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Ryan Lee, Web designer, was instrumental in designing the "175 Years" logo, posted on the glass doors of Zelnick Pavilion, as well as numerous Wesleyan department Web sites.
 
Posted 03.16.07

Web Designer Creating Interactive Sites for Wesleyan Departments

Q: Ryan, when did you come to Wesleyan?

A: My first day here was Nov. 29, 2004—a day I remember vividly, as I had previously been unemployed with a new mortgage for four months. I was hired as a one-year temporary contract position, Web designer, which has since, thankfully, turned onto a permanent position.

Q: Prior to Wesleyan, what was your Web experience?

A: My first job out of college was sort of a low-level Web-producer job for the New England Sports Network (NESN) in Boston. Less than a year after I started there, my boss left the company. I made my case to be elevated to Web master and was in that role for about a year and a half, during which time I redesigned and re-coded their site. Through a corporate re-shuffling, I was then sent to work for Boston.com as an online sports producer working in the Boston Globe's main newsroom. Boston.com is a 24-hour news operation working at a pace that grinds people up and I got burned out there after a couple years of doing sports updates and a minimal amount of design work.

Q: Where are you from, where did you attend college, and what did you major in?

A: I grew up in Old Lyme, Conn. After high school I went to the University of Connecticut for two years, splitting time as an undecided major between the Avery Point campus in Groton and the main campus. As a commuter, I was not getting the "college experience," and UConn didn't have the program I was really looking for. So I transferred to the Atlanta College of Art in Atlanta, Ga. and majored in digital multimedia. Living in the city for the first time really opened my eyes to the world in many ways.

Q: Please explain how digital multimedia is different than graphic design/print media.

A: Digital multimedia was the umbrella under which Web design, interactive CD-ROM creation, photography, video shooting and editing, sound editing, and some graphic design and typography all fell. I loved my major because I learned about all of these things.

Q: How do you give all the Wesleyan sites a consistent look, however give each its own identity?

A: It is important to stay within the main Wesleyan brand, and we try to adhere to certain color sets and layouts so the main site, as a whole, is not scattered all over the place. That being said, we do strive to give each department their own individual presentation to the world. Photography plays a leading roll in the sites we design. A strong representative photograph is such a powerful tool in establishing concepts and expectations, as well as familiarity for our audience. There are so many sub sites that if everything looked the same, that would be a real turn-off to potential students, parents, and anyone else looking for information about the school.

Q: What are some recent department sites you have worked on

A: Wesleyan University Press is one that just went live last week. I worked on a pretty fun design for the computer store, which is still in the works and a complete overhaul of the Department of Athletics site was a big project that I worked on with Sports Information Director Brian Katten all within the past several months. The Strength and Conditioning site was a fun project that we worked on with coach Drew Black who had the great idea of putting videos on his site of all the different weight lifting and other strength training movements online.

Q: Some of Wesleyan’s sites are interactive, such as the Virtual Wesleyan site and the Strength and Conditioning Web site. What programs do you use to create multimedia-based and interactive pages and will the Web at Wesleyan be seeing more of these?

A: The special sites are always fun to work on, and I have learned a lot about Adobe - formerly Macromedia - Flash since being here. Most of the interactive work is done in Flash and I think you will start to see more of that though not always in obvious ways. We added the Flash top of the homepage as part of the 175th celebration, and will replace it with something equally dynamic once the anniversary year comes to a close. Another dynamic site in the works is an online brochure for the upcoming Faculty Art exhibition, which will have a nice Flash opening page and everything beyond that page will dynamically pull from various databases. Mary Glynn and Pat Leone in Information Technology Services have been instrumental in helping bring this project to fruition.

Q: How is Web designing rewarding?

A: Even though a lot of the sites I work on wind up having a relatively similar look and feel, each does present its own challenges. I have worked quite a bit with ITS staff to further the use of the Channel Maker tool to create more dynamic sites that are easier to update, maintain, and sometimes to keep archives. The Wesleyan Extra site is one example of a site that is run almost entirely by Channel Maker. I used some of those technologies, and collaborated with Anne Marcotty, our department's senior designer, to create the look. Anne maintains the Extra's site. The idea is to make each site work within the department's framework that they have in place for maintaining the content. We work with people of all different skill sets, and sometimes folks who have never edited a Web page in their lives. It is critical to these projects that the person I am handing them off to doesn't look at the files and have no idea what to do with them. In that respect, part of the rewarding part of my job is working with people around campus to create the site that they are envisioning in their minds when they come talk to us, and deliver them something they are both proud of and not intimidated by.

Q: Although you are a Web designer, have you worked on other design-focused projects at Wesleyan?

A: Most of what I do is either online, or in some sort of digital format. It was, however, very rewarding to be part of the team that put together the 175th anniversary exhibit at Zelnick Pavilion that really transformed that building into a walk-through of Wesleyan's illustrious history. It has also been a wild ride seeing the 175th anniversary logo that I sort of accidentally designed being used on everything from napkins to 60-foot tall banners on North College. I have a pretty good rapport with Steven Jacaruso, Wesleyan's art director, and Bill Burkhart the university photographer, and have worked on various other projects with them as well.

Q: Are the sites a collaborative effort?

A: Definitely. Everything our office puts out there for the world to see is truly a team effort. I work very closely with Jen Carlstrom, director of New Media Services, on every project I do. Every project I am assigned comes through Jen, and if she thinks she may have me work on a project, she is great about inviting me to the initial meetings about those projects so I have a full understanding of what the "client" is looking for. We also have a critique process on a weekly basis so I get constant feedback from folks in my department. Pat Leone in ITS is also an instrumental part of what I do here at Wesleyan. She and I bounce coding ideas off each other on almost a daily basis and she has taught me a lot in the 2-1/2 years I have been here.

Q: You also are a student in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program.

A: My concentration is in the arts, with a strong tendency towards photography, which has always been a hobby of mine. Some of my My favorite classes so far were a three-week long intensive course taught by Bill Johnston, and then a rigorous documentary photography course about a year ago taught by Wes alumna Sasha Rudensky. It is amazing how many great people with similar interests you get to meet in the GLSP program, and I have kept in touch with many of my former classmates. Photography has always been a big part of my life. I am a very visual person and see the world in a pretty strange way. I am pretty much always looking for the right angle to look at something, or finding strange things that would make interesting photographs. I love shooting landscapes as well as macro pictures of things that become quite bizarre when their individual details are amplified. I have some of my work online at http://www.ryandlee.com in case anyone is interested.

Q: What are your other interests and hobbies?

A: A little over three years ago, my wife, Nicoletta, and I bought a house that has been in the family since my great-grandparents bought it brand new in 1948. It needs a lot of work. We've redone the kitchen and bathroom, transformed a one-car garage into our dining room, and added a sunroom off the back. This summer we plan to blow out the back half of the roof and put a full dormer across the back of the house to allow for a second bathroom and a couple bedrooms upstairs in what used to be the attic. It is fun and rewarding to do this work ourselves, with a lot of help by my parents. We also have a dog, four cats, and recently lost our guinea pig. Every one of our animals has been rescued from some sort of extenuating circumstances, and each is quite unique. I also am working on learning to speak Italian, which I have been far too lazy in picking up. Nicole's whole family still lives in Italy and it's about time I learn to converse with them -- and my wife, of course -- in their native language. Nicole and I also spend a good deal of time educating ourselves on ways to conserve energy and live more earth-friendly lives.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor