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Web-design weaver



Martha Retallick has been on the Internet’s wild ride for the past decade.

Retallick is among the few Tucson Web-page designers with a continuous track record dating back to 1995, when she designed her father’s site using a word processor to hand-code everything.

Her most recent sites to hit the Internet in March and May are www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/msrc for the Mass Spectrometry Research Center at Vanderbilt University, and www.pharmacy.arizona.edu/departments/pharmtox/pharmtox.shtml for the Pharmacology and Toxology Department at the University of Arizona.

All looked rosy for Retallick during the Internet boom years in the late 1990s.

“The difference between 2000 and 2001 was striking,” said Retallick, owner of Western Sky Communications. “In 2001, I was looking around for other things to do because it (Web design) didn’t look viable.”

When in doubt, diversify, which Retallick did in 2002 by launching online books and software about postcard marketing.

“Then a funny thing happened in 2003-2004,” she said. “The design business came back strongly.”

Retallick came to Web site design via her publishing aspirations in high school, long before the Internet emerged. She worked for magazine publishers in Pittsburgh (her native city), Ann Arbor (she’s a University of Michigan graduate) and Tucson (where a friend came to escape Pittsburgh winters and economic slumping and Retallick followed).

The epiphanic moment came at a publishing class she took at Stanford University. Someone there told her, “Why don’t you find a way to help people get on the Internet.”

Retallick had published two bicycling books, “Discovering America” and “Ride Over the Mountain,” but they didn’t produce much cash.

“I was really hurting,” she said. “I was working at the UA bookstore and using employee discounts for books on how to create a Web site.”

Her timing gave her a front-row seat to nearly the entire history of the Internet as a public phenomenon.

“I thought it would be more like publishing than what it’s become. Commerce has become prominent,” Retallick said. “I think you’re going to see a template thing where you can design your own Web site. I think Web design will be more team oriented. I think it will be where you don’t view through a computer any more.”

Retallick makes sure her designs work on PDAs and cell phones and can be accessible to the visually impaired. She also assembles teams to build sites, working with experts such as search-engine positioning specialists, Web audio-video specialists and copy editors.

“When you work with Martha, you are the limiting person. She’s fast. I’m slow,” said Daniel Liebler, director of the proteomics laboratory at Vanderbilt’s Mass Spectrometry Research Center, which provides analytical capabilities to the biological and medical research at the medical school.

Retallick’s site replaced a “clunky and way out of date” Web site designed by a scientist, said Liebler, a former UA professor.

“A good Web site is a balance of art and function,” Liebler said. “She captures the style you want it to have even if she wouldn’t do it that way.”

Liebler recommended Retallick to former colleague Terrence Monks, head of the UA pharmacology and toxicology department. Monks noted that his Web site had succumbed to neglect.

“Everybody jumped on the bandwagon (to launch Web sites) and then totally forgot about it,” Monks said. “The way things are presented on Web sites is changing quite rapidly.”

“I think it’s more visually appealing,” Monks said of the new site. “It has a flash program that changes every few seconds. We now realize the visuals are important to capture audience.”


Business: Western Sky Communications

Owner: Martha Retallick

Offerings: Web page design, business consulting, online publishing

Contact: 690-1888, Retallick@cox.net, www.westernskycommunications.com

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