Digital Marketing & Development

We are a web development studio based in Chicago, with team members working around the country. We build websites and web applications for businesses small and large to help them solve real business problems.

We’re not just code jockeys, pixel pushers and todo list check-er-off-ers. Though we do all of those things, everything we do is in the spirit of serving our clients and helping them identify and solve their biggest problems in a way that delivers the maximum return on their investment within the constraints of realistic budgets.

We are craftspeople who take pride in doing it right the first time. We understand that things that are built well last the longest. 

We should have hired you the first time.”

It’s something we hear from many of our clients. We strive to take the drama out of the web development process. We focus on setting clear expectations and constant communication so that there are no unpleasant surprises.

Happy clients are the lifeblood of our business. Our goal is to make you so happy that you’ll gladly work with us for a long time and brag about us at parties. 

 
$10,000+
 
$150 - $199 / hr
 
10 - 49
 Founded
2007
Show all +
Chicago, IL
headquarters
  • 3625 N Bernard
    Chicago, IL 60618
    United States

Reviews

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Custom Software Dev for B2B Cloud Provider

“They quickly grasp highly complicated subject matter and collaborate with us as a true partner.”

Quality: 
5.0
Schedule: 
5.0
Cost: 
5.0
Willing to refer: 
5.0
The Project
 
Confidential
 
May 2017 - Ongoing
Project summary: 

Surprise Highway developed a new product component, adding additional project builder functionality to transparency catalogs. They continue to maintain the cloud-based technology.

The Reviewer
 
11-50 Employees
 
Massachusetts
CEO, B2B Cloud Provider
 
Verified
The Review
Feedback summary: 

Despite the high demands and complicated content involved, Surprise Highway continues to deliver high-quality work on time and within budget. Timely and organized, working with their team is a breeze. Their work has allowed the business to expand its capabilities overall.

BACKGROUND

Introduce your business and what you do there.

I'm the CEO and founder of a cloud software and services company, delivering sustainability and product transparency solutions to the manufacturing industry.

OPPORTUNITY / CHALLENGE

What challenge were you trying to address with Surprise Highway?

We needed help augmenting our own internal development capabilities. We also wanted to extend our team by adding additional resources with expertise in a platform that helped us build the next important component of one of our products.

SOLUTION

What was the scope of their involvement?

Surprise Highway was the primary developer of a new component of one of our leading products, contributing to the creation of the project builder functionality added to our transparency catalogs.

What is the team composition?

We mostly interfaced with Jason (Owner and Web Developer, Surprise Highway), but they also put a decently sized team together to work on our project.

How did you come to work with Surprise Highway?

They were referred to us by another organization we work with.

What is the status of this engagement?

We've continued to work with them since May 2017.

RESULTS & FEEDBACK

What evidence can you share that demonstrates the impact of the engagement?

Surprise Highway delivered results that met our expectations both on time and within budget. We continue to work with them based on their proven success.

How did Surprise Highway perform from a project management standpoint?

They've been great about meeting deadlines and responding in a timely manner. We have weekly live meetings and use Basecamp on an ongoing basis to stay on top of milestones.

What did you find most impressive about them?

They quickly grasp highly complicated subject matter and collaborate with us as a true partner.

Are there any areas they could improve?

No.

Do you have any advice for potential customers?

As with working with any technology partner, it's important to ensure that you're able to clearly communicate the requirements so they can hit the ground running.

5.0
Overall Score
  • 5.0 Scheduling
    ON TIME / DEADLINES
    All of our projects have stayed on schedule on their end.
  • 5.0 Cost
    Value / within estimates
  • 5.0 Quality
    Service & deliverables
    Despite our high demands, they continue to ensure a high level of quality in all deliverables.
  • 5.0 NPS
    Willing to refer

Sustainability Web App Dev for Toy Trade Association

“Their team is committed to making sure we’re satisfied.”

Quality: 
4.5
Schedule: 
4.0
Cost: 
4.5
Willing to refer: 
5.0
The Project
 
$50,000 to $199,999
 
Dec. 2017 - Ongoing
Project summary: 

Surprise Highway is redeveloping and simplifying an existing web app that enables companies to gauge the environmental impact of their packaging materials compared to competitors.

The Reviewer
 
11-50 Employees
 
New York City Metro Area
SVP of Technical Affairs, Toy Trade Association
 
Verified
The Review
Feedback summary: 

Development is moving along well both schedule- and expectations-wise, while initial feedback has been positive. Surprise Highway has remained responsive and communicative throughout. They make sure to keep everyone informed and seek permission before advancing.

BACKGROUND

Introduce your business and what you do there.

I’m the senior VP of technical affairs of a trade association for the toy industry. We have about a thousand members who account for 90% of the U.S. toy market. Most are subject matter experts (SMEs), so we’re trying to provide them with some guidance tools to allow them to reduce their use of packaging materials.

OPPORTUNITY / CHALLENGE

What challenge were you trying to address with Surprise Highway?

We needed them to recreate an existing web application.

SOLUTION

What was the scope of their involvement?

They designed a web app for members to go in and ask a series of questions. It allows companies to view other companies’ products in similar categories. The information is confidential between the companies, but it gives everyone an aggregate view of where a particular product might fall on a spectrum. It also provides suggestions for how to improve the environmental footprint of a product. I believe members are going to respond positively to it based on the feedback we’ve received so far.

We plan on running it on an SQL server, which is fairly conventional. The original iteration was a bit more complicated than we needed, so the new web app should be relatively straightforward. It’s not done yet, but so far, it looks like they’ve remained true to what we asked for. The backend also seems to be coming along well.

What is the team composition?

We turned our designer over to them to create the frontend and we have two primary contacts. There are a few other developers, but we don’t speak with them directly.

How much have you invested with them?

We plan on spending a total of $150,000.

What is the status of this engagement?

We started working with them in late December and we’re scheduled to start beta testing this April.

RESULTS & FEEDBACK

What evidence can you share that demonstrates the impact of the engagement?

I’m happy with the work they’ve produced and it has met my expectations.

How did Surprise Highway perform from a project management standpoint?

They seem to be on top of everything. They’ve been responsive when we’ve asked questions or raised potential issues. Communication has worked well regarding weekly phone calls and posting information on Basecamp. We also use email when we need to communicate quickly.

What did you find most impressive about them?

Communication is their most impressive attribute. They’re committed to staying close to us and making sure that they update us regarding decisions. We get a chance to look at things before they progress, which I find very refreshing.

Are there any areas they could improve?

We had a few small problems with invoicing, but that wasn’t necessarily their fault. We don’t really have any other concerns thus far.

Do you have any advice for potential customers?

Expect to stay engaged and to spend a lot of time communicating with them. It’ll serve both parties better and you’ll end up with a better product.

4.5
Overall Score The team is interested in our needs and what we’re looking to get out of the project. They communicate well and their work is high-quality.
  • 4.0 Scheduling
    ON TIME / DEADLINES
    Things are moving along according to the schedule. We didn’t get started as quickly as we wanted due to the invoicing issue, so we’re a bit late.
  • 4.5 Cost
    Value / within estimates
    They’re not the cheapest, but we’re getting good value for our dollar given the caliber of work I’m seeing.
  • 4.5 Quality
    Service & deliverables
    Their quality of work is very good. Their team is committed to making sure we’re satisfied.
  • 5.0 NPS
    Willing to refer

Subcontracted Site Review for Digital Production Agency

"They care about the integrity of what the designer has sent over to them, and they try to mimic that to the tee."

Quality: 
5.0
Schedule: 
5.0
Cost: 
5.0
Willing to refer: 
5.0
The Project
 
$10,000 to $49,999
 
Feb. - Apr. 2017
Project summary: 

Surprise Highway developed the first ever digital version of an annual review. They were the technical partner in a microsite build, providing coding, platform integration, and migration to end-client servers.

The Reviewer
 
1001-5000 Employees
 
Chicago, Illinois
Skot Waldron
Principal / Creative Director, Multiple Atlanta, Inc.
 
Verified
The Review
Feedback summary: 

Recipients of the digital review were impressed with it. Surprise Highway was attentive to scope creep; they worked hard to set realistic expectations. The team faithfully replicated the designs that were given to them and maintained regular communication. 

BACKGROUND

Introduce your business and what you do there.

We are a brand and marketing agency. I'm the creative director and managing partner of the Atlanta office. 

OPPORTUNITY / CHALLENGE

What challenges were you trying to address with Surprise Highway?

One of our largest commercial clients approached us to work on their 2016 annual review. We did last year's report as well, but it was printed. This year they wanted to go completely digital. 

SOLUTION

What was the scope of their involvement?

We handled all the design interface, messaging, concept, all the frontend work, and strategy that went into the project. Surprise Highway was our technical partner and handled all the coding, website build, platform integration, migrating everything to the client’s servers, all the heavy-lifting technical stuff.

We’ve had several projects with them, all with a similar scope. Most of these projects are for B2B clients, and some are B2C. Surprise Highway is versatile and able to work within different types of environments.

Last year we did a printed version of the annual review for the client, and that’s what we originally quoted them for this year. However, they decided to go digital, so we quickly shifted gears and started that talk with Surprise Highway. We came up with a good strategy for delivering within the budget the client needed. We had a two- or three-month window to complete the project, so it was pretty fast. We worked three or four guys from Surprise Highway. There was a project manager, a lead developer, and the owner, Jason [Siffring], was also involved.

How did you come to work with Surprise Highway?

We have a Chicago office and a Vancouver office. We have a couple developers in Chicago, but they are too busy to handle the overflow from our work. I’ve looked for independent contractors when Chicago can’t fulfill what I need. I even hired my own developer at one point, but it didn’t work out. Instead of having someone on staff, I wanted to outsource.

Surprise Highway has been kind of a sister company, as they’ve worked in the same office space as some of our Chicago people, who have known them for a long time. We jumped on a project together, which worked very well, and then we just blossomed since then. They’ve been really reliable, dependable, and very knowledgeable. We didn’t look at other companies, as we had that solid referral from the Chicago office.

What is the status of this engagement?

The project ran from February to April of this year.

RESULTS & FEEDBACK

Could you share any evidence that would demonstrate the productivity, quality of work, or the impact of the engagement?

We don’t have concrete data, as the client didn’t use the end product as lead generation or anything like that. It’s really just a formal document. Qualitative feedback was that everyone was very pleased. Our commercial client's marketing department was very impressed was the output. The CEO was pleased and excited about the new direction. It was a big risk for them, as they’d never done anything like this before. They were taking a chance, and it really turned out well. I haven’t heard anything negative.   

How did Surprise Highway perform from a project management standpoint?

We often communicated multiple times a week, but weekly at a minimum. They’re really good at staying on the ball, making sure we’re delivering. They’re really good at staying on-task.

What did you find most impressive about Surprise Highway?

I like that they really care about the actual design. They really care about the way things look. They don’t just take a design, and then put their own spin on it to make sure it works. They really care about the integrity of what the designer has sent over to them, and they try to mimic that to the T, which is unlike some other programmers with whom we’ve worked.

Are there any areas Surprise Highway could improve?

They try to communicate everything as clearly as possible. One thing we’ve been trying to work on together is just setting realistic expectations or just clarity about scope. I know that’s something they’ve constantly been working on, and we constantly work on, just because of scope creep. We’re both working on that. I don’t want to be the cause of paying them extra money for something that we didn’t promise, but then it wasn’t clear on either side who was doing what.

5.0
Overall Score Again, they do a great job.
  • 5.0 Scheduling
    ON TIME / DEADLINES
    Great with project management!
  • 5.0 Cost
    Value / within estimates
    Estimates are well thought out and adhered to.
  • 5.0 Quality
    Service & deliverables
    They are attentive at meetings and deliver on time.
  • 5.0 NPS
    Willing to refer
    Love these guys!

ExpressionEngine Website Development For Nonprofit Research Organization

"They’re very professional. They deliver on time...They didn’t skip a date."

Quality: 
5.0
Schedule: 
5.0
Cost: 
5.0
Willing to refer: 
5.0
The Project
 
$50,000 to $199,999
 
Oct. 2014 - Mar. 2015
Project summary: 

Surprise Highway modernized a global health nonprofit's website. The team built accessible information architecture, redesigned the search functionality, and migrated the CMS onto ExpressionEngine.

The Reviewer
 
501-1000 employees
 
New York, New York
Sandra Riedel
Consultant, Population Council
 
Verified
The Review
Feedback summary: 

Internal QA testing shows that the search function is greatly improved. Surprise Highway addressed bugs promptly and aligned the design with brand standards. The team was pleasant to work with, accommodating additional requests and adapting to alterations in schedule or scope.

BACKGROUND

Could you describe your company and your role?

I’m a consultant working with the Population Council in New York City and we, the Population Council, wanted to redesign an antiquated website with a responsive design that would work on multiple devices. It was a rebranding as well as a redesign of, primarily, the search functionality.

OPPORTUNITY / CHALLENGE

Were there any specific goals for the project?

The goals were to reorganize the architecture because it was a site that was just homegrown and then dated together in time, and it was quite confusing for the user to locate information. It’s largely a publication resource database dealing with global health issues in impoverished regions. So, it’s a worldwide organization, and they needed the site to be accessible in every country where their offices are worldwide, and for the information to be organized in a way by topic, project, and country. One of the goals was just better organization of information, and the second one was to improve and modernize the branding, both for print and online.

SOLUTION

Did you use the same content management system, or did they migrate it to a new one?

They migrated it completely to ExpressionEngine. They were previously just using a database that their internal IT department had put together. They didn’t really have a content management system. They were updating HTML. It was really clunky.

Now everything is super smooth. They’re working on an admin interface for their reference database of resources as a second tether of the project. But, the primary one is a CMS. It’s a modification of ExpressionEngine.

Did they also do design work?

Surprise Highway did not. The design agency was a New York-based agency, and they actually subcontracted Surprise Highway.

Did they provide training and support?

Yes. We’re just launching next week. So, we’re currently in training with them. But, they’ve provided training as we were launching the system. But, frankly, it was so well designed and matched. I was very impressed with how quickly Surprise Highway was able to realize the design, encode it, and put it in front of our users who are not very Web savvy. Most of them are offline users. Everyone we tested internally just picked it up right away. It was intuitive. There was hardly any training necessary. We had a two-hour session and, literally, we didn’t have any questions afterwards.

How long has this project taken?

About six months.

Why did you select Surprise Highway to work with? Were they just the development firm that has been contracted by the designer that you had initially chosen?

They were selected by the design firm, but then we vetted them internally with one of our resources. So, we were part of the selection process.

Primarily because they had a good search developer on their team and other than HTML, the site really is search driven. They had done responsive design. They seem to be pretty cutting edge with the projects they had worked on. The criteria for us were mainly search and database.

Can you give us a sense of the size of the initiative either in dollar terms or a personnel work hour estimate?

I actually don’t know exactly. Because since they were subcontracted, they were paid by the design firm, but I’m going to say somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000. 

RESULTS & FEEDBACK

What were the results of the project? Are there any metrics that you can share that indicate the success of their work?

We haven’t launched yet, so we’ve only done internal QA, but one of our metrics was the search work and it does very well. The response time for their fixing bugs has been phenomenal. We’ve filed probably 50 bugs after they first gave it to us, and most of them were just design tweaks that we wanted. They literally went through 30 of them in one day. It was amazing and good natured to boot. They’re a nice group of guys to work with.

Their communication and project management has been very, very good. They use Basecamp and have been very transparent in communicating with us. We had direct access to their bug-tracking project. The design interpretation was exact. That was a big issue for us, which the branding matched what we had turned over as design. They did a great job with it.

Is there anything else unique or special about them compared to other companies that you may have worked with in the past?

I can’t speak highly enough about their personalities and what a pleasure it was to work with a group of nice guys that didn’t have an attitude and when you asked for a new feature, it wasn’t, “Oh, we got to go back to the drawing board, and that’s going to cost you. That’s not within our scope.” We never had a conflict like that. They were really amenable. If we had just a small thing, like a timer on this feature, so that we know when to update this piece, their answer was generally yes. They never pushed back on anything, and that was a real pleasure.

They’re very professional. They deliver on time. They were good at accepting and projecting timelines. They didn’t skip a date.

So looking back on the project, is there any area that you think Surprise Highway could improve upon or that you would do differently?

No. I’m recommending that the council sign a service contract with them, so that they’ll be on a monthly retainer to continue working with us after the project.

5.0
Overall Score They’re really great.
  • 5.0 Scheduling
    ON TIME / DEADLINES
  • 5.0 Cost
    Value / within estimates
  • 5.0 Quality
    Service & deliverables
  • 5.0 NPS
    Willing to refer
    I would definitely recommend them for content design projects. I don’t know what their other skill sets are outside of this particular project...being able to code for responsive design and get it perfectly. It looks great on all devices.

ExpressionEngine Web Development For Top-tier U.S. University

“They’ve certainly exceeded our expectations.”

Quality: 
4.5
Schedule: 
4.0
Cost: 
5.0
Willing to refer: 
5.0
The Project
 
Confidential
 
July 2013- June 2014
Project summary: 

Surprise Highway provided supplementary support for a university's ExpressionEngine site. Projects included analytics updates, ongoing system maintenance, and web application development.

The Reviewer
 
United States
Director of External Relations, Top-tier University
 
Verified
The Review
Feedback summary: 

The site is now fully customizable, and the password system and archives are much simpler to use. Although the project was entirely remote, Surprise Highway collaborated seamlessly with several partners. Their exacting standards and familiarity with ExpressionEngine made the project a success.

BACKGROUND

Please start by giving a brief description of your organization and your role.

I’m the director of external relations for a professional school on the campus of a top United States’ West Coast university. One of the responsibilities I have is to manage the website for the college. 

OPPORTUNITY / CHALLENGE

When you approached Surprise Highway, what was the business challenge that you were trying to address?

