Tomorrow is Independence Day. What does that mean? Is it just the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Is it an excuse to get tipsy in the glow of pyrotechnics? Is it a reminder of who we are and what we do? Does the day mean anything to you at all?
I asked the Sandstormers what America meant to them and got some interesting responses.
Cultural diversity, acceptance, and hamburgers, BBQ and tacos
As you can see, the answers are all over the map. Which is great! We’re individuals who are all over the map. Ranging from where we come from, where we live, what we do outside of the office, and what we eat and drink. (You can see on the left that some of us have already started celebrating.) We’re silly and range from normal to weird (I’m closer to the weird end). Despite all of this, we come together everyday to create great things for our clients, whether it’s full marketing campaigns, company mascots, Drupal websites... you name it.
This is what America means to me. It’s the culmination of people, experiences, and backgrounds to do something great.
To answer all of the questions I asked at the beginning: Yes. Tomorrow, and America for that matter, means what you want it to mean. Independence Day is not a celebration of a country or an anniversary. This is the celebration of who we are and what we do and, more importantly, the potential of what we can (and will) do.
We, here at Sandstorm hope to accomplish something great with you very soon, but for now we hope you have a great and safe celebration tomorrow, whether you’re at home for a quiet day, at the park watching fireworks, or traveling cross-country to light sparklers with family.
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.
For Jesse Lankford, our new Digital Production Designer, design is a way of life. He brings a curator’s eye to our designs and ensures every client’s brand shines.
Jesse studied Graphic Design at Columbia College and continued to cultivate his talent by joining the AIGA Chicago chapter. His ability to articulate a vision through disciplined design practice makes him a perfect fit within the Sandstorm creative team.
As one of the founders of Loosey Goosey, an art zine, Jesse provides a venue for underexposed artists to showcase their work. Through Loosey Goosey, Jesse curates art shows, designs the zine, and creates promotional materials to build recognition for the zine and the artists it supports.
1996 was a crazy time. Everyone was shouting “Show Me the Money!” or using a Fargo, ND accent. We were just meeting Kato Kaelin and teaching our friends the “Macarena”.
It was a huge year, the U.S. hosted the centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, and Star Wars was back in theaters for the first time since its original release. And oh yeah, people started using the internet more and more. Sure it was on Mosaic and Netscape browsers, but the World Wide Web was in more households than ever. The sites were amazing by 1996 standards, and well... “interesting” by 2013 standards.
There is one thing that was happening that no one anticipated, many websites from ‘96 are tablet responsive. What? I thought this was a new thing that only recently started happening.
Well, it just recently started happening on purpose. Many of the sites in ye olde ‘96, were built using HTML tables — which meant that they were adjustable based on the size of the browser window. So, with a small window you would have compact content and on a larger window everything was more spread out. In effect, the site was “responsive” to your large (or small), hot, CRT monitor. (Note to our hipster friends, do not make giant, heavy monitors hip again. Thanks.)
Are we saying to build using tables? No. Not at all. It’s just fun to see how things from the past relate to modern technology.
Trends tend to repeat themselves, and a lot from 1996 has come back again. Game of Thrones was first published then and now it’s a phenomenon. Tupac (1971-1996? R.I.P.) was “revived” at Coachella last year as a “hologram.” So, building sites that are adjustable based on screen size is back, too (just for different, more portable screens).
We’re reviving a few website gems that are excellent examples of “antique responsive”. (There’s also a wealth of great examples on the Wayback Machine, too.) Enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
I think the reason we are all so busy planning is that we are scared to think. If we think, that takes a leap of faith in ourselves that we will actually think of something worthwhile. Thinking is murky and unstructured, there is a possibility that you may spend a long time thinking and still not have the answer to your problem at hand. Thinking does not necessarily guarantee anything, but it does give you valuable perspective.
A plan on the other hand has structure—deadlines, action items, concrete goals and budget numbers. It is impersonal. A plan is about the metrics established by the organization and structured by the budget and timing parameters given to the team by someone else.
The problem is that I have personally seen so many well-organized and structured plans go awry because no one in the organization has paused to think. A goal is handed down with a budget and timeline; and then, with a heavy dose of organizational cognitive dissonance, a plan is created within a construct that may or may not make any sense. No one has asked why; just how, what and when have been addressed.
I know the caveat you will throw at me, "but Laura, we have no time to think." You are not going to like my response to this one: I think that’s a socially acceptable excuse to not think. I almost never leave a marketing presentation without someone quoting Steve Jobs in admiration. Do you think he was too busy to think?
Something else that is impacted by lack of thinking, your bottom line. I am always amazed by the good money thrown after bad, because Clients do not want to invest the time and money needed to create a thoughtful positioning or marketing strategy before diving right into a web site execution or social media promotion. Effective marketing tactics require thinking.
Do me a favor, start integrating a minute of thinking into your day. One minute. Ask "why?" at least once a day and let me know what happens.
Digital marketing and UX agency, Sandstorm Design is honored to be named one of the Top Interactive Agencies of 2013 by BtoB Magazine. Receiving this recognition for the third year in a row, Sandstorm is continuing to grow by nurturing talent and building creative solutions and intuitive user experiences for new and existing clients.
BtoB's Top Agencies List is a comprehensive compilation of the top 150 agencies in the United States. BtoB Magazine's Kate Maddox said, “Many of the top b-to-b agencies registered double-digit growth last year though new clients and organic growth.” Sandstorm is poised to continue the momentum built in 2012 by partnering with clients such as CIC Plus, MathWorks, and CareerBuilder for a successful 2013.
BtoB Magazine is a Crain's Communications Inc. publication and is a trusted source and platform for top marketing professionals to grow and learn in the b-to-b space.
Sandstorm adds creative and development support with the new hire of our Production Administrator, Jason Dabrowski. A truly organized and creative individual, his charismatic personality and natural IT talent is why we are excited to welcome him to our team. As the welcoming face of Sandstorm, Jason will be supporting the creative and development teams with production of all varieties—Photoshop, InDesign, HTML, CSS and more.
Jason, who is skilled on many levels of organization and artistry, initially came from an administrative background. Explorative in nature, Jason exemplifies our learning and sharing culture with his passion for figuring things out. Whenever asked if he can do something new, he replies, “I don’t know. Let’s see.” Always wanting to stay current with digital technology trends, Jason has taken Digital Bootcamp twice.
Not just a techy, Jason loves the arts and donates his time to Hubris Productions as both the Communications Director and an actor.
After over a year of Sandstorming, Will has been promoted to Writing, Research and Production—a title reflective of his many talents. As Sandstorm continues to grow, so do its employees. Will said the transition period has been one of his strongest growth spurts. He's reached a personal and professional goal: do more great work, better.
Passionate about communication, Will explains that every facet of his new position—writing, research and production—encompasses it. "Writing is obvious. Usability testing and user research involves listening to people," Will says, and his production role results in creating pieces that communicate a client's brand to their audience.
Being the culture vulture that he is, Will spends his spare time writing sketch comedy and going to the opera. "Whether it's through the written word, on stage or through music, conveying our thoughts, ideas and feelings are at the core of the human experience." With an extensive music background to boot, Will is Sandstorm's triple threat.
A new addition to our growing team, Emily Kodner, a Kansas City native and self-proclaimed BBQ snob, has adopted Chicago, but not its BBQ. In her position as Senior Digital Strategist, she consults with clients, leading projects and working alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.
Having a Bachelor's in Sociology and International Studies, a Master’s degree in International Affairs with a concentration in Conflict Resolution, and a decade shy of experience as a project manager and content strategist, Emily is exceptionally talented at getting to the bottom of an issue. She makes the complex simple and creates the plan to make it all happen. Specializing in content, Drupal site architecture and CMS strategy, Emily’s ability to develop innovative solutions is crucial when determining the needs of our clients and their target audiences.
On top of making it all happen on the job, she also herds the team out of the office once in a while for chips, guac, and margaritas.
There's a distinct usability difference between navigating a web site on a desktop with a mouse and on a tablet or mobile device with your finger. A mouse is accurate to the pixel. Fingers are far less precise. They’re particularly less precise if you have big fat caveman fingers like mine.
