Sandstorm Blog

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.

Bill Kurland
Healthcare, value based care, app, application, healthcare app

As healthcare costs continue to rise, value-based care has emerged as a way to improve patient care and reduce costs. Value-based care departs from the traditional fee-for-service model where physicians and facilities are paid for the tests and procedures they supply, and instead institutes a patient-centered system that pays doctors and hospitals based on the quality of care they provide.

Prominent employers, private health plans, and the federal government have embraced the shift from fee-for-service to value-based payment models—including accountable care organizations, bundled payments, and patient centered medical homes—but widespread adoption has been slower than expected.

A study from Quest Diagnostics and Inovalon (PDF) implies that the adoption rate has been hindered by a lack of tools for professionals to succeed in a value-based care system. Nearly two-thirds of physicians and health plan executives said that they do not have the tools needed to succeed in a value-based care system.

It’s unlikely that this will remain an issue for long, as solutions that advance value-based care initiatives, such as health apps, are a primary focus among innovators in medtech, according to PwC’s Health Research Institute. Half of the top ten medical device companies are offering customized solutions independent of any product offerings, while 70 percent are shifting toward services-based offerings.

Many of the top healthcare technology advances to watch for 2016, as identified by the ECRI Institute, point the way toward value-based care. Mobile stroke units, wireless wearable sensors, and miniature leadless pacemakers will have significant effects on patient care and allow medical professionals to provide a holistic service inside and outside of a healthcare facility.

Sandstorm is currently working on several projects that incorporate analytics into medical and health applications and offer tools for healthcare professionals to succeed in a value-based care system. One of these innovative projects is an iPhone app for physicians and medical coders that allows them to:

  • Track the number of patients moving through a facility
  • Identify trends in diagnosis within facilities and across regions
  • Assess physician performance
  • Ensure the quality of care provided

This application can increase efficiency by enabling reassignment of patients and doctors to facilities based on need, and allowing hospital administrators to identify trends in patient care and illness to offer more effective treatment.

For medical professionals, the app will address one of the most common barriers to mobile technology in healthcare: a lack of internet connectivity in hospitals. The app will offer an offline mode, which will allow doctors to continue tracking their work as they make their rounds. Once their device reestablishes a Wi-Fi connection, the app will immediately upload data back to the server.

At Sandstorm, we’re looking forward to providing more innovative tools to providers and organizations throughout the healthcare industry that enable the implementation of a value-based care system. 

This blog was posted by Bill Kurland on September 30, 2016.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

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Nathan
Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference

Last week was Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference. They are releasing a lot of new software and updates that I found particularly helpful. From some of the announced developments, it appears that Apple is continuing to make a great user experience through their products. Here are some highlights from the conference that are particularly beneficial to Apple users.

User Interface Design

Smartphones are a big deal, particularly for die-hard iPhone users. Apple realized that as much as people use a desktop operating system, the one that they spend the most time on is on their phone. The new desktop operating system, named Yosemite, will be streamlined to look more like the their mobile design and experience:

  • OS fonts will go from the current Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue
  • Toolbars are refined to focused on clarity and utility and they’re adding translucent “materials”
  • All icons are being updated (They finally have a great looking Trash Can!)
  • The toolbar and dock have a “Dark Mode” option

Continuity

One of the big talking points was: “Use the right device for the moment.” As users are using more tablets and smartphones, specifically iPhones and iPads, their experience going from device to device will be smoother.

  • AirDrop - It now works between iOS and the Mac OS
  • Handoff - Your devices will be aware of what you're working on. You’ll be able to pick up where you left off on another device.
  • Instant Hotspot - If you're using a mac and you aren’t near a WiFi, but your phone is nearby, your computer will recognize it as a hotspot. We will see how seamless this is, there would be some setting up before you can use it automatically.
  • Phone calls - When you receive a phone call, your computer presents the caller information in addition to your phone. You can even accept the phone call from your computer, even if your phone is across the room. You can make phone calls from the computer as well.