We had spent a little more than a year with a design team and programmer to redesign and relaunch the website using ExpressionEngine. That team rolled off the project at the end of the contract for the redesign and at the launch of the project. We needed to hire a programmer with an expertise in ExpressionEngine.

What were the goals that you were trying to achieve?

One, we had no one in-house with a deep understanding of the content management system, which we had recently purchased and designed the website in. Second of all, we had a laundry list of ancillary projects as well as fixes for the website that the original programmers didn’t stick around to do. There was actually quite an ambitious list when we first hired them.

SOLUTION

Can you tell me a little bit more about the scope of the project?

We had a very collaborative relationship with them, but we had developed a scope for this project that would last approximately a year. It ended up being kind of three major areas. We had a standard monthly maintenance agreement with them about backups and upgrades and site analytics. Then, we had a laundry list of fixes to the site that was partly due to our inability to understand exactly what we were buying when we bought the new design and the implementation in ExpressionEngine. We had gone from a static website in Drupal to something that was quite robust with a distributed content management system. We had probably about five projects [Web applications] that ended up being substantial and beyond the scope of the original design. We built a relationship with Surprise Highway that involved some rather intensive hours during the summer months and then kind of maintenance and fix schedule through the rest of the academic year. This is a fiscal year relationship. We run on July 1 to June 30 fiscal calendar. The relationship is pretty much that duration.

Did they also provide training and support?

They very much have provided support on occasion. Although we do have a network team in the building, and we have other campus IT people that can help us. I wish we had used them more often for training but frankly the budget [was limited]. We’ve been doing most of our training ourselves. They provided some documentation relative to training.

How long did the project take?

One academic year [2013-2014]. The relationship is contracted through the end of June this year.

Why did you select Surprise Highway to work with?

We selected them because of their expertise in ExpressionEngine. We were looking for somebody who could devote the kind of time we needed and knew more than we did.

RESULTS & FEEDBACK

What were the results of the project?

Additional users can now use the site in a customized way. For example, the faculty can now login to the content management system, update their bio and CV, and upload images around their bio to the website directly. That’s been received in a very positive way. We’ve also developed a series of mini sites. They are templated versions of an ExpressionEngine site on a very small scale that mimic the design of the parent site for the college and allow research units, of which we have several, to create a profile for their activities. That’s been going very well. Another customer for the mini site has been an archive, which is run by the college, but was on a site even older than the one we replaced. The idea that they had a design refresh, functionality and usability that was not afforded by their original site design is a really positive thing.

They also did a password integration project whereby the single password that a campus employee or student or faculty member uses to get into all the campus systems was the same password that they used in order to enter into the CMS for the website. That involved a working relationship with campus IT in order to jump through all the hurdles you have to do in order to have that happen. They did that fairly well.

As far as day to day working relationships, we have a weekly meeting with the team for an hour. We go over a number of projects. We manage the work on a Basecamp site, which is fairly efficient. Everybody is really accessible, and things are happening in a timely manner. To work with a group of programmers that are easy to talk to and collaborate with as the people at Surprise Highway is really rare. There is very little lost in translation between our description and how they would have to program it. It helps make things super efficient. We can’t spend a lot of time explaining things repeatedly or having false starts. It is really valuable.

Was there anything else that you wanted to describe their performance?

Our absolute No. 1 priority was to find somebody who was well versed in ExpressionEngine. They’ve certainly exceeded our expectations with regard to that. I think another thing that was worrisome in the beginning, but ended up having benefits was they were very careful and cautious. We really threw something at them that was designed and programmed by other people and said, “Help us figure out what we have and how it works.” I think, in the beginning, I had some concerns that they approached us in what appeared to be a slightly timid way. I think that has, in the long run, paid some dividends because they really were very thorough and careful in auditing what it is that we had and whether or not it met standards that they would have held themselves to if they were designing it themselves from scratch. Now, I think there is a great deal of trust between us and them.

Looking back on the project, is there any area that you think Surprise Highway could improve on or that you would do differently?

No. [The only thing is that] they’ve never been here. This has been almost exclusively a remote relationship. I had the opportunity to go meet with them in Chicago and introduce myself in person and stuff like that. I think [potential clients of theirs] need to be comfortable working that way. We really couldn’t afford, or in this day and age, felt we needed them to show up. While that is a kind of disadvantage in some ways in terms of a working relationship, it really hasn’t gotten in the way of being able to do a good job.

4.5
Overall Score
  • 4.0 Scheduling
    ON TIME / DEADLINES
  • 5.0 Cost
    Value / within estimates
  • 4.5 Quality
    Service & deliverables
  • 5.0 NPS
    Willing to refer
    I’m very likely.