Congratulations to UnitedHealth Group for Winning Innovation Award

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Horizontal Integration (HI) extends sincere congratulations to the Talent Acquisition team at UnitedHealth Group (UHG) for being awarded the prestigious Innovation Award for their mobile-first candidate experience advancement. The Innovation Award is the most prestigious internal award at UHG. HI is proud to have collaborated together on this project with UHG.

The mobile-first candidate experience project involved creating and implementing a responsive UHG careers site where candidates can learn about and apply for jobs on any device: https://careers.unitedhealthgroup.com/

“Congratulations to our partners and friends at UHG for your hard work, dedication and innovation,” says Chris Staley, EVP of Digital Solutions. “We are honored to work with such an advanced group, and we share in your delight for this prestigious award.”

HI and UHG have been partners for nearly a decade, engaging in complex design and development projects for UHG’s Sitecore-based website. In addition, HI provides staffing needs for Marketing and IT throughout the organization.

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HI Recruiters at Second Harvest Heartland

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1 in 10 households in Minnesota is affected by hunger. This is according to Second Harvest Heartland, who distributed 89 million pounds of food in 2014, which is equivalent to 74 million meals.

And how do they get this done? With the help of gracious volunteers, of course. Among their 33,000 helpers are HI’s staffing team, and it all started with Jake Sayaraj, our IT Creative Marketing Recruiter. “Being born in Laos and uprooted to Minnesota at an early age,” he said, “my family had very little means and benefited from these types of organizations in the past.” So he and his friends have given their Saturdays over to volunteering for years. “It’s my way to give back to the community!”

And it’s not just the community that benefits. According to a 2010 United Healthcare survey, volunteering with coworkers results in stronger bonds along with an increased ability to recover from disappointment.

These are all great traits to aim for according to HI Partner Jeremy Langevin. “Recruiting can get hectic, and it’s a competitive field, so it’s great to spend time together outside of the office.” But office benefits aren’t the most important aspect. “It’s for a good cause,” Langevin said, “and it’s just fun.”

Want to get involved with Second Harvest Heartland? You can donate time, money or food via their site.

Thankfulness

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The charitable work of Horizontal Integration employees and partners is as important as their paid work. In addition to working with such clients as the Starkey Hearing Foundation, we’ve also contributed to Habitat for Humanity for many years.

Recently, Business Development Manager Jen Dudley gave the partners of HI another chance to help out. On April 25, Dudley was hiking to Everest Base Camp for her honeymoon. This was the day that the 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal. In the aftermath, a friend and fellow mountaineer reached out to Dudley for help, asking for laptops for Nepalese schools. Dudley forwarded this request to her coworkers at HI.

Partners Sabin Ephrem, Chris Staley, and Jeremy Langevin were happy to respond. With the help of our IT department (especially John Murdoch), HI had five laptops reformatted and shipped to Seattle, where Mountain Madness sent them to Nepal.

In Nepal, they were distributed by Pushpa Basnet, a CNN Hero of the Year. Mark Gunlogson from Mountain Madness had this to say: “Working with 14 prisons, Pushpa has helped some of these kids out. What a great visit we had with this amazing womenand it was obvious the kids’ lives were opened to new opportunities they would have otherwise not had. Amazing people in an amazing place! And if you have kids, take a visit with Pushpa and you’ll redefine what a busy day isshe has 45+ kids at her place, from infants only months old to teenagers!”

CEO Sabin Ephrem says, “We are happy and thankful to have had the opportunity to help.”

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National Punctuation Day: Comma Sense

shaq“Go tell your pops and your mama,
That Shaq is the man, period, comma.”
– Shaquille O’Neal, Shaq Diesel

With these lyrics, Shaq, the Big Aristotle, reveals that, despite once leading the NBA in points per game, he has a difficult time with commas. He’s not alone. With National Punctuation Day on September 24, one of our developers asked us to set the record (and Shaq) straight on that curvy little coquette the comma.

There’s a punctuation pandemic out there: “Use a comma whenever you would pause in speech.” That rule needs to be thrown in the garbage, lit on fire and buried in the ground. Everyday speech is filled with insignificant interjections and superfluous switchbacks, and aiming to replicate speech in technical or persuasive writing would result in a mess. The brain has ways of parsing out speech that just doesn’t apply to words on a page or screen.

So forget everything you know. Here are your rules for commas:

1) Lists
This is the easiest rule. Use commas to separate items within a list of three or more objects. As for that last object with the conjunction? The “or soup” in “fries, salad or soup” (or “fries, salad, or soup”)? Well, we won’t venture to regulate which way you swing on that. The important thing is to be consistent. Establish a style guide and decide for yourself whether the serial comma is right for you.

