What led you into design?
During my childhood, there were multiple threads that led me to design. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, 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. Eventually, I got a PlayStation, and from that moment I was hooked.
When we moved back to America, I attended a Waldorf school. Instead of computers, we had to illustrate and write essays by hand with a fountain pen. Only once we got to high school could we type essays. Drawing multiple times a week, playing computer games, and having bad anxiety led me to stay inside where I found online forums for video game and anime fan art. That’s how I found out what design was.
From there, I pirated Photoshop Elements and started designing forum signatures and icons for my online friends. After a few months of that, my parents bought me a domain name and hosting (who buys that for a 13 year old?!) and I started making my own gnarly iFrame sites in Dreamweaver.
Once I figured out this could be a career, I signed up for fine art classes in high school in order to score that scholarship-winning portfolio for colleges (spoiler: I didn’t get it). I also took up some odd freelancing jobs at a local ad agency where I made banner ads for hotels in Florida and websites for local restaurants. Let’s be real, I was cheap labor and the owner was my elderly neighbor’s daughter.
Eventually, I decided to go to the Rochester Institute of Technology for Graphic Design instead of a traditional art school. I had this romantic idea that art school would just be drinking wine and reading Kurt Vonnegut, but I think I was wrong. After four cold years in upstate New York, I am now in Brooklyn working at Stink Studios!
What does a typical day look like?
My days depend on which part of the project, or how many projects, I’m on. If a project is in the early stages, I’m usually away from my desk with the rest of the team, sketching out some ideas on a whiteboard. With every project, there are days of intense wireframing, so I try to break those up with a walk around DUMBO. I also try to remind myself to talk with my co-workers about things other than work and pet the office dogs.
What’s your setup?
^ These photos are from our internal creative sprint last month.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I have a stack of magazines in my apartment that I will never actually read, but which I flip through when I need inspiration. I also look at SiteInspire, SavedFeature’s Instagram, AIGA Eye on Design, and Man Repeller.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I love Ssense’s rebranding and their editorial features. Eric Hu, their design director, gave a very mindful interview about the process he and his team went through.
People of Craft
I just found this site and I am so glad I can include it in this list! It’s so simple, but extremely powerful. The site lets the work speak for itself, allowing it to say more.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
A few months ago, in partnership with Google and the Equal Justice Initiative, Stink Studios launched Lynching in America, an experiential website that tells the stories of families affected by the history of racial terror in America. We wanted to create an immersive educational experience that users could connect with, regardless of prior knowledge of the subject.
My proudest moment from this project was seeing the map we created, which showed the data of lynching victims, in the The Legacy of Lynching exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.
Photos are by Emily Kordovich
Last year, we launched Google Presents the Hidden Worlds of the National Parks to celebrate the National Parks Service’s Centennial. We created an interactive tour of five of America’s most beautiful national parks led by park rangers.
To me, this project was a pivotal moment in my short career because the scope was so large and it had many moving parts. It was a huge challenge, but I am really proud of the work I did. The collaborative Stink Studios and Google team was best I could have asked for.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
When I started at Stink Studios (then Stinkdigital), I was the second UX hire in the New York office. There are still only two of us, so when there are a lot of projects it can be crazy. Even though we are a small team, we have done a good amount of work of creating a process and figuring out tools for ourselves and to help the larger teams on our projects.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Something I realized recently is the importance of mentorship. For the first year after graduating college, I felt like I was just going through work and wasn’t making any progress in my creative growth. I then started reaching out to coworkers I look up to and asked them to mentor me. I asked producers, creative directors, designers. They don’t have to be what you think you’ll be in five years, they just need to be a person you respect and look up too. I am so lucky at Stink to be surrounded by talented people I can ask to mentor me. If you admire someone, hit them up — it never hurts to ask.
I always try to reach out to people when I enjoy their work or something that they are doing. Everyone is busy, but everyone has time to be appreciated.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Yes! Desk Lunch, a newsletter for women and non-binary folks to share experiences of what it’s like to work in the creative industry. We’re here to celebrate, support, and project the stories that often go unheard. We want to establish a space for creative women and non-binary folks to feel comfortable existing authentically within the industry by making an effort to share stories from across the full spectrum of experiences.
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If you have questions about Desk Lunch or want to chat about anything mentioned in this article, feel free to DM me on Twitter at @lizvwells 🙃✨