Sandstorm Blog

World IA Day 2017

I attended World IA Day in Chicago a few weeks ago and was inspired by one of the speakers. In user experience, and particularly in information architecture, we often draw analogies to physical spaces and buildings. Extending the same analogy, one speaker shared a personal story about a seven-day excursion she took to build a mud hut.

Their team was cruising through the build, and what should have taken seven days was nearly complete in three. Unfortunately, just before they could put the doors on, the walls came tumbling down. They rushed the process, didn’t take the time to let the mud dry, and skipped steps that were fundamental to allowing the natural materials to take hold.

The lesson she learned was that, much like physical spaces, digital spaces can come crashing down if you rush the process. Whether you’re building a cathedral or a website, you start with a goal, work through the mess (information architecture, user research, usability testing) and draw up the plans (blueprints or wireframes) so you can create a concrete product users can easily move through.

Constructing Your Information Architecture (IA)

Information architecture not only makes information easy to find, it helps us create experiences that are intuitive and easy to navigate. IA provides the digital signposts and clues that help users remember where things are located and how to move through a design, system, or interface. IA helps prevent issues of findability and scalability while answering questions like:

  • How is this structure organized?
  • How is the content labelled?
  • How will it meet the needs of the organization?
  • How will it meet the needs of the people using it?

Listening to this story I couldn’t help but nod along and think of the clients I work with. I hear clients say customers can’t find products or they really want to simplify and condense the information. Clients often don’t realize they have an information architecture problem, but it really is key to completing a digital project.

The most important thing to remember is that the way an end user approaches a website can be vastly different than the way an employee approaches their company website—what may seem intuitive to someone within the business might not make sense to their clients or customers.

Without carefully thought-out IA we can’t expect products, apps, or websites that are easy to navigate. Even if websites look beautiful, without a strong structure they can create a disorienting user experience, and issues with findability and scalability will abound.

Have You Built the Right IA?

Ever hear employees, clients, and users say this about your website:

  • "We create new content but don’t know where to put it."
  • "It always takes me a while to find the right information."
  • "I can’t find the products I’m looking for."

Then it sounds like your information architecture could use some restructuring. We’re here to help you, from card sorting through to sitemaps and wireframes.

This blog was posted by on March 6, 2017.
Safina Lavji

About the Author

Safina Lavji

As a UX Architect, Safina actively empathizes with users to bridge the gap between user needs and what the client delivers. 

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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.

Dubai skyline, user experience, UX, IA, information architecture

I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel to Dubai. It’s a city of extremes: intense 120° F heat, malls with skiing and diving—with tiger sharks—and architectural feats beyond my wildest imagination. Out of all these wonders, what impressed me the most was the ever-evolving infrastructure of this bustling, technologically advanced city.

In Dubai, the roads change constantly to account for all of the new construction. In fact, they change so frequently that residents and taxi drivers say they often run into a dead end or end up trapped on a road that has changed overnight. GPS isn’t just used for convenience in Dubai, it’s used for survival.

A website’s information architecture is a lot like a city’s infrastructure: as you add new information, you need to create new navigation. If you’re constantly changing where you place information and how customers navigate your website, your users will be just as lost as drivers in Dubai.

A common method to improve the user experience (or UX) of a digital space is to mimic a real world pattern. For example, e-commerce mimics a grocery store: you typically have a shopping cart, you add to the shopping cart, and then you go through the checkout process.

The challenge comes when you start building and adding on to the original experience. While Dubai’s original city center is pretty easy to navigate, as the city grew at a rapid pace the new roads ignored the original conventions. Often—to accommodate new construction—roads had to be shifted and changed, causing friction and confusion among drivers. When designing your website, it’s imperative that you account for how it may evolve in the future and avoid foreseeable challenges as your company grows.

Sandstorm has a dedicated team of UX design specialists—including designers, architects and researchers—who help clients build websites that utilize information architecture best practices and provide cutting-edge user experiences. 

This blog was posted by on August 29, 2016.
Safina Lavji

About the Author

Safina Lavji

As a UX Architect, Safina actively empathizes with users to bridge the gap between user needs and what the client delivers. 

Safina Lavji, Sandstorm’s Newest UX Architect

Trained in anthropology and sociology, I love field studies and 1:1 interviews. They are among the most powerful and flexible ways to gain user insights. My upbringing on three continents and varied professional experience has informed my unique perspective. This point of view enables me to creatively connect the dots.

I am a user researcher, problem-solver, community builder, and one of the newest team members at Sandstorm.

What is your background?

I was born in Canada, grew up in Japan, studied in Spain, conducted fieldwork in Jamaica, and now work in Chicago. Beside my global experiences, I also have a rich and varied cultural background. My parents are third generation East African. From oral histories, I traced my ancestry back to North India, via the spice trade. All this, plus traveling my whole life, has given me a front row seat to observe the world. As a result, I embody the best of both worlds - an American work ethic and understanding of western norms, and an awareness and appreciation of eastern traditions.

