and theatre because, well, why not? I enjoy being social and still like to act occasionally, whether serving as an extra, performing karaoke, or awkwardly photo-bombing Barack Obama's website.

I started my career as a front-end developer doing various freelance projects. As my experience grew, my interest in learning and absorbing everything I could increased along with it. There really is nothing more rewarding than seeing something you created come to life in a medium that can be viewed anywhere and everywhere in the world.

More fun facts!

Most of my interests outside of work revolve around music. I know how to play 3 instruments (guitar, ukulele, and piano - if you must know), have read every issue of Rolling Stone within 24 hours of it landing in my mailbox, and go to as many concerts as I can. The show I'm most looking forward to this summer is Paul McCartney at Grant Park, which might rival The Replacements as Show of the Year (an award that exists only in my head). My top 3 favorite movies (in no particular order) are Halloween (1978), This is Spinal Tap, and High Fidelity.

I am so excited to be coming on board here at Sandstorm as a Front-End Developer and learning all I can about Drupal. Now – time to start cranking out some mind-blowing sites with this wonderful team. Cheers!

This blog was posted by on July 17, 2015.
Adam Smetana

About the Author

Adam Smetana

Adam's busy developing awesome websites for our clients. We'll have an equally awesome bio soon. 

Michael
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 Michael 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.

Michael
Why do you need a website maintenance plan for your Drupal website?

Congratulations on launching your new Drupal website. You can now rest assured that you never have to think about it again. It will automatically generate revenue and keep itself running for decades to come. Pat yourself on the back and have a drink. Your website is complete.

Well... this might not be entirely true.

In reality your website is never really finished. Just like with a car or home, things degrade over time. Your website is no different and you need to have a website maintenance plan.

What is website maintenance?

It is the process of keeping your website up to date and running smoothly. It involves applying security patches, monitoring web server performance, and maintaining your code base. This is on top of maintaining your content, products and/or users. You gotta do that, too. Major reasons to have a maintenance plan include security, performance, backups, and other considerations.

Security

Hackers are always looking for ways to compromise websites through new techniques or insecure code. It’s critical your website remains as secure as possible. This often involves applying security patches or software upgrades both at the code and server levels. One advantage to open source software like Drupal, is the community of developers finding security holes and contributing patches.

This is also a double edged sword. Once hackers identify a security hole, they can exploit it by targeting unmaintained sites. You are running a huge risk if you’re running a Drupal site and not keeping up with Drupal core and module security upgrades.

Performance

Performance affects the amount of time it takes for your website to load for a user on their device. This includes time to complete transactions like adding a product to a cart or submitting a form. Good website performance is good usability. Users will abandon a poorly performing website never to return. It’s also good for search engine optimization (SEO).

We include performance testing and tweaking as part of the launch process. Yet, performance can degrade over time as code, content, or the server environment changes. Perhaps your site’s traffic has increased and now requires more resources to meet user needs. Wouldn’t that be great? It is great if you’re monitoring your traffic, server performance, and page load times so you can ramp up to meet the demand.

Backups

Another component of a good website maintenance strategy is a solid backup and restore plan. Most web hosts keep some level of back ups and will either restore your site as part of your hosting package or for a fee.

While this provides a safety net, they usually only keep a short window of backups. You may need to restore your site to an earlier point than your host has kept. Or you may need to restore to a point since your host’s last backup. A defined backup strategy allows you to quickly bring your site back online whatever the case may be.

Other considerations

Broken Links
Each website page links to internal pages and external websites. These links can change over time as content expires and changes or as sites get redesigned. Keeping an eye on broken links and updating or adding redirects when urls change should be part of your maintenance plan. Broken links are detrimental to your SEO.

Web forms
It’s a good practice to test and confirm that each of your web forms are working as expected, this may include contact us, event registration, and newsletter signup forms. Hopefully you’re seeing regular submissions, but it’s possible another update affected these forms. We like to confirm everything is still working after applying other updates to a site.

Development and staging environments
When implementing development updates, you should avoid deploying new code and patches to your live website. It’s important to have a separate deveopment environment for developing and testing new features and security updates. You use a staging environment to review and confirm these updates before releasing them on your live website.

The value of maintenance

The cost of website maintenance outweighs the cost of fixing problems caused by a lack of maintenance. A website maintenance plan is an added level of insurance against security and server-related issues that can cause grief and lost revenue. At the end of the day, a well-maintained site is another component of a great user experience.

Need help with Drupal website maintenance? Get in touch.

This blog was posted by Michael on February 20, 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.

Jason
Drupal Development Firm Hires Outstanding Senior System Architect

We’re super excited to introduce our new Senior System Architect, Sean Fuller. Sean has nearly 2 decades of web development, agency, and Drupal development experience. He's worked on projects for brands in a variety of verticals: insurance, beverages, fast food, animal welfare, chemicals, transportation, nonprofit, publications, and early childhood education. (Whew, that’s a lot!)

As a Senior System Architect, Sean will be a hands-on application and Drupal web developer as well as the technical lead on projects. He will work with design and strategy teams from kick off through launch; to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects.

Sean just recently re-entered a carnivorous lifestyle after 22 years of being a vegetarian. In 2015, he and his wife, Rachel, have trips planned to Panama, El Salvador, and Ireland. Their cat, Missy Elliecat, will have to stay home.

This blog was posted by Jason on January 14, 2015.
Jason Dabrowski

About the Author

Jason Dabrowski

Jason is one of Sandstorm’s designers and also helps keep the office running smoothly. As a veteran of the theatre—from acting to directing, lighting to set design—he knows the value of hard work and a positive attitude. Look for his unique voice on the blog.

Kyle
Cache clearing menu

At Sandstorm, we do a lot of website maintenance. That can mean many different types of things like development of new site components, updating old content or creating new content. With each of these different types of work there is a popular issue that can cause panic: he or she forgets to clear his or her caches after making the updates.

Nothing changed. Is the site broken?

If you’ve ever maintained a website, or maybe just updated content on one, you may have come across a situation where it looks as though your edits didn’t save. This ultimately leads into what seems like a broken website, but turns out (after consulting a developer) that you just need to “clear your cache”.

What is “cache”?

Like most people, myself included, when this first happens you are probably wondering what in the world is a “cache”. Google will tell you that it is “a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place,” but that makes me even more confused. In layman’s terms, cache is a save file that allows web pages to load faster.  

When you arrive at a website, your browser takes elements of that page and saves them locally into “cache”. This way, the next time you decide to visit that specific page, your browser is going to remember how it looked the last time and, instead of downloading those pieces again, it will use what is stored in the cache to build the page. This results in a great performance boost. Unfortunately, it can, at least appear to, be a nightmare for content editors who don’t understand why their changes are not showing up on the live site.

It’s an easy issue to address

Even with this knowledge, I still come by this simple issue every so often (so don’t feel bad if you do, too). What you should remember is to clear your browser’s cache, refresh the page and see if your edits are now in place (this is particularly easy on a Drupal site). If your changes are not there after that, then you can run frantically to your local developer or IT department. Assure them that you did clear your cache, and this may actually be a real bug.

This blog was posted by Kyle on December 31, 2014.
Kyle Lamble

About the Author

Kyle Lamble

Kyle is your stereotypical bluehat hacker, by day, who wants you to upgrade your browser to support his love for cutting edge web development techniques. By night, he is a curator and publisher of art. Co-founder of Loosey Goosey Art, Kyle spends much of his off time helping artists find their inner potential.

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