Blogs By Author

Joshua
ux, ux strategy, strategy, usability, 2017, trends

Everyone makes predictions on the next big trend for 2017. This year, we ditched the crystal ball to give you actionable UX strategies that will drive growth and innovation in your organization.

 

1. Tap into your data and do something with it

Are you collecting tons of data but not using it? Are you looking at pages of reports with no actionable information? These are lost data mining opportunities that can help prioritize initiatives and allow your business to expand or pivot. When data is combined from multiple sources and analyzed properly, it can help you make more informed digital marketing decisions that can save marketing dollars or drive additional revenue. For 2017, commit to creating an analytics strategy to regularly uncover insights from your data.

 

2. Stop guessing and simply talk to your users

Take the subjectivity out of internal meetings and go straight to the source. It’s easier and cheaper than ever before to have quick and meaningful conversations with your users through social, one-to-one phone interviews, in-person at conferences and events, and usability studies. (Did you know you only need 5-6 users from a particular user group to identify 80% of the usability issues?)

 

3. Build a customer journey map

Brand engagements are moving off computer screens to cell phones, tablets, wearable tech, gaming consoles, and even smart devices like refrigerators. Understanding all the various touch points along your customer’s journey is critical to providing the consistent, personalized brand experience they expect.

 

4. Look outside your industry for inspiration

It’s easy to see what everyone else is doing within your industry. To identify white space opportunities for your organization, look up and out (e.g., if customer service is your differentiator, look at Southwest Airlines or Disney). Businesses in other industries may have already solved the problem you are looking to tackle—it just takes a little mindshift to find them.

 

Turning these 4 UX strategies into priorities in 2017 will give you quantitative and qualitative rationale to make better (and less subjective) digital marketing decisions.  

 
This blog was posted by Joshua on January 18, 2017.
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.

Joshua
Patrick Schreiber, Full Stack Engineer

The Sandstorm team keeps growing with the addition of Patrick Schreiber!

 

Patrick got into web and software design after building video games in college and has loved every minute of it. His work philosophy is inspired by the book “Rework,” and the passage about opening a hot dog stand. If you imagine you’re opening a hot dog stand, what do you need? You need a great hot dog. Everything else is peripheral, the condiments, decor, even the bun itself. If you can nail down the root of the product, then everything else will fall into place. So Patrick starts from the top (the blue-sky idea), validates the concept, pares down to the root of the problem before building out the idea.

 

Patrick is looking forward to applying his philosophy at Sandstorm by building customer-facing tech that directly impacts the user’s experience and their enjoyment of a product.

 

When off the clock, Patrick can be found playing pool and video games, curing homemade jerky, or making music in his home studio.

This blog was posted by Joshua on January 11, 2017.
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.

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Joshua
Joe Ruel, Front End Developer

Hey there, I’m Joe, the new front end developer here at Sandstorm. I’m beyond happy to be working with such a fantastic team!

Although I didn’t start thinking about being a developer until the latter end of high school, I’ve been interested in using a computer to make things for as long as I can remember. In grade school, I spent hours directing and editing short movies with my friends and family. In college, I majored in interactive media with a concentration in game design, which was my main introduction to the world of development. In addition, I minored in graphic design and computer science, which served as a great foundation for transitioning more and more into web development.

I learned quite a bit during the past couple of years at my job right out of college. I was able to cut my teeth on a lot of different aspects of web development before settling on front end development as my primary passion. I’m excited to contribute to a team that is so passionate about their work, and am looking forward to learning as much as I can in the process.

In my spare time, I’m probably spending way too much time watching the Cubs (I wrote a Twitter bot last year that tweets out whenever the St. Louis Cardinals lose a game), catching some live music, relaxing with a video game, or working on a personal project (which usually never gets finished or sees the light of day, but still serves as a good way to teach myself new things).

 

This blog was posted by Joshua on January 6, 2017.
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.

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Joshua

With 2017 right around the corner, the Sandstorm team has been dreaming about what’s to come in the new year. Taking our core values as inspiration (Warrior Spirit, Learning and Sharing, and Have Fun!), we each set a New Year’s resolution. From running 5Ks to learning a new language to dancing more, our goals for 2017 ran the gamut (you can see all of them here).

 

Dreaming is never enough for us, so we activated 6 of our resolutions as GIFs to celebrate the season with all of you.


core value: warrior spirit

resolutions: compete in a 5K race

 

Many of our staff have the classic resolution to run a 5K, but our Copywriter Bill wants to compete in a race to raise money for Open Heart Magic. Bill is a magician for the nonprofit Open Heart Magic, which brings the surprise and excitement of magic to children in Chicago area hospitals.