So what exactly does a UX Architect do?

As a UX Architect, I’m responsible for leading user experience initiatives like user experience research, information architecture, wireframing, and usability testing. In essence, I build blueprints for digital products like websites and mobile apps, balancing business requirements and user needs.

What is your process?

As a researcher, I seek to understand systems, patterns, and behaviors. I use quantitative methods to outline the context and scope of an issue. By layering qualitative insights on top of a quantitative structure, I am able to more effectively pinpoint potential issues.

Who are some of your influences?

My real influences are the movers and shakers around me. The people who celebrate artistry, who have done something unique, and have made a life of it. Certainly, I have industry influences like Don Norman, Tim Brown, Whitney Hess, and Erika Hall. The one thing that prevails in this list is that these are all people who empathized with those around them. They looked at traditional business practices and created their own approach to solving problems.

When you’re not solving UX problems, where can we find you?

Dancing up a storm! For as long as I can remember, I have danced in some fashion or another. I’ve dabbled in everything from Ballet to Kathak, Indian classical dance (here is an example).

Music has always been a part of my life and I’m currently studying West Coast Swing. I’m drawn to the music of the 1930s-50s. The music of that era is about freedom from the norm, creating something new and fresh, and inviting people to participate. It allows you to get to know someone, three minutes at a time.

What are some connections between the different aspects of you: user researcher, strategist, and storyteller?

The connections in my case are that these elements are about creating something out of the raw materials presented to you.

As a UX researcher, it’s all about empathizing with the end user and bridging the gap between their needs and what the client provides. As a strategist, it’s a balancing act between research findings, client needs, and the technology needed to bring these elements together. As a designer one finds solutions and implements them. A storyteller aspires to find a collective idea or “sticky” thought that brings people along for the ride.

I am beyond thrilled to be joining Sandstorm as a UX Architect. Time to start brewing some UX magic with this wonderful team. Cheers!

This blog was posted by on August 27, 2015.
Safina Lavji

About the Author

Safina Lavji

As a UX Architect, Safina actively empathizes with users to bridge the gap between user needs and what the client delivers. 

Janna
Sandstorm honors Massimo Vignelli

At Sandstorm, we wear black to honor the passing of the original Information Architect, Massimo Vignelli.

Massimo Vignelli on Black: "There is no other color that is better than black. There are many others that are appropriate and happy, but those colors belong on flowers. Black is a color that is man-made. It is really a projection of the brain. It is a mind color. It is intangible. It is practical. It works 24 hours a day. In the morning or afternoon, you can dress in tweed, but in the evening, you look like a professor who escaped from college. Everything else has connotations that are different, but black is good for everything.

To me, black is black and red is color. That’s it."

This blog was posted by Janna on May 29, 2014.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's Executive Creative Director, Janna, is a design-thinker. Showcased in several design publications and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, she is talented in taking nuggets of good ideas and nurturing them into solutions that are always strategic, engaging and visually delightful.

Karen
Sandstorm Launches Community Drupal Web Site for PROmeasure

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.

Learn more about the possibilities available with Drupal development.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 21, 2012.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

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

This blog was posted by Karen on January 18, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Sandy
Chicago web design company's Client Spotlight

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

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

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

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 11, 2009.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the Founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a next-generation brand experience agency that turns customer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of strategy, UX design, user research, marketing technology and analytics.

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Sandy
The importance of Information Architecture

It blows my mind how many web sites are designed and built without considering information architecture. We don't let a project get to our creative team without an information architect (IA) building a few wireframes first.

Maybe it's one part of our "secret sauce" (this is one of my favorite new sayings) but it should be a necessary part of every web design process. The IA is "the one" that ties together the strategy, business requirements, user requirements, and messaging. The IA considers a layout from the user's perspective, ensures the site is easy to use, brings the most important features to the front, and aligns the marketing goals with the web site goals. An IA is highly strategic, is intuitive, and has a strong knack for common sense. My favorite book on the subject is Steve Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability".

At Sandstorm, everyone in the creative department has to read it as part of their onboarding process. And we've added to the developers as well so we are all speaking the same language. Information architecture for us here at Sandstorm is just a part of who we are.

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 14, 2009.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the Founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a next-generation brand experience agency that turns customer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of strategy, UX design, user research, marketing technology and analytics.

Sandy

We are hiring! (Oh, I just LOVE saying that!) It's one of my favorite things to do. We are looking for an information architect that is a whiz at wireframing, understands the user experience, and can take strategic business decisions and turn them into intuitive interfaces. So that's our minimum requirement. Other pluses are whatever else you bring to the table - you tell us! Have design or photoshop skills? Great! Have experience in development? Cool. Love to conduct user research and usability tests - you're our next Sandstormer. Can't wait to meet you!

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 5, 2009.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the Founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a next-generation brand experience agency that turns customer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of strategy, UX design, user research, marketing technology and analytics.