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Jen Carlstrom, Web Manager in the Office of University Communications, helps departments learn to update their own Web site information.

 
Posted 01.17.06

Perfect Web Sight: Web Manager Designs Wesleyan's Online Communications with Consistent Message, Look, Feel

Jen Carlstrom grew up sketching Disney cartoon characters, molding clay figurines and designing Christmas cards on her father’s computers. As she matured, so did Carlstrom’s love for art and technology, which has ultimately led to a career as Wesleyan’s Web manager.

"I’ve always loved drawing and using the computer to create arts projects,” she recalls. “Designing on the Web combines those two passions I've had since I was a child.”

Carlstrom, who came to the Office of University Communications in 2001, is celebrating her fifth year building and designing Web pages this year at Wesleyan. She came to the university with a bachelor’s of fine art in graphic design from the University of Connecticut and an extensive list of high profile clients, including Pfizer, Philip Morris, Allied Domecq and IBM. Her work included leading multimedia projects, designing Web sites, working on interface design and helping come up with companies’ visual identities.

As Wesleyan’s Web Manager, Carlstrom oversees communications through the Web by making sure Wesleyan’s pages have a consistent message, look and feel. She stresses branding, or the visual way Wesleyan is marketed to the public.

“We want to create a consistent, recognizable identity in all our Web communications,” Carlstrom says. “This includes our logo, colors, fonts and imagery. We also help to leverage technology to communicate to our audiences.”

Carlstrom says accomplishing this can, at times, be challenging. Departments, which Carlstrom refers to her as clients, want to have their own identity and a site that stands out from the others. Carlstrom tries to give departments this freedom but within the cohesiveness of the university’s standards and identity.

"When we get a client who wants green text on a blue background, we explain that we want to help market their department, but consistency with the other Wesleyan pages can be a good thing," she says. "We hope to create all department Web sites with a cohesive and unified look and feel while keeping the department’s identity with certain features in our templates."

Carlstrom points to the sites created for the English Department, http://www.wesleyan.edu/english/, and the Art and Art History Department, http://www.wesleyan.edu/art/, as recent examples. Carlstrom was able to work with the departments to retain their unique own look and feel and yet remain quickly identifiable as "Wesleyan" sites - a task that’s not as easy as it sounds or looks.

"Jen brought a real clarity to the process, and she did it with a lot of good humor and patience," says Marlisa Simonson, associate director for employer relations at Wesleyan’s Community Resource Center (CRC). "She helped us figure out our needs and then worked with us throughout the process to make sure that we were thinking in terms of both design and functionality."

Simonson said functionality was a key because CRC’s site http://www.wesleyan.edu/crc experiences heavy traffic.

“It was much more than just upgrading a look that met our needs and got it in line with university standards,” she says. “We really wanted to improve the way the site provided service. Jen was great in helping us reach all those goals.”

A big part of Carlstrom’s job continues to be working with clients to update their sites with the newly-created Wesleyan style and providing better Web-based services to their audiences.

"Jen has taken on a set of formidable challenges: to make Wesleyan's Web site a vehicle for effective communication with all the University's constituencies, to integrate our online and print collateral, and to develop new media as part of our portfolio,” says Justin Harmon, the director of communications. “Wesleyan has strong platforms and needs leadership to realize the potential of these media. I am grateful that we are led by a professional who so deeply understands both the available technologies and communication design."

Carlstrom’s Web team includes Web designer Ryan Lee and senior designer Anne Marcotty. The staff frequently consults with Pat Leone, World Wide Web administrator for technical issues in Information Technology Services (ITS). During the last few years, Leone worked with Carlstrom to implement a template system that gives university pages a consistent look and feel, and enables offices and departments to maintain current content.

Along with creating Web pages, Carlstrom and her colleagues have created Wesleyan screen savers; the new virtual tour; e-mails using HTML, the software language used on the Internet's World Wide Web; and multimedia products for University Relations using Macromedia Flash. Carlstrom also co-developed a DVD slideshow for the alumni donor reception and another DVD of the university’s master plan for prospective donors.

“We strive to better communicate our message using these technologies,” she says.

The entire process of building a department’s Web site takes roughly six weeks, depending on the client’s schedule. Carlstrom holds an initial meeting with the client and discusses ideas and educates the client on the best use of the Web for their purposes. The Web team then designs a site based on the client’s needs.

After a client approves the design, Carlstrom oversees the building of templates and training of the client on how to upload content onto their pages. These training sessions are usually about three hours long and provide clients with the know-how to manage their own sites.

Carlstrom also suggests clients new to Web design take additional software training in Adobe GoLive if they use a Mac, or Microsoft Office FrontPage if they are PC users.

Because she is doing this for the entire university, as well as the other projects mentioned, Carlstrom has to be a master of multi-tasking. In between playing watchdog to multiple Web projects, she spends her days “usually in a lot of meetings” with clients or her Web staff. She’s constantly communicating with the clients on the phone or through e-mail, in addition to working on her projects.

“We’re always here if the client has any questions,” she says.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor