Web Afternoon


Design Edition

February 26th – 1-6pm · The Garage at Tech Square · Atlanta, GA

Hannah Donovan

Souls & Machines: Designing the Future of Content

Not too long ago, it seemed like big data and collaborative filtering were going to solve our desires for discovery and inspiration. At the same time, platforms dedicated to new methods of self expression – music, writing, video, etc. – have matured, and their new forms of content have become mainstays of our culture.

Today, content companies are adapting to become digital products, and tech companies are learning to make content. How does a product designer navigate this changing landscape? What are the answers to questions like “humans vs. computers,” “pro vs. user-generated content,” and “opinion vs. democracy?” These questions and more will be answered through case studies, experiments, and (of course) stories. Come to learn, stay for the fun!

About Hannah:

Do you love Spotify or Apple Music? If so, you have Hannah Donovan to thank for your virtually limitless supply of music streaming. Hannah started with Last.fm in 2006 when music streaming and discovery were in their infancy, where she ultimately led a team to create the first compelling user experience for music on the web. From her time running her own startup at This Is My Jam, to building Last.fm, to working in MTV’s product incubator, and now building Drip, she’s been there, done that, and she has the resume to prove it.

Hannah is currently the Product Designer at Drip, “a new kind of fan club for music and culture.” She is also a well-known speaker who lives at the intersection of big data, big communities, human curation, and the design that ties it all together. She’s been working with discovery and curation since her time leading the design team at Last.fm in 2006. Throughout her career, she’s been a part of creating cutting edge interfaces that have gone on to influence entire sections of the app store.

Hannah will be sharing real-world tips and case studies to help you understand how to design for content, both for user-generated and user-curated product experience. Her real-world tips and battle stories are not to be missed.

A Brief Interview

You’ve been doing this design thing for a LONG time, which is funny to say because you’re so young! How old were you when you knew you wanted to pursue design as your career?

About ten. My dad and I were messing around with a printing press my parents had in their garage. I asked him what the job was called where you put shapes and color and type together. “Graphic artist,” my dad responded. Excited that such a profession existed I announced, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.” My dad looked me in the eye and said firmly, “No, you don’t. You want to be a creative director.” My dad was pretty cool for the ‘80s.

I checked out your website, and it’s obvious you have been involved with many really cool projects all over the world! Is there one that’s especially meaningful to you?

Aw, thanks! That makes me smile. They’re all meaningful to me in different ways. Both Last.fm and This Is My Jam were unforgettable, roller-coaster-like experiences. I learned so much, so fast, with both of those projects. Drip is shaping up to be similar ride!

Token question alert! Can you describe your creative process to us a bit?

I always start with a lot of research. I talk to people and seek out experiences that might elicit the same feelings or outcomes to the one I want to create. I get pretty gonzo with it. I’ve always been the kind of nerd that likes to go extremely deep on a problem, so I read everything I can about the topic. That creates the right bits of stuff swirling around in my brain. Then, it’s about sitting down every morning and doing the work, even on the days I don’t feel creative. I force myself to do it through habits and rituals. I like to find a beautiful image once a day. I journal a lot. I move. I keep my ‘creative tap on’ by seeking out weird or different experiences and environments that might lead to something unexpected. My best ideas almost always happen in conversation though; I don’t think it’s ever been when I’m at my desk.

What industry sites and blogs do you read regularly?

I rely heavily on information getting pushed to me through social networks and email. I love email newsletters and subscribe to a lot of them. One of my favorites is Rusty Foster’s “Today in Tabs” for tech/media/culture.

Do you have a favorite design tool? Why?

Definitely my moleskine. I’m one of those designers that needs to write/draw as I think. Going back to my statement from earlier, that my best ideas happen in the context of a conversation, I think using a sketchbook is a way to have a conversation with myself. After that, it really depends on what I’m designing, but I do have a long-standing love for Illustrator.

Who are some of your design heroes?

Paula Scher. When I came across her work in highschool, it was very inspirational for me, giving me confidence that having a successful design career as a woman in the industry was possible. I go back to Alan Fletcher often, particularly when I’m stuck, and I love anything pop-culture oriented. Most of the designers I admire today are all contemporaries, pushing aesthetics, technology, and interfaces forward. I’m extremely lucky to even count a lot of them as my friends.

What are some questions you ask when considering taking on a new project?

They are, in this order: Is it going to be fun? Am I going to learn a lot? Is there good upside? The first two are really informed by the team. The team is everything. The team will make or break the project.

How do you stay on top of design trends?

I’m in a few different private slack channels with designers, and we share a lot of information that way. Also, most of my friends are designers, which may or may not be a good thing (ha!). Of course I do all the usual things, including following people I admire and reading a lot of articles, but I think when it come to trends I pay very close attention to fashion (runways and streetwear) because the colors/textures/typography often make their way into graphic design and UI some months later. I try to pay attention to what’s happening in Asia and Europe because I have a theory that trends move east to west. Or, I should say, at least I’ve noticed this going back and forth between London and New York a lot.

If you had a magic wand and could create the perfect job, what would the job description be?

Haha, is there such thing as a perfect job?

Is there anything you’d like to say to Adobe Flash before it goes away for good?

Thanks for making the music play on Firefox for all those years they refused to pay for an mp3 license and we needed an HTML5 fallback.

Do you have a celebrity doppleganger? If so, who is it?

I usually get Molly Ringwald. I don’t really see it and think it’s just because she has red hair like I do, but I’m okay with that. She’s pretty dope.

You seem like one smart cookie, so we have to ask you a question that’s been bothering us: where’s Waldo?

He’s in Atlanta for Web Afternoon, baby!

Finish this sentence: The best part of waking up is…?

When it’s afternoon.