 

 


core value: warrior spirit

resolution: plan a beautiful wedding

 

Lisa, one of our Digital Strategists, just got engaged! So who can blame her for having the big day on her mind? Her resolution is planning a beautiful wedding and fun reception while keeping her type A personality at bay.

 

 


core value: learning and sharing

resolution: learn a new language

 

Most of our staff have been bitten by the travel bug, but our Creative Director John and Production Designer Jason are taking it one step further by learning Italian and Japanese, respectively.

 

 


core value: learning and sharing

resolution: learn new tech skills

 

Staying on top of the latest tech developments is just part of being a Sandstormer. Andy, our Senior Engineer and Team Lead, is going to extend his knowledge by becoming a Drupal 8 expert and Joshua, our Marketing Manager, wants to master HTML so he can perfect our email newsletters.

 

 


core value: have fun!

resolution: dance like nobody’s watching

 

Our Front-End Developer Adam will be relieving some stress in 2017 by letting loose and not caring what anyone thinks.

 

 

 


core value: have fun!

resolution: I want to be the very best, like no one ever was.

 

Pokemon took over the world this summer, and our office was no different. Interaction Designer Jesse’s new life motto also happens to be lyrics from the Pokémon theme.

 

 

 


Sandstorm is happy to assist in dreaming up 2017 marketing resolutions with you and help activate them in the new year.

This blog was posted by Joshua on December 14, 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.

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Joshua

The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and Fortune has announced that Sandstorm has been selected for prestigious 2016 Inner City 100 list. This recognition places Sandstorm in an exemplary lineage of nearly 900 fast-growing and innovative inner city businesses.

ICIC’s Inner City 100 is an annually compiled and released list featuring high-power, high-potential businesses from around the country with headquarters in inner cities. Each company is selected by ICIC with help from a national network of nominating partners who seek to identify, spotlight, and further enable the named companies’ innovative urban entrepreneurship. Ranked by revenue growth, the esteemed recipients go on to have their names published in Fortune.

Sandstorm ranked 95 overall on the list of 100 and it is the third time we have been honored with this distinction. We reported 2015 revenues of 4.29 million and a five-year growth rate of 117% percent from 2011-2015. In the past year Sandstorm has added a number of new positions, including a Digital Strategist, Marketing Manager, Front-End Developer, Director of Analytics & Optimization and a Creative Director

The full list can be viewed on the Fortune website here.

 “We are extraordinarily proud of these pioneering entrepreneurs who lead the way in economic revitalization in America’s inner cities,” says Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC, of the list of 100.

The Inner City 100 program recognizes and supports successful inner city business leaders, and celebrates their role in providing innovation and job creation in America’s cities. These companies strengthen local American economies, provide job opportunities for underrepresented communities, and drive forward economic and social development. 

This blog was posted by Joshua on December 7, 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.

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Joshua

I can finally break my silence.

 

In July, I was lucky enough to be a part of the first ever screening for Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. While sneak peek screenings seem like a nice movie treat, the studio did it to gather user research on the film. So, in exchange for my feedback, I got to see a highly anticipated holiday movie months before anyone else. I also signed my life away so that I wouldn’t leak any spoilers before the movie was released.

 

But now that Newt Scamander’s beasts have escaped I can share my viewing experience with you.

 

First off, the movie I saw wasn’t even finished. The Demiguise and other beasts were barely animated, and some scenes didn’t have CGI effects at all (we just saw captions about what was supposed to be going on). Also, they added a completely new supporting character and announced Johnny Depp’s cameo as Grindelwald; the movie has clearly changed.

 

The interesting thing is that the studio still wanted feedback on this uncompleted version of the movie. It was finished enough that it ran as a coherent story that could be critiqued, but it was also early enough in the process that changes could be made without costing a fortune.

 

Sandstorm® follows a similar path in project management: We test or get client feedback multiple times throughout a project to gather insights and make small changes along the way. This allows us to create informed designs, manage our resources better, and avoid redoing work because everyone was not on the same page.

 

To find the insights the studio was looking for they utilized 3 user research methods:

  • Survey –Everyone in the theater was asked to fill out a 6-page survey. This included demographic info on the viewers, previous interest in the Harry Potter universe, and what we did and didn’t like about the human characters, beasts and the movie in general.
  • Focus Group – A handful of people stayed behind to participate in a focus group and give more feedback on the movie.
  • Observation–The studio had people stationed all over the theater ready to record the audience reaction (i.e., did a certain scene get the laugh they were expecting?).  

This mix of research methods resulted in both qualitative and quantitative data that the studio used to tweak the movie and the marketing strategy for optimal appeal to no-majs and wizards alike.