This came to mind this morning as I inadvertently accepted a LinkedIn request on my iPad that I intended to ignore. It’s true, I don't willy nilly accept every LinkedIn request I get... but that's another rant. The options were just too close together and like I said, I've got caveman hands.
Physical Space, Not Pixels
This is just one example of why you need to consider real world physical space when designing for tablet and mobile. Bigger pointing devices, like fingers, need bigger targets. Between Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and MIT’s Touch Lab the recommended guidelines for touch targets are between 8 and 14mm with a minimum of 2mm of spacing between actions (source: Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski).
Guidelines, Not Rules
LinkedIn followed the guidelines for some of their targets. However, guidelines are meant to lead you in the right direction, not force you into a rigid structure. How often the target is used and its position on the screen should also be considered for optimal usability. Context and common sense should lead your design if you want it to facilitate human behavior.
The touch targets below are the worst offenders. The options arrow (B) is far too small and placed too close to the accept button (A), making it too easy to accidentally accept a request when all you wanted to do was view the options. Accidentally tapping on a nav item is frustrating. Accidentally tapping on the wrong action item causes you to blog about it.
Thumbs, Not Cursors
Here's a good rule of thumb (pun intended) when designing targets for mobile. Just ask yourself, “Could I hit it with my thumb?”
Chicago native Laura Luckman Kelber has joined the Sandstorm executive leadership team as our Strategy Director. Demonstrating our commitment to growth and providing more thought leadership to our clients, Sandstorm hired Laura to fill a new role at Sandstorm—a role that is solely focused on solving clients’ marketing problems by bridging the gap between what is and what could be.
After many years of working for large agencies, Laura wanted more time to practice her craft. With both a B.S. in Political Science and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Illinois, and 20 years of marketing experience, Laura borrows from a variety of intellectual constructs to solve clients’ problems. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success. Having led digital strategies for top brands such as Sprint, Victoria’s Secret and State Farm in her previous positions, Laura has a variety of vertical experience. Sandstorm provides Laura with the perfect environment to foster thoughtful creativity and apply it to our clients’ businesses.
A unique individual from the (sometimes pink, sometimes purple) tips of her hair to her warm smile, Laura’s charismatic personality is magnetic. A passionate vegetarian, Laura has recently delved into the macro and micro impacts of nutrition on society. As her favorite author, Dorothy Parker, would say, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
We are so excited to announce that — for the 3rd year in a row! — our UX agency is one of Brill Street's Top Chicago Gen Y Employers for 2012.
Here at Sandstorm, a Gen Y employee has the opportunity to shine doing what they do best and to be proud of it whether it be interactive marketing strategy, UX design or Drupal web development!
Our Warrior Spirit drives us to create compelling online experiences and cutting edge work — all while having loads of fun!
Inspired by the idea of giving back, this year the team came together to create an interactive holiday card inviting users to choose a charity for Sandstorm to donate towards. We were encouraged to make the card fun and, most importantly, to make it our own.
Sandstormers have the platform to do great work, to learn and grow, and to become part of a forward-thinking UX agency. It's a great place to work for everyone: generations X,Y, and the eventual (hopefully awesomely futuristic) Z!
The benefits of video marketing are stacking up. If you've put video creation on the back burner, consider these five benefits that can increase your web presence and up your conversions.
1. Make the complex...less complex
If a picture says a thousand words, imagine what a video has to say. If you're in the business of complex technology or seemingly “dry” services, video can add the pizazz you need to explain or engage potential clients. How can you convert a lead who doesn't understand your business? Video is your chance to do a little “show and tell”. For National Association of REALTORS® Global, Sandstorm created this custom motion graphic to explain to REALTORS® the opportunities available when selling to global real estate buyers. By use of visual representation, it becomes more meaningful; it's now more than just statistical information.
[TIP] Make sure your video is in the right format. Animation is great for explaining complex ideas and processes. Live video encourages a human connection and lets you showcase your company culture.
2. Easy to like, easy to share
Here’s a crazy stat: Each minute, over 700 YouTube videos are shared to Twitter. One could say the idea of sharing is embedded in all of us. And this idea of garnering views isn't just for B2C either, consider the B2B video made by Corning explaining the myriad uses for their glass technology. Right now, it has over 20 million views!
