Home People This GA Tech Designer Wants to Champion Visual Design for Orangutans

This GA Tech Designer Wants to Champion Visual Design for Orangutans

by Muriel Vega

Not everyone can say that they are on a first-name basis with a red panda at ZooATL. Designer Becky Scheel can. After 9+ years of working as a graphic designer at the zoo (and having tons of one-on-one time with the animals), Scheel moved on to the Master’s program in Digital Media at Georgia Tech to expand her design and programming skills.

While her design background is impressive, her special interest in the environment and wildlife conservation led to a thesis on orangutans and animal-computer interaction, setting her apart from the rest. Her big, creative ideas can translate to any work environment, including data visualization and UX.

This senior designer is open to any size company and has a special interest in visual design and research, especially if pandas are involved. “A workplace with pandas helps, I will consider panda adjacent as well,” says Scheel. This unique designer won’t be on the market for long.

What program are you graduating from? Why did you pick this particular program?

Master’s program in Digital Media at Georgia Tech. It allows for flexibility and unconventional ideas to flourish. It’s a lovely mishmash of computing, design, and liberal arts.

What is your previous education?

I have a BS in Industrial Design from Georgia Tech. I know the school well (I also work there full-time) and it just gets better and better (but the Mickey clock remains).

What startup/tech projects have you worked on?

My thesis is about orangutans and digital enrichment, which in a nutshell, is UX for non-human primates or animal-computer interaction (ACI). It’s a challenge to work with a regulated environment with some sizeable constraints, like a communication barrier. Although I will say that you are able to tell a lot through their behavior. I’m not sure what peeing on the equipment translates to, but it was feedback!  Other projects involve elephants and music, dataviz for red pandas, and digital artifacts that involve creativity.

Tell me more about your transition from ZooATL to UX at Georgia Tech. What prompted the change?

I had ideas on how to incorporate UX and other projects into the Zoo, but grad school gave me the freedom and taught me new skills. I think most designers realize that we are moving towards digital! The new skills and approaches I developed in grad school open up new ways to use storytelling or provide insight. I worked with a nonprofit on my dataviz project and we were able to parse data, research, and design in a new way for them to tell their story.

Your Google+ skills are amazing! What other tech/tools are essential to you as a developer?

I attempted to learn five languages in a few weeks last year. It was brutal. But besides programming languages, GitHub,  and my love for my software of choice, Adobe Illustrator, the best tools for me are sketchbooks, futzing, and failing.

What inspires you as a UX designer?

Lately, it’s been Radiohead, Biji the orangutan, frustration, Last Week Tonight, classmates, and professors. And with any design, inspiration usually comes after a lot of work and 3 a.m. insomnia.

How do you stay informed & on top of emerging trends?

Recode, classmates, Twitter, friends who work in the fringes, and sessions/talks that are more information less sale. But while I understand keeping up with trends, I am more interested (and sometimes worried) by what is coming next. I look for avenues where design can go and how it can situate and resituate itself in others. Schools has helped me look beyond the hype. Most of the year I have studied self-driving cars and it makes you think about the design of algorithms, how we classify object, and testing and analyzing a novel idea.

What are your best technical or creative skills?

I have been a graphic/exhibit/digital designer for a while, and my master’s married my visual design with the wonder and fun of a science museum exhibit. I love thinking big and gravitate towards wild ideas.

What’s next on your list to learn?

I have been doing research on drones and their work in wildlife conservation. I think it’s fascinating, but I also wonder in what other ways can technology and design provide support. I’m also excited by new tools for DataViz like Flourish.

Why the interest in the technology field?

Tech can accomplish a lot in a short timeline, it’s mind-boggling (especially coming from a product design background). I’m a designer and there are certain lessons you learn from your craft that carry over to any field. I’m eager to use my design skills, background, joy, and big ideas to make things happen in tech. I believe that we have the tools to make a positive impact not only for us but all things we share the world with, given we are critical of our field and it’s limitations.

Interested in checking out Becky’s credentials? Check out her website and LinkedIn.

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