 

Sandstorm is ready to apply these research methods, and many more, to help create a magical brand experience for your business.

This blog was posted by Joshua on November 22, 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.

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Joshua
user research, UX, usability, World Usability Day, UX research

There seems to be a holiday for everything now, including user experience. And Sandstorm couldn’t help but celebrate it.

The theme for World Usability Day 2016—Sustainable User Experience (UX)—unites UX and sustainability through the shared objective of creating unparalleled experiences. At Sandstorm, we understand the impact UX research and design can have on projects and, most importantly, people.

So we got excited to capitalize on our UX expertise while cleaning up our office recycling habits.

We assembled a team of eco-warriors—aka UX architects and marketing specialists—to investigate our team’s recycling habits. By utilizing user interviews—one of many types of user research—for this project, we were able to better understand current behaviors in the office and identify opportunities for improvement.

We asked our team members questions about their basic recycling knowledge, why they recycle, and what keeps them from recycling at the office. We uncovered two key findings from our research and, as a result, devised four ways to improve recycling.  

Key Findings

  1. The majority of Sandstormers want to, and do, recycle
  2. The most significant barrier to recycling is Sandstormers’ uncertainty as to whether an item can be recycled or not

Ways to Improve Recycling at Sandstorm

  1. Ensure bins are present by every desk and in every conference room
  2. Clearly communicate what can and cannot be recycled
  3. Reduce plasticware/food waste
  4. Explore purchasing a dishwasher

Usability is about tweaking what you currently have to create a more effective experience; our user research showed that—with Sandstormers already in the habit of recycling—we need only to implement a few minor changes to encourage greener behaviors. 

And just because we have action items now doesn’t mean our process is over. We will continue to track office recycling, and do follow up user research, to ensure office recycling is optimized for a greener tomorrow.

This blog was posted by Joshua on November 10, 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.

Joshua
Alliance for Audited Media, AAM, Responsive Website, Web Design, Web Development, Content Audit

Here at Sandstorm we don’t simply “refresh” a website, we help businesses evolve their brand. Which is exactly what we did for Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) when they wanted their website to project a more modern feel with digital prowess. 

Our first move was a content audit to get our arms around the site and understand the complex mission of AAM (empowering media professionals with trusted verification and data). From there we created a set of information architecture (IA) guidelines that informed the responsive website design. Through our thoughtful research and strict IA guidelines we were able to deliver a new website, with approachable messaging, that spoke to their various audiences. 

This blog was posted by Joshua on October 28, 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.

Joshua
Responsive web app

While it would have been easy to take a don’t-mess-with-success approach, our warrior spirit drove us to collaborate with a large insurance company's federal employee program to further optimize their existing responsive web application (which we built a year earlier) to continue to increase online enrollment.

We started with a thoughtful review of their Google Analytics and conducted a heuristic analysis of the app. This allowed us to dig into the data analytics and find new opportunities to improve the application. Combine that with our existing expertise in the FEP program, and we were able to make some adjustments and update the overall interface to provide their users with an even more intuitive tool to help them find a benefit plan that fits their needs.

Sandstorm® is ready to help you develop a web app to convert your users.

This blog was posted by Joshua on October 19, 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.

Joshua
Sandstorm Staff, our culture, Super Secret Event, Sandstorm Hunt

In the spirit of our 3rd core value, Have Fun, each year Sandstorm has a Super Secret Event! Our Co-Captains of Fun, Alicia Newland & Nathan Hass, plan everything with our CEO Sandy Marsico. In past years we have gone to a Cubs game, an arcade & bowling.

This year we grabbed lunch at Emerald Loop, to ensure everyone was maxed out on energy for the main event: a scavenger hunt. The staff broke up into 5 teams for a digital scavenger hunt taking us all over the loop. The riddle clues led us to familiar landmarks like the Chicago Theater & the Chicago Cultural Center, and some interesting new places like Harlan J. Berk Ltd., coin dealer, looking for trivia answers. Some of the clues were a little more active and we had to snap a picture of the team doing ballet outside of the Joffery Ballet, posing on 1 leg with Calder’s Flamingo statue in Federal Plaza and double-checking the time with the famous Marshal Fields Great Clock.

 

Our core values help us accomplish our mission: to create a place for like-minded people to have fun & do things in a way that hasn’t been done before. We understand that some of the best ideas come from giving our inner-selves a place to explore & play. Beyond our Super Secret Event, we keep the fun rolling with a Guac Off, Halloween Costume Contest, Holiday Pajama Day and other pop up events throughout the year.

If “Have Fun” is one of your core values, check out our join the team page for open positions and to submit your resume. 

This blog was posted by Joshua on October 14, 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.

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