They've successfully taken content about glass manufacturing and made it shareable. What content do you have right now that's missing its opportunity to be shared?
[TIP] Don't take the “user” out of user experience. In order to get your video shared, make sure:
the content is relevant to your audience
it’s placed on the right page in your site
and uploaded throughout your social media channels.
3. There's always a link back home
After sharing your video, expect it to travel the web. Just be sure to equip it with plenty of links to drive viewers back to your site. Think of it as a traveling salesman who never runs out of business cards. When hosting on YouTube, add a link in the description and make sure your URL is at the end of the video. YouTube also lets you create floating links that direct viewers back to your YouTube channel or to subscribe. Consider using these to increase viewership of all your videos.
[TIP] Take advantage of YouTube Analytics to monitor and track video viewership.
4. Improves visibility in search engines
Search engines rank quality web sites higher. So what is considered "quality"? Video and other media content, low bounce rates and longer times on pages are all contributing factors. Living Direct Inc found that, "Consumers...spend 9% more time on a page when video is present." Having engaging video can improve your SEO by enriching the type of content on your site and ultimately keeping viewers on your site longer.
[TIP] Optimize your videos by incorporating keywords (title tag, description, etc). Also, consider adding subtitles (on YouTube) as they can help up your SEO.
5. Video is Memorable
Picture this scenario:
A prospective client (let's call him Mike—there are 3 Mikes working here!) is shopping around for services you offer. After looking at fifteen different companies, the information begins to blur together. Then, as Mike is explaining his favorite to the team, he finds himself explaining the services using what he learned in your video. You’ve not only planted yourself in Mike's memory, you've helped him make it easier to get the approval he needs to purchase. (Plus, sharing YouTube videos makes him look cool.)
It has been proven that viewers retain more information when visuals are implemented. Consider this as a tool to not only stand apart from competition, but also to be remembered at the end of the day. This video from Eloqua explains the future of revenue with voiceover and animation. It has all the right tools for success, and reaps the benefits accordingly:
[TIP] Empathy, story, and humor are three essential tools for creating memorable video, says Author Kevin Daum. Be sure to weave these elements into your video whenever appropriate.
Has you seen any of these benefits? Share your video in the comments!
Let's face it, some blogs are just boring. Blogs aren't white papers. They are stories written by people. Opinions, levity, original ideas, relevant humor, these are things that all humans have, and corporate blogs should be no different. That doesn't mean that it can't be “professional.” None of those attributes disqualify anyone from being seen as an expert; it just means that it should have some life! But how?
Tune Your Tone
Tone is tricky, and corporate blogs have a history of tonal shortcomings. Finding your tone will come from your culture:
the attitudes of your employees
the environment of your office
the creativity of your work
Don't stifle these things. Each of them goes into what makes your company unique and can drive your content strategy. One of the best ways to share that uniqueness is with a company blog.
Craft Your Conversation
In The Corporate Blogging Book, Debbie Weil says there are three Cs of blogging, "be conversational, cogent, and compelling." Blogs should start dialogues with your audience, not force rhetoric down their throats. Caterpillar regularly uses their blog to engage in relevant discussions with their audience. Maintaining a conversational tone is key to avoiding a boring blog. Have some fun — you can have an expert voice and still have a heart. It can be a fancy three-piece suit with a silly tie. Also, don't forget to follow up with audience comments to keep the conversation going. Check out web app company 37 Signals blog.
Be, Befriend, or Buy a Blogger
You have established a tone and crafted the conversation you want to have with your audience, but there is still one more big hurdle. You may be the foremost thinker in the area of international toothpaste distribution, but that doesn't necessarily make you a blogger. If you look to your innerself and don't find a blogger, chances are there is someone capable within your office. It is easier, and smarter, to dictate your ideas to someone who already has a grasp on tone, than to try to "discover" it yourself. If all else fails, hire someone. Finding someone who can succinctly capture the voice of your company, while still being entertaining and conversational is essential to beating the boredom! Are you ready to breathe life into your corporate blog?
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).
was the night before Christmas, at Sandstorm Design. User Experience was on everyone’s mind. Our clients were happy and handled with care With hopes that our work would increase their share.
