By Elizabeth Kelsey, editor of Interface
Before Ben Morgan joined ITS Web Services in 2012 as a user experience designer/information architect, he worked as a more traditional architect—the type who designs buildings.
There was, after all, some correlation between the two fields: “My old boss at the architectural firm used to say we have to know a little about a lot,” Ben says. “Our role was to take the electrical engineer, the mechanical engineer, the contractor, and the client, and bring them all together to make everything work. And I think that’s pretty similar to building websites.”
According to Ben, the person in the “webmaster” role once managed all aspects of a web project. Things are now too complex for any one person to handle everything: “So we convene experts in the various sub-fields in this space and try to get all of the pieces to fit together,” he says. “At a macro level, Web Services is doing a lot of that with external groups with the recent visual redesign and platform migration to Drupal, but our group works like this on a micro level too. Each of us is better at one thing or another, and I rely on the expertise of those people to get my work done.”
In the role of information architect, Ben organizes a website’s components, determining, for example, which material belongs on a landing page versus a secondary or tertiary page. As a user experience designer, he makes sure the College’s systems are easy to navigate, whether users access systems from the inside, as content editors, or from the outside, as site visitors. Although he had WordPress experience before working at Dartmouth, Ben says he hadn’t previously given much thought to what happens to a website after handing it to a client:
“This job has opened my eyes to the concept that you can have a really great design, but it can be like giving a Ferrari to someone who doesn’t know how to drive: if they don’t have the tools to maintain it, then it’s kind of a moot point.” His role at Dartmouth was also his first exposure to the idea of a content management system, or CMS:
“Giving folks the ability to edit content in their own site via a WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get], without knowing any HTML, is a really big first step,” he says. “It gets people on the road and driving. There are the purely mechanical issues that must be supported after that—like how to create a new page, or edit an existing one. That’s the easy stuff though.”
The more challenging bit is helping people drive well. A lot of that is done through training and support, but a CMS can also help people by design. “Whereas Dartmouth’s legacy CMS, OmniUpdate, is fairly open ended, Drupal allows us to create a more structured environment,” Ben says. For example, Web Services can design a system that automatically formats imagery in the best way, or assigns proper header tags to text. These steps set site editors on the right path, leading to a more consistent look on all the College’s websites. That consistency leads to a better user experience.
Ben has always been interested in technology. “I don’t know what term applies to me, whether it’s geek, dork, or nerd — a little bit of each, maybe.” In his job in the architecture firm, he kept the file server running and the software and hardware up to date. As a self-taught developer, he’s been making his own HTML sites since the late 90s.
He arrived at Dartmouth in 2012 when looking for a career change. For someone who had only known small architectural firms, the College was a switch. Suddenly, he’d gone from working in a small business with a maximum of 13 people to what seemed like a massive organization.
“There was this sense that you were part of something very big and important,” he says. “I just suddenly felt like I was part of this larger community. I’d go out and meet people to train them, and for the most part, everyone was really positive and supportive. There’s a sense that you’re all on the same team—you go out to work with staff and you feel that you’re all in it together.”
More about Ben:
Favorite app: “Strava, a Facebook for athletes. You can post your GPS data for a run or ride.”
Hidden talent: “I can whistle pretty well.”