Hannah Donovan

Post Archive

I design music products for the web & speak about it.
Want to chat? Get in touch: han@hannahdonovan.com

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My essay for .net magazine (based on my “Sometimes You Need To Draw Animals” talk) came out today in the August 2014 issue. You can get it digitally or in print.


Honoured to be in the latest issue of M2Woman (New Zealand) alongside some pretty amazing women from Webstock in a positive-leaning article about the issues of diversity – and shifting culture in tech.

Something I touched on in my talk was an aspect of my personal cycle of inspiration, and how directly it’s linked to my self-expression. I’ve repressed certain aspects of myself in the past in an effort to “fit in” with tech culture, but I now recognise how detrimental that was to me as a designer, and how important it is for us to embrace personal self-expression – diversity – to make the industry a more inspiring place for everyone.


I recently gave my “Sometimes You Have to Draw Animals” talk at Webstock in Wellington, New Zealand; here’s the freshly released video!

Thanks to everyone who gave feedback and helped critique the first iteration of this talk I gave in Berlin last year (especially you, Monika!) – it felt really good to tighten, update, and polish this material for a new audience.

Finally got round to finding a copy of this crowd-sourced Q&A I did last year. Some of my favourite topics around designing for This Is My Jam came up including the super fun background image filters project – cheers for that one, Rob!

Finally got round to finding a copy of this crowd-sourced Q&A I did last year. Some of my favourite topics around designing for This Is My Jam came up including the super fun background image filters project – cheers for that one, Rob!


Making 2013 Jams (under the sea)

My captain’s log entry over on the making of Jam Odyssey over on the This Is My Jam blog:



Over the new year and throughout January we’ve had tons of people create their 2013 Jam Odysseys. We received many nice emails too; our favourites included “Fuck! I’m Awesome”, “Thank you so much I love you”, and “such a lovely way to get a flavour of your year”.

So, we thought you might like a peek behind the scenes. Here’s how a labour-of-love project like this goes down at the Jam Factory:

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Thanks for all the sounds, 2013

The year is nearly over! Here’s a Spotify playlist of what 2013 sounded like to me. If you don’t have Spotify, you can get a taste of a lot of these tracks from my 2013 Jam Odyssey too.

I’ve never done a round up of music from the year before (I know!) This is mainly because I crate dig and listen to a ton of old music too, so restricting myself to just one year doesn’t feel completely representative of my taste. This December, though, I challenged myself to compile a list of new (as in newly released) sounds that helped define the shape of the year for me. (Also, I was basically on deadline all December, so oh hai procrastination). 

If I could, this playlist would include almost every track off Beyoncé’s self-titled album, which was the most exciting and unexpected thing to happen for me musically this year. I’ve had it on repeat since it came out; there are so many good tracks, but I think my favourite is ***Flawless, with Ghost/Haunted as an extremely close second. Since December was so mental, so I didn’t get to sit down and watch all the videos until the Xmas break – which I got to do with my sister Sophie – one of the best moments of spending the holidays together. I love hearing her dancer’s perspective on these things.

Other highlights from the year that strongly influenced this playlist were seeing Killer Mike, Solange and Jessie Ware perform at Primavera in Barcelona; going to a small and amazing Homeboy Sandman gig in Berlin during the summer, then later getting to have a lovely conversation with him in New York; seeing the Roger Limb (the pianist from the house jazz band at my favourite pub, the Wenlock Arms) perform with his BBC Radiophonic Worskhop mates at Rough Trade East; and right before the year finished, seeing Oddisee and his incredible band, Good Company, live in London.

Thanks to all the artists who made 2013 more beautiful with their music, and the people in my life who introduced me to it.


The video from my JSConf talk was recently released, so here it is! If you want to watch it with the slides, you can get those here.

This was one of the most challenging but rewarding talks I’ve given because it begins with a very personal story that up until recently, about five people knew. Telling a story like that on stage is hard because you feel so damn vulnerable doing it. To add to this, I somehow managed to give my most non-technical talk at the most technical conference I’ve attended (good job Hannah!) which was a little intimidating. I feel strongly about delivering this message to the development community, but… because I’d never seen it done before I had no idea how it was going to go over, and the audience was a little different to what I’m used to. I was prepared for the very real possibility that it could be a tough crowd to speak to, let alone be vulnerable in front of.

So that was the challenge part.

The reward part was that I had nothing to be afraid of. I got more positive feedback after giving this talk than I’ve ever had at a conference. Really. People love stories. More importantly, I had some great conversations with attendees who approached me to share their stories and not only did I learn a lot, I feel like I really got to know some people that day. That’s pretty cool for conference drinks chit-chat. Finally, the JS community is one of the most warm and welcoming communities I’ve experienced. From the moment I walked into the (huge!) venue, I felt comfortable with the those cats.

Stuff I learned:

  1. If you have a personal story you want to tell, but haven’t because you’re scared shitless for the reasons I just mentioned – do it anyway. It’s much easier than you think it is. People have a lot of love for personal stories; they feel connected and enlightened. Kinda what we go to conferences for in the first place ;-)

  2. Be prepared for people to share their stories if you share yours. Obvious, but I totally wasn’t prepared for this. After I finish a talk I’m totally high on adrenaline and very ready for a cold beer; an hour later I come to my senses and realise I’m drained of every milligram of energy I once contained and want to curl up in a dark hotel room and not talk to anyone. At this conference, the oh-shit-I-can-barely-form-sentences-all-of-a-sudden feeling was compounded by the fact that I’d also barely slept all week. (I’m not proud of that, and I normally would never do that the week of a performance, but that week was an extreme set of circumstances). If I gave a talk like this again, I’d mentally and physically prepare myself for saving some energy reserves for post-performance conversations. Because they were really good!

  3. This advice goes for any talk, but is even more important in the context of sharing mentally taxing material: manage people’s expectations so they know what ride they’re about to go on and how long it’s going to be, keep it short, and have pauses: People have patience and empathy, but a limited supply of each (especially after a long day at a conference). Pepper your more difficult/emotional material with some comic relief so it’s not too agh-group-therapy. (Or if you’re like me and not clever-haha-jokes-funny, then give people a hungover owl break or or something). When you’re asking people to take in difficult material, they need a few breaks. (I was recently at a conference where I heard someone share a personal story and she didn’t do these things, and it was really tough going. I had to go into the hall for a breather halfway through because I couldn’t take an hour of unrelenting emotional storytelling).

  4. Lastly, since you’re asking a favour of people to listen to your story, make it pay off for them. The reward (the takeaways from the talk) should be stronger because of the story. Maybe the story lends credibility/authenticity; maybe it helps demystify a complex concept; whatever. Just make sure the story is in service of the talk, and the talk isn’t in service of the story. There’s a place for those (and if you have one to tell, you should write it!) but I don’t think that belongs at a conference where people pay hard-earned euros to become better at their craft.