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Designing for animals - Master student internationally recognized

2015-01-20

EDUCATION. Michelle Westerlaken currently studies the second year of her Master in Interaction Design at Malmö University. Her focus of interest is in animal-computer interaction.

Michelle Westerlaken
Michelle Westerlaken has a Bachelor in International Media and Entertainment Management, as well as a Master in Media Innovation from her home country, the Netherlands.

"My goal is to improve the life of animals, in a very wide sense. We humans have taken many animals from their natural environment, and we surround both ourselves and the animals with technology, but the animals are often not considered as legitimate users. I want to create technology that the animals can benefit from."

"The purpose of my last thesis was to find a method to evaluate the animals’ user experiences. We made a game prototype for cats and tested it at an animal shelter where I used to volunteer for in the Netherlands. We had nineteen users, cats, we videorecorded the user tests and coded their behaviour. Then we combined the data with animal science to figure out how we could improve our game."

International recognition

So far Michelle Westerlaken has published five conference papers and a journal article. And she was mentioned in a large popular science article about animal-computer interaction in the New Scientist.

"When I finished my previous master in the Netherlands I tried to publish my thesis. It was difficult to find a fitting venue and I got rejected twice before it got published. I also write a blog about Technologically Mediated Human-Animal Interaction and that’s how the New Scientist found me."

Michelle has a passion for animals since she was very young and has always been surrounded by animals.

"There are lots of animals, in agriculture for example, just standing there all day. I want to see what technology can do for them."

"For me it’s very important that the animals participate voluntarily, that we don’t force them. They must be able to join and leave the interaction whenever they feel like it."

Using her passion in the education

One reason why Michelle chose to study at Malmö University was that she wanted to learn more about prototyping and physical computing – another was the two thesis projects that the master students do.

"I’m trying to fit my interests in the courses and usually it’s possible. We’re doing a lot of things in teams – then you need to find people that are enthusiastic about similar things as yourself. Sometimes it’s good to do something completely different as well."

"The students in our class have very different interests and very different backgrounds. You learn not only from the teachers and the materials, but also from each other."

Text: Johanna Svensson

Last updated by Sarah Stancs