The developers were nestled all snug in their chairs, While visions of wireframes danced ‘tween their ears. And I in my sweatpants with a glass of eggnog, Had just settled in to write a holiday blog.
When on Ravenswood Ave there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my Mac to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew with great zest, Passing coworkers implementing usability tests.
The light from a projector where brainstormers meet, Gave the lustre of mid-day to those on the street. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St Nick. He shouted, “I’ve come to bring holiday tides, But, first tell me the services that Sandstorm provides!”
Now Sandstorm, we aide those, whose websites need fixin’. Rebranding, designing, and marketing mixin’. Our SEO’s white hat, our UX has flow. We’ve been named a top Gen Y business 3 years in a row.
Santa spoke not a word, he just gave me a smile. And began stacking presents in a neat little pile. We Sandstormers gathered ‘round the jolly old elf, We sang and we laughed in spite of ourselves.
He then sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good-Night!"
A great novel has a cohesive plot, strong characters, and a reliable narrator. A great business model is no different. Your mission statement is the plot. Your employees are the characters that make the plot a reality. Then there’s the narrator, a voice that guides the reader through the material, someone reliable that relates to a specific audience segment...a mascot.
At this point, a lot of B2B companies may be saying to themselves, “Decent analogy, but how does any of this apply to me? Mascots are a B2C tool, right?” While it’s true that the most top-of-mind mascots are usually selling high-fructose corn syrup to children, B2B mascots are on the rise, especially in technology companies.
Those in the tech field are in a constant struggle between the creative and the professional. It makes sense to want to appear as a leader in your industry. But the need to be seen as professional by prospective clients can sometimes overshadow the need to effectively guide customers through the decision-making process. A brand mascot can be that guide.
The email marketing software provider MailChimp, is a perfect example of a B2B tech company overcoming the mascot struggle. Their mascot is a chimp named Freddy that delivers all the humanizing and brand awareness one could ask for, and in no way does he hurt the credibility of the company. Finding the balance between a silly character and an effective business tool can be tricky. MailChimp’s graphic designer wrote a very interesting blog post about how their mascot has evolved over time to become the narrator the company needed.
So what makes a mascot effective? Any good mascot does two things. It humanizes a company by creating a personal relationship with its customers, while also increasing brand awareness. In order to accomplish these tasks, the mascot must be an engaging, memorable character with an emotional design and a functional use.
This is Duke. He is the mascot for the software platform Java. According to their website, Duke was designed to represent a "software agent" that performed tasks for the user. He provides an interactive experience that goes well beyond what one would expect from a B2B business. As Duke’s popularity grew so did Java’s. He can now be found at every conference that Java attends, and since becoming “open-sourced” in 2006, anyone can design their own Duke. The current incarnation includes a jetpack and blue wings.
That personal touch and connectivity with a customer is what makes mascots a unique UX tool. In the world of B2B tech companies there isn’t a lot of levity. Giving your customer a real face to interact with (especially if that face is furry) can go a long way to improving their experience.
LogMyCalls.com is a call tracking platform. They specialize in analyzing and tracking phone calls for businesses. But take one look at their website and you’ll soon find that those calls aren’t being analyzed and tracked by people or even by computers, but by a beaver named Bernard. He adds a personal touch to the user’s experience. Sometimes all that a customer needs is a helping hand, or paw, or flipper.
Mascots like Bernard, Duke and Freddy provide brand recall that goes well beyond a logo or tagline. Because they are an active narrator of a brand, mascots can be continuously weaved into the brand’s story. As more and more B2B tech companies start effectively using new faces to relate to their customers, it begs the question...Who do you want to tell your story?
At Sandstorm Design, we create powerful brand experiences.... Learn more about Sandstorm Design's marketing services.
One of Sandstorm's cornerstones has always been to learn and share at every possible opportunity. After being named a Top Gen Y employer for the third year in a row, we are building upon that cornerstone once more. Sandstorm Design is proud to announce the birth of our brand new Sandstorm Internship Program!
We are always looking for new ideas and a fresh voice. This program will bring together our strong, well-respected workforce with a new drive to learn and share. While the internship program is still in its infancy, we are already seeing progress. We have recently hired our first Social Media and Copywriting Intern, and boy is he handsome. Full disclosure, he is writing this blog post. My name is Matt Chiaramonte and I am looking forward to contributing to not only this blog, but also to many future creative and informative discussions regarding strategic marketing in an ever-evolving environment. Say that five times fast.