Interactive Notification

Since users are interacting primarily with their iOS devices, Apple is making advancements to make this experience easier. Users can now:

  • Swipe down to interact with notifications:
    • Respond to text messages
    • Accept calendar invites
    • Like or comment on Facebook posts
  • Double click the home button to get a list of the people you communicate with the most

Apple's Quick Type

Quick Type

The announced upgrades will make typing on iPhones and iPads much easier (and hopefully reduce the number of mistaken autocorrects).

  • Keyboard suggestions based on what you type (hello mistaken suggestions)
  • Suggested options to reply to a message
  • Language based on how you communicate with certain people (for example, you may say the “party was really nice” to your mom or say it was “epic” to a good buddy)

Apple Group Messaging

Messages

This might be my favorite addition to the iOS since “Do Not Disturb” in the iOS 7 release. Group messaging is now better than ever. I’m sure everyone has been on a message chain from hell. At the time it might have been useful, but 3 months later a new conversation gets started on an old chain and it blows up your phone. You now have the option to:

  • Leave threads
  • Turn particular threads to “Do Not Disturb”
  • Add and remove people
  • Name the thread

You can also sort to see all of the images used in that thread and shared locations. This will be great when you're with a large group message and would like to keep track of that one friend that barely comments.

There is also a new feature to send voice and video messages straight from the Messages App.

Family Sharing

You can now share media with family members if all accounts share the same credit card. This setup keeps your kids from spending $2,500 on in-app add-ons. You can manage settings so that certain family members, such as your 6 year old on the iPad, have to ask you in order to purchase an app. You get the alert on your device to approve or deny their request.

Apple Photos

Photos

I’m a designer and love taking pictures. The new Photos advancements are very cool. The new app has smart editing controls, such as levels for light and color.

For example, you can select a photo to edit and click the smart editing controller. You get a smart light editing feature. To achieve this, the app has an algorithm that simultaneously adjusts brightness, contrast, exposure, highlights and shadows at the same time. The same for color.

Also, photo storage is easier with iCloud pricing: the first 5GB are free, 20GB for $0.99 a month, and 200GB for $3.99 per month. They even have tiers up to 1TB (who wants 1TB of selfies?).

Think Different

It’s good seeing Apple continue to innovate, especially when the updates are free to users. The whole conference was centered on upgrades and innovations. They didn’t sell, they only shared what was coming to everyone at no cost. I can’t wait to see what they will unveil next.

This blog was posted by Nathan on June 13, 2014.
Nathan Haas

About the Author

Nathan Haas

Nathan is a User Interface Art Director at Sandstorm. He is a proud alum of The University of Tennessee. His main focus was print design, but he soon realized the potential of pixels. This combination of print and interactive gives him a unique view of design possibilities.

Sandy
Building a Website RFP needs these essential elements

Having trouble putting into words what you are looking to accomplish with your website? Not sure how to get all of your web development agencies aligned with your goals and objectives?

Writing a request for a proposal (RFP) is a challenging process if you don’t know where to start. By taking a moment now to think about your organization and your users’ wants and needs, you’ll save time later and increase the possibility of attracting the best agency to deliver success.

We can help! By following the website RFP response template below, you’ll have a clear strategy and a solid start for your next initiative:

 1. Brief Overview of the Project
Describe your current website situation or desired campaign and a description of what your investment will entail.

 2. Project Goals and Objectives
Define the motivation for your project. Why are you making this investment (i.e. expanded services, growth, new target audience, lead generation, attract job candidates)? What do you hope to accomplish? List your objectives.

3. Current Web Statistics
Include relevant web analytics such as top content, goal conversions, traffic sources, bounce rates, keyword phrases driving traffic, social referrals, mobile traffic, etc.

4. Technical Requirements
Are you integrating with any existing systems? List them. Do you require a specific programming language (e.g. .php or .net)? How is hosting currently handled?

5. Usability Requirements
How many different user groups do you have, and who are they? Are you interested in conducting usability testing? How about user research or developing a persona? 

