Drip’s Product Design Lead Hannah Donovan Talks Animal Prints, Being a “Type Nerd” and Strengthening the Artist-Fan Connection


Drip’s new Product Design Lead Hannah Donovan knows first-hand the power of music discovery. Growing up in what she describes at “the Texas of Canada,” her taste was transformed when she discovered hip-hop and electronic music on Napster. The power of that experience eventually led her to a job at Last.fm, where she worked to give the site’s users that same kind of experience. Her love of music goes hand-in-hand with a fascination with design, and both of these interests have figured prominently in her work. We talked with Donovan about how she built a career based on her love of the arts, and how her work with Drip is an extension of those passions.

So how did your love affair with music begin, and why has it been important to factor into your professional life?

Cello class, 1985 Edmonton

I was pretty lucky to be born into a creative family. My dad worked in the fashion industry at the time and my mom is a playwright. Music is important to both of them in different ways. My mom is a pianist who started me on cello lessons when I was three. My dad schooled me on classic rock while I watched him tackle his late night hobby of fixing boats and cars. I’ve always loved the nighttime, and as soon as I was old enough to be out past 8:00, live music beckoned.

When I was in 12th grade, Napster changed my life. I come from a city that I would loosely describe as the “Texas of Canada.” Before the internet, the music scene was mostly full of un-ironic cowboy boots and guitars. That was never my vibe, and mp3s gave me access to music that I otherwise wouldn’t have heard. I remember voraciously consuming as much hip-hop and R&B as I could. Beats just make me feel good.

That experience of discovery made me want to solve the problem of how to get the right music to the right ears, regardless of their background. It was hugely exciting to get to do that at Last.fm shortly after. Once I got a taste of working in music I didn’t want to be anywhere else.


“I like finding perfection in imperfection. I’m attracted to the chaos of big cities, and finding that one little nugget of beauty amidst the grit.”

Can you tell us a little bit about how those two worlds — design and music — converged for you?

Well, my first love is design and my second love is music. I remember the moment I wanted to become a designer. 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.

My first real job out of school was at a small agency in Toronto that was growing fast. I knew the tiniest bit more about front-end than anyone else there, so they let me take over their web design. The shop focused on youth brands in music, fashion and culture — which was great because, as one of my later mentors, Van Toffler, helped me put into words, I will always be 19 on the inside. (Fortunately, I have five younger sisters that help with that too.)

In 2006 my college collaborator Matt Ogle suggested I interview at Last.fm. I was ready to start grad school at SVA, but I flew to London anyway and, of course, fell in love with what the company doing. I decided to put my dream of living in New York City on hold. I was one of the early employees, and in addition to leading the design team, I got to make a lot of decisions about the product too. It was a roller coaster of high-highs and low-lows, and I worked my ass off, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything else.

Speaking about design at JS Conf, Berlin 2013

After Last.fm, Matt and I started This Is My Jam while working for a Research & Development studio set up by The Echo Nest. In many ways, Jam was a reaction to what we’d been doing at Last.fm. Instead of relying on big data and collaborative filtering, it was about notable data and human curation as a way to stack the deck for an algorithm to play with. It was exciting to see that project receive as much love from the community as it has.

But I was still drawn to New York City, and in 2014 I took a job leading design for a product incubator backed by MTV. I’d gotten to know the team at 1515 Broadway while Matt and I ran a consultancy to bootstrap Jam, they turned out to be a pretty cool group of mentors. The project lasted about a minute, though, and Sam Valenti from Drip pounced on me almost as soon as I was walking out the door.


After a lot of sitting on my fire-escape, soul-searching at 10 times the speed I felt capable of, and talking to close friends who I knew could be honest with me, I realized I needed to continue to do what I’ve always done — follow the interesting idea.

What are some other areas of the arts, besides music, that influence your work?

Fashion is a pretty big influence for my design. I grew up around it, so I’ve always been keenly aware of trends. I think it’s fascinating to watch patterns and colors on the runway make their way into street fashion, album covers, graphic design, apps. I always keep half an eye on it for that very reason.

Drawing monsters in that magical room at the Cooper Hewitt

I studied some art in design school and I draw monsters in my spare time. They’re sort of an alternate universe for me. Lately, though, I’ve been interested in learning how to draw animals and patterns. I love animal print, and I especially love more unusual patterns from aquatic creatures, insects and birds.

I’ve always been a huge type nerd, and taking pictures of signage is another one of my hobbies. I like finding perfection in imperfection. I’m attracted to the chaos of big cities and finding that one little nugget of beauty amidst the grit. London is brilliant for that. I’m just beginning the treasure hunt in New York.


Joining a startup is a lot like joining a band. First, you have to like each others’ sound and vibe. Then, they have to be looking to add the instrument you play. At that point, you can find out whether or not they want your instrument to be a lead. You play some of your songs, and find out if they’re down for you writing more.

What attracted you to Drip?

Sam and I have known each other for a while, and he was quick to pitch me on joining forces once my time at MTV ended. It’s funny sometimes how the choice that’s right under your nose is often the hardest to see. In my haze of Dealing With Life and being distracted by what I thought I should do, I somehow lost track of what I wanted to do. I never thought something like that would happen to me, because design is my passion. But choosing a creative life lulled me into a false sense of security where I believed I was following my passion simply by being a designer. Of course, that’s not how it works — to keep feeling fulfilled, we need to keep redefining what a creative life is, not just follow a signposted path.

Before joining Drip, I took a meeting nearly every day, and had serious conversations with about 20 companies in the space of two months. After a lot of sitting on my fire-escape, soul-searching at 10 times the speed I felt capable of, and talking to close friends who I knew could be honest with me (thank you @fascinated, @bwhitman, @dburka and @mroth), one brain-domino tipped over and I realized I needed to continue to do what I’ve always done — follow the interesting idea. I texted Sam one night from a barstool saying we should chat again. We did, and the ideas clicked.

Early days of This Is My Jam, London 2012

Joining a startup is a lot like joining a band. First, you have to like each others’ sound and vibe. Then, they have to be looking to add the instrument you play. At that point, you can find out whether or not they want your instrument to be a lead. You play some of your songs, and find out if they’re down for you writing more.

It’s that last part that attracted me to Drip. I’m pretty excited about the combination of my experiences on the consumer-facing side of music with Sam and Miguel’s creator and label know-how and Expa’s support and expertise.

How can a platform like Drip strengthen the relationship between a creator and their fans?

Fans have an unmet need today — to feel direct, authentic connections to the creators they love. It’s more than just following them — they want to feel like they’re on the same level. My hunch is that this is why live music and merch are the best ways to make money in music right now, why my good friend @mckelvie used to make his rent by selling a limited-edition print on Twitter, and why Kickstarter’s backer rewards are so successful. Those experiences are about as authentic and 1:1 as it gets between fans and creators.

There are other ways to offer this feeling of exclusivity — a “you had to be there,” fanclub-like feeling, and I’m interested in seeing how technology can remix these ingredients to create a similar experience.