Internship Program Details
We plan to continue to grow this program and have begun working with local Chicago recruiting channels including Columbia College Chicago, Loyola University and Internships.com. In the near future, we will be looking for individuals to help us out in the fields of:
Sales and Marketing
Social Media & Copywriting
This internship program serves as a tool that provides professional experience in the interactive world to creative and intelligent individuals. We look forward to finding and working with interns to help achieve our mission.
While proud of every accomplishment and accolade we are lucky enough to receive, Sandstorm will never stop moving forward. We believe that hard work, innovation, and positivity make us more than just a great company; they make us a great family. We look forward to adding a few new members.
To apply, please send a cover letter and your resume to email@example.com include 140 characters as to why you want to intern at Sandstorm. In the subject line, include what type of work you're interested in (sales/marketing, social media, copywriting).
We're excited to welcome Carley Marcelle as Sandstorm's very first intern. She is working hands-on with sales and marketing to implement and manage critical duties that support Sandstorm’s aggressive business development strategy. These tasks include: marketing research, media channel strategy, media planning and negotiating, presentation development, and proposal writing/proofing. Carley already feels like part of the family. “Sandstorm has been a blessing. Not only is the industry and learning experience incredible, but it embodies a work philosophy and environment that most organizations today can only dream of.”
She'll also be helping develop a full-fledged internship program (details to come!). Fun fact: Carley is also an actor with video producing chops – and has a contagious enthusiasm that fills a room.
Nathan Haas joins Sandstorm as our newest User Interface Designer. Nathan last worked with a web design firm based in Washington, D.C. where he worked on both print and interactive web design projects with associations, healthcare and government.
When he's not at Sandstorm creating impactful user interfaces, he's traveling, cooking, playing lacrosse or spending time at the beach (he was a life-guard for 5 years). Nathan and his girlfriend Lauren, who met at the University of Tennessee, started a blog together that focuses on cooking high-end meals for two on a low-end budget. And as a true designer, Nathan puts his design touch on all of his projects—he designed the logo for the cooking blog and does apparel design for a few lacrosse teams.
That's right, we're moving to the new Basecamp! The new version of our project management and collaboration tool was released this past spring. After spending some time reviewing the new features, we decided it was finally time to make the move. As of September 4, the day after Labor Day, all of our projects will be migrated to the new Basecamp.
So, for our current clients, that means you'll be seeing a fresh new interface when you log in. But not to worry. Change is good! Catching up on updates, collaborating and sharing will all be faster and simpler.
Check out the images below. The project page compiles all parts of the project in one place, and the calendar allows easier at-a-glance understanding of the project timeline. We're excited to see how everyone likes it!
The project page includes all the pieces of a project – messages, to-dos, files and more. However you'll notice messages are now called discussions. And the writeboards have been changed to text documents that will allow text formatting.
To-do items are now listed on the calendar along with the larger milestones.
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.
Some of the staff at Sandstorm, literally showing upward growth!
2012 is proving to be yet another award-winning year for Sandstorm Design! In March we were named as a Top B2B Interactive Agency by Crain's BtoB Magazine. And this week, our Principal Sandy Marsico traveled to Boston to attend the awards ceremony for the Top 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies in America. We are so honored and humbled to have landed at the #43 spot, with a 33% 5-year annual growth.
With our Chicago marketing firm's move to a larger space last year and hiringanumberofnewemployees, we've been steadily and strategically growing. We couldn't be more excited about this achievement, and we thank Fortune, Harvard, ICIC and all of our amazing partners who've worked with us to create impactful work!
As with all things, the first step you probably took was a Google search to learn the basics of Drupal. But that quick search may bring up some overwhelming results as a lot of the information out there is actually for the thousands and thousands of Drupal developers who have made this content management system what it is today.
But you're not a developer, and no one expects you to be! (That's what we're here for.) You're what we call a content administrator. And we've put together some of the Drupal basics you'll need, without all that developer mumbo jumbo.
