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Brenna Mickey: Designing and Pacing the Globe

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Brenna Mickey: Designing and Pacing the Globe

Professor Mickey taking photos during her Havana, Cuba study abroad project

Professor Mickey taking photos during her Havana, Cuba study abroad project

Image courtesy of Brenna Mickey

Professor Mickey taking photos during her Havana, Cuba study abroad project

Image courtesy of Brenna Mickey

Image courtesy of Brenna Mickey

Professor Mickey taking photos during her Havana, Cuba study abroad project

Ethan McElvaney, Design Editor

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William Peace University instructor Brenna Mickey went to Peace College from 2006 to 2010 and then went to Elon University’s Interactive Media Program in 2013. She also has gone to 35 different countries on six different continents.

“I made a personal goal that I wanted to visit 30 countries before I turn 30 years old,” said Mickey.

Mickey, a communication instructor, teaches Art Appreciation, Imaging, and Public Speaking; however, when she first arrived at Peace, all she knew was that she wanted to play basketball and that she liked both the basketball coach and their team.

That changed when she not only developed her design skills, but when she found a new friend.

“I met a girl that lived on the third floor of Ross (where I did) and we went to Jamaica for Christmas to see her family,” said Mickey, “That was my first time out of the country.”

This was the starting point for a love of foreign cultures and destination, one that lead her to go to Mexico and Japan on study abroad.

At the same time, her drive for graphic design led her to get involved with The Peace Times, intern at a design firm in Winston-Salem during one of her summers, work for Raleigh’s Alzheimer’s Foundation, and make marketing materials for Peace’s Communication Department.

Her fervor for both of these areas did not start to merge until a year after graduating from Peace in 2010. Then, she moved to Bajram Curri, Albania so she could work with the Peace Corps’ Community Development Division.

“I worked in the local municipality there where I created a wide range of design materials for them, designed a logo for the town, wrote grants that were funded to renovate the local outdoor basketball court in town, and started a youth basketball league,” said Mickey.

Mickey became deeply attached to Albania and has returned there two times. She believes it is like a second home.

Brenna Mickey with a lady who took care of her in Albania.

Image courtesy of Brenna Mickey
Mickey with Zoe Nezaj, who Mickey calls her “House Grandma” or “Nene.” Nezaj’s family (her son, his wife, and their three children) lived in the same building that professor Mickey did in Albania. They took care of her and treated her like she was part of their family.

“Recently this summer I went back for a wedding and then I brought my two best friends from college with me to visit,” said Mickey. “So it’s a place that holds a very special place in my heart just like Peace does.”

Mickey’s experiences with the Peace Corps where what led her to pursue user experience design as career.

In one instance, she left the country again in 2016 to work with the Peace Corps in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. The issues the country’s citizens had with the websites they accessed over a 3G connection caused her to become passionate for improving web user experience for everyone.

While there was only one building on the entire island that had power, professor Mickey was fascinated by the fact that they used it to charge their phones and access the internet. At the same time, she was dismayed that companies disregarded the Vanuatuans low internet speeds, causing most sites to load sluggishly as result.

“Loading time was a huge issue in finding what they needed to do,” said Mickey. “You can design a website for somebody in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a tiny island, but if you don’t take into consideration the environmental factors they are going to have to deal with, they can’t use your product.”

Situations like that on the island in Oceania drove professor Mickey to advocate for the end user. That empathy has been her reason for being a user experience designer ever since.

“It feels like a mixture between a modern-day anthropologist and human studies… It’s a mixture of design and real-world situations,” said professor Mickey.

Upon returning from Albania in 2013, Mickey started earning her master’s degree at Elon University’s Interactive Media program.

“[Professor Roger Christman] handed me a flyer when I was a senior [at Peace] and it’s not something that I thought about until I was in the Peace Corps,” said Mickey.“I think I e-mailed him and asked, ‘What was that program at Elon again?’”

For one of her major thesis projects, Mickey had to travel yet again, only this time to Havana, Cuba in 2014 with a group of other students to help a foreign non-profit market themselves.

“Our goal was to create materials online that told the story of the restoration efforts in Havana, Cuba,” said Mickey. “We talked to a lot of local stakeholders, artists, and government workers who were a part of the initiative to preserve their heritage in the city.”

The final product was a website that helped collect all the information they had collected. The videos Mickey created and the infographics that she designed can still be seen on her Behance page today.

Since then, her portfolio website says she has worked on user experience design projects with design agencies Centerline Digital and Vital source on projects for International Business Machines (IBM), Quintiles, and other clients.

Despite growing up in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, Mickey sees herself as having come of age in the Peace Corps because of how her experiences in Albania and Vanuatu expanded her worldview.

“It’s definitely made me more globally minded and it helps in my work as a user experience designer,” said Mickey.

In 2015, at the recommendation of WPU Communication Chair Professor Roger Christman, Mickey returned to Peace to teach design, coming full circle in her career.

“As an alum, I thought it would be an interesting thing to come back to the classrooms where I used to be a student and teach,” she said.

Mickey recommends that any students who are interested in user experience design should read Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro and Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.

According to Krug’s website, Advanced Common Sense, Don’t Make Me Think has sold almost a half-million copies.

A Book Apart, the publisher of Design is a Job, quotes designers, lecture series founders, and art school department chairs praising Monteiro’s book as a necessity for today’s designers.

In addition, she recommends Elon University’s Interactive Media program to any communication student looking to earn their master’s degree after they graduate from Peace.

“They’ve got state-of-the art technology and they also focus on what you’ll need to work in [your] industry, which is what I try to do in my classes here,” said Mickey. “I feel like that is an important thing to gain in the higher education setting and they do a good job of that.”

Mickey hopes all of her design students pursue their craft passionately and learn as much about it as possible.

“Any response that you get on your work is an opportunity to look at what you’re creating from a different perspective, but that doesn’t mean you have to change what you’re doing,” said Mickey. “It’s really important to find a mentor or someone in the field you see yourself in after graduation.”

Aspiring designers or design fans can browse Professor Mickey’s body of work on her Dribble and Behance pages, or they can visit her portfolio website at www.brennamickey.com.

Those who wish to learn more about her travels, and her life can read her blog articles on her Medium profile, “Brenna Grey Mickey.”

 

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Brenna Mickey: Designing and Pacing the Globe