6. Functional Requirements
What features and functionality do you need on your site? Some needs might include:

  • Secure user/password
  • Contact forms or dynamic forms
  • File uploading option
  • User account management
  • Social media integrations and social sharing
  • Database development
  • Video integrations
  • Member dashboards
  • Content management system (Drupal, Kentico, Wordpress, etc.)
  • E-commerce
  • Newsletter sign up
  • White paper lead capture
  • Blogs
  • 3rd party API integrations (LMS, AMS, HubSpot, Salesforce, etc)

7. Content Requirements
Approximately how many pages are on your current site? Do you have a content strategy? Who is going to be responsible for writing or editing your content? How will your social media channels be integrated?

8. Mobile Requirements
We only build websites that respond to your user’s device (i.e. mobile, tablet, desktop) – so we have that covered. Do you have any other special mobile needs that we should be aware of? 

9. Budget
Has your budget been set and approved? What is the range?

10. Timeline
What is your ideal project complete date? What is driving that time (i.e. trade show, new product launch, leadership change, board of directors, it should have happened last year)?

Ready to rock?

This website RFP response template can be the perfect tool to align all stakeholders on the essential building blocks for your project. It ensures you have a solid, thoughtful, and organized plan to guide your chosen agency, too.

A little upfront thinking and decision-making goes a long way in constructing an optimal site experience or campaign. You’ll be the rock star whose project launches on time, within scope, and under budget.

[Once you’ve completed all these steps, please send it to us. Sandstorm might be the right partner for your new project.]

This blog was posted by Sandy on April 3, 2014.
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.

Michael
Mobiletanious responsive development on multiple devices and screen sizes.

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.

Mobile First

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.

Mobiletaneous

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.

This blog was posted by Michael on May 23, 2013.
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.

Amanda
Sandstorm Design Named Top Interactive Agency in B to B

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.

This blog was posted by Amanda on May 7, 2013.
Amanda Elliott

About the Author

Amanda Elliott

Amanda Elliott is the Marketing Coordinator at Sandstorm Design. She absorbs the creative energy from our leadership team and facilitates the team so they can focus entirely on solving client challenges. She is passionate about anticipating needs, solving problems, and making projects fun.

Karen

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.

Analytics

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.

This blog was posted by Karen on January 17, 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.

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Will
Sandstorm takes home silver in the prestigious 13th annual Web Health Awards℠

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.

We launched this highly interactive and accessible application in August 2010.  To offer this helpful tool to an even broader audience, the application was also launched in Spanish in April 2011.

We’re really excited about this accomplishment and look forward to developing more award-winning web applications, Drupal websites, and interactive user experiences in 2012.

This blog was posted by Will on December 22, 2011.
Will Biby

About the Author

Will Biby

Will wears many hats at Sandstorm. From writing web content to executing social media strategies, he is quick to act and insistent on a job done right. Will enjoys writing, so expect to hear from him often on the blog.

Karen
Drupal 7 developer - Andy Cullen

We are thrilled to welcome Andy Cullen, Senior Web Developer, to Sandstorm Design! The newest addition to our technology and usability team, this Chicagoland native specializes in backend development. Andy speaks a number of languages including PHP, SQL, and ActionScript. And much to our delight, he is also an experienced Drupal 7 developer. Andy is a fan of all things Apple, but his hobbies are far from any computer screen.

He mixes up his seasons with outdoorsy activities and sports. Spring brings baseball and football takes over in fall. He’s gone fly fishing in Wyoming, and snowboarding and whitewater rafting in Colorado. Welcome, Andy. We’re so excited to work with you!

 

This blog was posted by Karen on September 9, 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.

Karen
Crain's BtoB

2011 has been an award-winning year for Sandstorm Design! Earlier this year we were recognized by BtoB Magazine as a Top B2B Interactive Agency. Today, we've been recognized again—This time as a top Chicago Web Developer for 2011 by Crain's Chicago Business. Not only does this mean we're in the printed newspaper, but we'll also be included in the Book of Lists for 2011. Our developers work closely with the design team to create powerful results. And when it comes to content management systems, our Drupal 7 developers build robust and flexible web sites customized to your needs. We love the work we do, and are so honored to be included as a top Chicago Web Development firm!

This blog was posted by Karen on July 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.

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