There are three main types of content on a Drupal site - Basic Pages, Articles, and Webforms. Each type has its own set of fields and purposes:
Basic page - Just what it sounds like, a basic page. This content type will usually have fields like a main header, sub header and body content and is used for most of the pages on your site (like About Us, Products, or Services).
Articles - These can be used for blog entries or news items. They have fewer fields than a basic page and include special fields like author and date.
Webforms - This content type is for the forms on your site, like Contact Us.
Every site needs some form of navigation. The menus let you take the different pieces of content on your website and organize them in an outline. The main menu, for example could be made up of a few basic pages like About Us, Products, and Services, and a webform for your Contact Us page.
Blocks are smaller chunks of content that might show on a page but wouldn't be part of the content type. For example, you might have a callout on all the pages of your site. If this callout is a block, you can edit it once and the changes will show on every page.
CONTENT + MENUS + BLOCKS = YOUR WEBSITE!
When you take these different pieces and add them together, they make up your website! Look at the example Drupal website below and see if you can identify the different elements:
BASIC PAGE CONTENT
Although we call it a basic page, not everything on the page is part of the basic page content. Notice in the image below that the basic page content only takes up the center of the page...
That's because the rest of the information on the page is either a menu or a block. There are three menus on this page—the main menu on the top left, the secondary menu below that and a utility menu in the upper right corner.
Finally, the callout on the right is a block. It would be edited separately from the basic page content in the center, and the changes would be carried over to any other pages on the site that include the block.
There you have it, now you understand content types, menus and blocks! The basics of Drupal are easy to grasp, and once you log in and start updating, you'll love the ease and flexibility of it. Of course, if you ever need more than content updates, our Drupal developers would love to work on your website!
We are so excited to announce that not only is our web design firm one of Brill Street’s Top Chicago Gen-Y Employers for 2011, we’ve also moved up the list of 50 since last year—to the top 20! With freedoms to define our own culture, opportunities to give each other praise and recognition, and traditions around holidays and events, we’ve got a workplace fit for any Gen-Yer.
And it’s not just the fun (although, yes, we know how to have a good time), it’s the collaboration, teamwork and team-building activities that allow us to grow together and work better together so that at the end of the day we can kick our feet up and appreciate every aspect of our jobs—the people, the work, the environment, the culture... oh, and of course the food!
Truth is, Sandstorm is a great place to work no matter who you are. Read more about our Chicago web design company on Brill Street’s Top 50 Chicago Generation Y Employers List.
When Adobe announced their decision to stop Flash development for mobile devices, we certainly weren't surprised. It's been a year since we've had any requests for Flash of any kind. But if you've been hearing that this is the end of Flash altogether, don't think that means it's time to toss it if you've got it.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it
When styling practices started moving away from tables-based layouts (way back when) there was a rush to convert anything and everything to tableless layouts with CSS. While many sites really did need to overcome some huge inefficiencies, others that were working perfectly fine in tables underwent redesigns just to be able to say they were now up-to-date. In reality, they could have waited until the need to change arose.
While mobile is growing and eventually we'll all want to have our sites accessible from any device, that doesn’t mean we all need it immediately.
Check your analytics. If you don't have a very large mobile audience yet, and you're already using Flash effectively—then keep it! There's no reason to get rid of a perfectly wonderful experience built in Flash if your audience is accessing it just fine.
HTML5 for Mobile
If after checking your analytics you find that you do have a growing mobile audience, then HTML5 is the way to go. Along with Adobe's Flash statement, they also said they would be contributing to HTML5 for mobile. It’s universally compatible with mobile devices (iPhone, Android and beyond). The downside is that it isn’t completely functional in all desktop browsers yet.
Beyond the web site
Let's not forget, Flash isn't just for web sites. It's been used to create some amazing applications for use at tradeshows and conferences. And the great news is that these applications aren't affected by the mobile barrier, so Flash is still a great option for creating them.
At Sandstorm, we love the beautiful interactive work that has come from Flash. The Johnny Cash Project is one of our favorites. We even built an interactive conversation for a large insurance company. And while we'll always have a soft spot for Flash, we’re also extremely excited about the opportunities HTML5 creates. Regardless of the technology, we're just happy to be building powerful interactive experiences.
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.