2) Separate Clauses
Clauses are the smallest unit of complete sentences. They can be very small: “Mathias biked.” They can be very long: “Mathias was dressed in an argyle sweater vest when he mounted his bike to depart for work.”

They can also be joined together, and this is where the comma comes in. See? We just did it there. “They can also be joined together” is an independent clause—one complete sentence. “This is where the comma comes in” is another. When using a conjunction (and, but, or, etc.) to join two complete clauses, put a comma before the conjunction.

3) Parentheticals
A parenthetical is a bit of information that isn’t vital to a sentence. It might provide a deeper explanation, or it might just be an afterthought. (It comes from the same root as parentheses, which is why we sometimes use those to separate extra info.) Commas, you may have noticed, can also be used to enclose parentheticals.

A good test is to try to take the parenthetical out of the sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, you’re in the right. If not, then it’s not actually a parenthetical. A good example of this is the first sentence of this article: “With these lyrics, Shaq, the Big Aristotle, reveals that, despite once leading the NBA in points per game, he has a difficult time with commas.”

  • We can take out the bit about his points per game.
  • We can also remove his nickname, which is a specific kind of parenthetical: an appositive.

What remains is a complete sentence: “With these lyrics, Shaq reveals that he has a difficult time with commas.”

There are tons of other uses for commas: in dates and place names, deciphering between restrictive and nonrestrictive appositives and so on. But what we’ve offered here are the three broadest, most-used rules. When in doubt, go to your style guide or ask a writer. They love bragging. In fact…

Writers, comma, the greatest, comma,
Taught you punctuation, so tell your mama.

Pop Art Principles for the Digital World

joyclyn-popOur solutions team carved out some time to visit International Pop—the Walker Art Center’s exhibition chronicling the global rise of Pop art between the 1950s and ‘70s.

As a response to society’s newfound postwar consumerism, Pop was a movement that incorporated everyday objects—especially the shiny and the consumable, like food, television, comics, glossies and tabloids.

No art form or media exists in a vacuum, so we’ve taken it as an exercise to dig into some of the fundamentals of Pop art to offer a few principles to incorporate into the digital realm. Here we go:

Accessibility Is Sovereign
As a reaction to (what many considered to be) pretentious, overworked Abstract Expressionism, Pop offered straightforward depictions of the common and the accessible. Gretchen Berg recorded Andy Warhol saying, “Pop artists did images that anybody walking down the street could recognize in a split second…all the great modern things that the Abstract Expressionists tried so hard not to notice at all.”

Pop introduced art into daily life and to new audiences. “High art” was no longer linked with only wealth, prestige or prosperity. Looking at digital concerns today, there are accessibility initiatives around the globe to bring broadband to rural areas and reduce costs for economically disadvantaged individuals. In addition, compliance standards like timed response alerts and assistive technology like screen readers help ensure digital content is available to all.

And from a strategy perspective: removing friction and barriers to your content (such as forced signups or laborious jargon) does more than improve downloads and encourage engagement: it also builds trust in your brand.

Challenge Convention—Take Tradition to Trial
Pop art was considered a youthful, optimistic movement. It was also seen as aggressively defiant of Art as the traditional gatekeeping establishment with the role of representing and upholding culture and society’s most esteemed (and often elite) ideals. That’s a fine balance to strike. Perhaps disillusionment was the catalyst, but in popular culture and the art world, change—not cynicism—was the byproduct.

It’s a reminder to our industry to continue challenging conventions. To continue asking why we do the things we do. Best practices are only best practices until something better comes along. We recently wrote about some of our key takeaways from SXSW, including our ongoing responsibility to adapt design innovations to how humans actually live and interact with technology and their environment.

If Pop art made the claim that anything could be art, today’s finest IT and UX professionals are dictating that anything can be an interface. That interface can serve as a tool for change, and it should be available to all.

Jargon: The Perks and Perils

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A crucial part of a company’s culture is based on communication: the example set by leadership and how communication is fostered. In fact, try and find a job description that doesn’t list “strong communication skills” as a requirement.

So why is the corporate world—and especially the digital marketing world—such a quagmire of hazy and nebulous messages?

Jargon gets a bad rap for good reason: it often masks clarity. Just take a look at the official definition of the word; it’s quite an incoherent mouthful. One definition is essentially “language mutually understood by a group” while another definition means “confused, unintelligible language.”

Jargon can be necessary—even important—because of its specific and timesaving nature. Philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac observed all the way back in 1782 that “every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas.”

Here’s a quick example of the different types of “special language” a team engaged in the “science” of web design and development might use:

Project Manager: “We’re still in the discovery phase, but right now we know we’ll need three interactives in the final deliverable.”

