UX Designer to Watch: Meet Liz Wells of Stink Studios

by The Adobe XD Team

posted on 10-15-2019

Liz Wells is one of Adobe’s UX Designers to Watch. The list, unveiled on World Interaction Design Day (September 24), features up-and-coming designers who are breaking creative boundaries. Follow the Creative Cloud blog and @adobedesigners to meet more UX Designers to Watch throughout October.

When selecting our UX Designers to Watch, we looked for talent who demonstrated outstanding design work, but outside of their résumés, also wanted to honor and celebrate outstanding commitments to the creative community. Liz Wells meets these qualities in spades. From co-founding a community dedicated to uplifting marginalized voices, to using interaction design and multimedia to make LGBTQ+ stories more accessible — Liz combines art and technology to create impact through community and design. This is the kind of creative and impactful work we love to see.

We talked to Liz to learn more about her career in design and what inspires her.

Thanks for joining us, Liz. Can you tell us how you got started in design?

I can point to multiple threads that led me to UX design. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and on the weekends my parents would bring me to the National Gallery of Art. When I was seven, my family moved to Germany, where my parents continued taking me to art galleries. To keep me occupied during long car rides, they bought me a Game Boy, which rocked my world. From an early age, I was really influenced by both art and technology.

When we moved back to America, I attended a Waldorf school, in part because I’m dyslexic. Instead of computers, we illustrated and wrote essays by hand with a fountain pen. Drawing multiple times a week, playing computer games, and having bad anxiety led me to online forums for video games and anime, where I discovered graphic design.

From there, I used Photoshop Elements to start designing forum signatures and icons for my online friends. After a few months, I started designing and developing my own gnarly iFrame websites in Dreamweaver.

Once I figured out design could be a career, I signed up for fine art classes in high school. I also took up some freelancing jobs at a local ad agency where I made banner ads for hotels in Key West, Florida and websites for local restaurants.

Eventually, I decided to go to the Rochester Institute of Technology for Graphic Design instead of a traditional art school because I wanted a more technical design education. After four cold years in upstate New York, I am now in Brooklyn working at Stink Studios!

Thanks for sharing your journey. What is your favorite project that you’ve created?

One of my favorite projects is Desk Lunch, which I co-run and co-founded with Katie Puccio. Desk Lunch is a community for all creative people of marginalized genders. Since 2018, we have published a weekly newsletter featuring stories and thoughts from creative folks around the world on topics that are relevant to us, ranging from being non-binary in the workplace, commodifying your own culture, a love letter to friendship, confronting injustices in shared spaces and supporting others at work.

Credit: Liz Wells

Another project is Stonewall Forever, which launched this summer to commemorate the legacy of the Stonewall Riots and mark 50 years of Pride. We created a documentary film, an interactive monument and an AR app that features previously unheard perspectives from the LGBTQ+ community and expands access to key narratives from LGBTQ+ history.

Credit: Liz Wells

Great to see your passion for these communities! What inspired you to start Desk Lunch?

We started Desk Lunch when we noticed a gap in the market for a platform that uplifts the stories of creatives of marginalized genders. Tired of seeing the same names gracing the covers of trade publications, headlining conferences and appearing on podcasts, we decided to build a community that had intersectionality, diversity and accessibility baked into its ethos from the beginning.

Desk Lunch is still young, but raising the voices of folks of marginalized genders in the creative industry is extremely important to me. There are a lot of folks that are doing great work that I look up to in this space: Rebecca Brooker, Amélie Lamont, Tatiana Mac, Omayeli Arenyeka, Sabrina Hall and so many others.

Who (or what) are some of your other inspirations for your work?

In my daily life, I am inspired by super talented coworkers at Stink. I’ve learned so much from working with all kinds of people – other designers, developers, even our office dogs. I’m also really inspired by the folks who write for Desk Lunch. There are newsletters I still think about long after they have been published.

Other sources of inspiration include AIGA’s Eye on Design, Site Inspire, Man Repeller and The Recreationalist. When I am really stuck and need inspiration, I like to watch game walkthroughs on YouTube of games I wouldn’t usually play to see how games treat UI, onboarding and gameplay — especially full motion video (FMV) games from the 90s.

Credit: Liz Wells

Outside of your work, are you involved in any design industry organizations?

100s Under 100, an invite-only Slack channel for designers, has regular show-and-tell events in NYC. They are my favorite events because folks share not only projects they are working on but also passion projects and non-work related things. AIGA NY is also NYC-based and always hosts great events.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to attend IXDA’s Interaction 19, which was the first UX conference I’ve ever been too. Looking forward to Interaction 20 next February in Milan, Italy!

We’re chatting today because of UX Designers to Watch. What does the list mean to you?

That I must be doing something right! It is really rewarding to feel recognized and seen for the work I have done and what I have given back to the design community. It is really encouraging to be rewarded for my work so early in my career.

Where do you see your career going next? Where do you see yourself in five years?

A goal I have for 2020 is to speak at conferences, and read more books, so let’s see which one actually gets accomplished. I also want to continue to learn more about development; I am planning on taking a SuperHi course this winter to brush up on some skills.

As for where I see myself in five years, that is a bit harder to answer. I have some dreams about opening my own studio one day… but we will see! For now, I just want to be able to finish reading one book.

Check out more of Liz’s work on her website, and meet the rest of the UX Designers to Watch here.

Topics: Creativity, Design, Customer Stories

Products: Photoshop, Creative Cloud, XD