WSG News Blog

Looking Back on 50 Years: Robyn Ricks Turns Science Into Art

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Washington Sea Grant, we’re sharing reflections from current and former longtime staff about their work.

Robyn Ricks has shaped how the outside world sees Washington Sea Grant for over two decades. As the program’s creative director, Ricks designs communications platforms from websites to print newsletters to formal presentations. She brings an element of magic to everything she touches, turning even the most bureaucratic of documents into something beautiful. “Robyn’s initiative here was special, and the art became emblematic of WSG,” recalls former WSG director Louis Echols.

Ricks is also known for going above and beyond to use her wand to make creations for the sole purpose of bringing joy to her fellow WSG staff and community — for example, thoughtful birthday cards, environmentally-conscious holiday gift baskets, and even this video featuring the dogs of Sea Grant.

We got the chance to ask Ricks a few questions about her career here at WSG and how the program has changed over the years. Here’s what she had to say.

When and how did you start working for WSG?

I started working at WSG in December 1998. Before that, I had worked for a bunch of ad agencies, and then I got a job as a designer at the University of Washington Marketing and Communications. David Gordon was the science writer at WSG at the time, and I did a few projects with him. I wanted to do more environmental work. I had been doing a lot of design work for the health sciences, but WSG seemed like a better fit. I was drawn to the marine aspect of — the mission. That’s why I wanted to work at WSG full-time.

What do you like about working at WSG?

I like what we work on. I like that we’re always learning. Plus, it’s a kind and gentle place to work. I like our little office. I like that they give you enough leeway — WSG lets you be an adult. They have enough trust in you that they know you’re doing your job. Everybody is a professional.

What have been some your favorite projects over the years?

I liked working on the first edition of Heaven on the Half Shell. When we worked with Tucker the poop smelling dog – that was awesome. We also funded Julia Parrish on Tatoosh Island – so I got to go to Tatoosh for a few days to watch birds and see how she does her research. That was really fun.

I like coming up with a new look every four years for the funding cycle. The wonderful thing about WSG is that I’ve always had the permission to use the best photos that I could find.

How do you think WSG has changed over the years?

DEI has come to the forefront of what we do – as it should be. Russell is an awesome leader.

In my field, the biggest change in my field is the internet – having to learn to design for the web, and learning how to build a website. That’s been a big change, a big learning curve.

As the design director, you shape how WSG is presented to the outside world. How do you approach this?

You want to draw people in. The thing that draws people in the most is health, babies and sex. But since we don’t have those . . . we do have really amazing flora and fauna in the marine environment. I’ve been given permission to find the best images and to hire the best illustrators. I’m able to do a lot with that. I can make things visually appealing so people can grab on to it. I’m lucky. I honestly feel very fortunate that there is a Sea Grant for Washington state, and I feel fortunate to be a part of it.