Artist/designer Hannah Henry grew up in Hartford, Connecticut during a heyday of urban decay. After a well-rooted childhood she city-hopped from Boston to New York to San Francisco to Budapest to Napa and worked as a chambermaid, a waitress and a shoe-shiner. She began with photography, armed with a twin-lens reflex camera, and gradually increased her radius to include film, video, graphics, and the web. Currently she makes websites look good and work well.
Hannah's toolkit has expanded over the years with the fattening opportunities of new technology. But because she believes that the analog world feeds the digital world (and vice versa), she still believes in the power of pencils and newspaper and books and building things with wood and nails. Although she reads and writes code, she's more compelled by questions about how animals think than how to make computers behave.
If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BA in social sciences from Harvard and an MFA in film and photography from CCA.
What’s the best site you've seen lately? What’s so great about it? Longevity matters to me so although there are many cool looking sites out there, I have to say the best is still Google. It’s a great big white doorway to more information than we could ever possibly imagine. They used white space when everyone else was showing off content and they still use it. We may need a “White Space Reserve Act” to keep sites from filling up with info and ads. I also love their tributes. Les Paul was my favorite last year.
If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? I would go into the sciences... specifically, neuropsychology. I read everything I can find on the subject. I’m fascinated by the effects of screen media on our brains. Alternatively, I would start a bagel truck; I couldn’t find a decent bagel in California so I started baking my own.
Design or technology? Which is more important? Why? They are symbiotic. We forget that even a pencil was once a technological innovation; designers have always relied on tools of technology. On the flipside, every single thing we use and communicate with has to be designed. Got an idea or an invention? Well, it needs to be designed to be communicated.
From where do your best ideas originate? Sleep. And children’s art.
How do you overcome a creative block? Sleep. Exercise. Cleaning. Doing something for someone in need. Definitely not sitting in front of the computer.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new project. Fueled.
What well-known site is most desperately in need of a redesign? Amazon.
Do you have creative outlets other than web design? I draw. And I’m a photographer and filmmaker by training so the lens is my dominant medium. When I can, I exhibit my work, but much of it is personal.
What music are you listening to right now? The Alabama Shakes.
What product/gadget can you not live without? My bicycle.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve bought online? Ice cream. In the beginning of the dot boom in San Francisco, there was a company called Kozmo. You could order a video (VHS) and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s from their website and it would arrive by courier to your door within 30 minutes. It was heaven. They were out of business by April 2001.
What’s your favorite quote? “Never outsource understanding.” —Charles Eames
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Find a good mentor and stay in touch. Stay focused on the present but keep an eye on the past; it has everything to teach us. Listen to your elders; it’s so easy to think youth is superior because we know which apps are hot and how to reboot a router, but those things change so much faster than the old rules of discourse and we can’t be good visual communicators if we don’t know how to truly converse. Be humble and kind and remove yourself from the screen as much as possible; it will give you an edge over those who are overly immersed.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? That I would end up doing something that doesn’t require a master’s degree. I could have invested that tuition money.