UX Architect: “The primary updates to the wireframes are to rid the existing site of style decisions that conflict with RWD best practices.”

Developer: “You can set up the master grid using @media un-nested, but we’ll still need to make some small adjustments.”

Designer: “Does the client have the web license for their serif font?”

Copywriter: “Are we providing brand tone direction or just migrating existing content?“

So it can be a form of precise and useful communication—as long as all parties are using the same jargon, within the same discipline. But jargon can also be a gatekeeping device (think: teenagers using slang to keep adults from knowing what’s up). In the work world, this can serve as a barrier to contribution, even if jargon isn’t used that way consciously. Associates who are confused by jargon might hesitate to speak up or end up focusing on the wrong issue.

Sometimes, however, jargon speak is simply meaningless nonsense. Which is destructive to the kind of clear communication that presents your company as a thought leader and that supports employees in exercising their abilities to the fullest. So how can we, who are all communicators regardless of our role, get it right?

Here are just a few tips to help you guard against muddying your communication:

Budget your five-dollar words.
Clear communication is targeted for your audience. Cast a wide enough net that none of your readers will require a dictionary to understand your message, and no listeners will need to conduct a covert Google search to catch your drift. If your default is to use larger- or rarer-than-necessary words, use a thesaurus to find an abridged alternative. And here’s a simple website to help identify unnecessarily elite word choices.

Note bad examples. Learn from them.
This is not a call to police others’ grammar. No one likes that person, and it’s rarely constructive. However, when you recognize icky, ambiguous or even misleading language, make a mental note. Then lead by example.

Search for overused words.
This is especially important in written communication. Sometimes we become attached to a word that seems to efficiently capture our intentions. But overusing a word that’s uncommon in everyday speech can be a distraction. There are technical approaches to solving this problem: you can create a concordance or word cloud to show how often particular words are used. But you don’t have to get that fancy: When in doubt, read your piece aloud or have a friend look at it.

Eradicate clichés.
This isn’t your first time at the rodeo. You know that sex sells, and you know to measure twice and cut once. It’s not so hard since you’re picking low-hanging fruit. Or maybe writing an article feels like going through hell, but you’ve got your eye on the prize. Sure, maybe there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but it’s time to drink the Kool-Aid so you don’t get thrown under the bus.

A smart, well-placed analogy or metaphor can transform a foreign and complex idea into an easily understood one, but overly common metaphors and idioms return little but white noise. These phrases get used so often that they become meaningless.

Use jargon for efficiency and efficiency alone.
Jargon, when understood by everyone involved, can replace an entire sentence with a single word.

When in doubt, send your writing through Unsuck-it.com to ensure you’re offering your audience more than an artisanal ecosystem that’s just a high-level overview of the microcopy concise language that clearly highlights key facts.

Meet Our Designer: Ashley Hay

Meet Ashley Hay—she’s Horizontal Integration’s new designer, but she’s been working as a designer since 2008. We sat down by the duck pond to talk about her new position.
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How did you get started in design?
I always liked art growing up. When it came time to pick a profession, my mom asked, “What do you want to do?” I didn’t want to be a fine artist—I don’t have the skills or the patience. I was originally in print design, and I’ve done contract work, but I’m excited to do different projects now with the same team. It’s easy to get burnt out when you’re always the stupid new person.

Do you have any design heroes?
Maybe Junko Mizuno. Most of my heroes are more art heroes than design heroes. Classic artists like Monet and Dali. But not Picasso.

What past projects are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that I have licensed work through LucasArts, Marvel, Adventure Time, My Little Pony—it’s all t-shirt design, but I like it. Also, I designed an in-store app for Best Buy and Microsoft, but it never got released. That’s corporate design for you.

What do you do outside of work?
I do a lot of shirt design. A friend and I are starting a fashion label. I also do cosplay.

Who do you cosplay?
Mera from Aquaman. A lot of people like Wonder Woman or Batgirl, but I like Mera.

Anything else?
I like to be outside. I play disc golf. And I like beer.

Do you have a favorite local brewery?
Everyone says Surly, but I like Dangerous Man and Hammer Heart. I also like Tin Whiskers. They have a cool logo, so of course I like them.

Are there any questions you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview?
I always dream about interviews. I dream of being a celebrity someday. I’d give motivational speeches about women doing what they want. I thought it’d be cool to be an actor. I’d want to be like Michael Cera and get paid to act like myself.

If you were a celebrity, who would you have Twitter beef with?
Probably Kanye; he’s so full of himself. It’s easy pickin’s. I just hear the Peanuts adult voice—“wah wah wah”—whenever I listen to his music.