Damian Madray is a San Francisco-based designer, brand manager and art director of long standing, and also, which is of most interest to us right now, an entrepreneur. Damian was the founder of DesignersCouch, a design community with 8k members that would eventually become what is today Hunie. Before he was a Judge on Awwwwards.com in 2010.
Damian also founded Depthskins, a design studio he operated for six years working with various startups and Fortune 500 companies. He recently re-launched the creative agency The Madray along with creating The Madray Ventures, which invests in startups. He's a distinguished designer featured in various publications like Applied Arts Magazine.
We asked him about the Hunie community, which aims to connect creatives with startups:
Awwwards Team: How did Hunie come about?
Hunie previously existed as DesignersCouch but we wanted to redefine ourselves and solve a problem for the design community. We didn’t know what that could be, but did some research to come up with what we have.
Hunie came about after holding two events in San Francisco (Designers & Startups, LeanUX) and talking to designers about what’s missing from design communities. After much discussion, we found there’s this need for more constructive critiques, a platform that allows those with knowledge to become mentors and those looking to learn and improve to do just that.
So how does Hunie accomplish this?
Well, we’ve designed Hunie from the ground up with a focus on constructive critiques. Currently most communities use the traditional method of commenting, where the design is at the top and the comments below. I don’t feel this is a user-friendly way of giving feedback.
At Hunie, we allow designers to annotate the images - this means at any point on the surface of the image a user can click and comment. What’s interesting about this method is that because the comment is specific to something in the design, it has more context, thus making it more constructive. Beyond that, it also frames the commenter’s thought, making their comment more insightful.
You said Hunie was previously DesignersCouch. Why did you rebrand?
Well, DesignersCouch actually had decent recognition but that was something associated with portfolio and showcase. I was moving away from that and felt the need to start afresh. In my mind, the product has to be branded. DesignersCouch wasn’t the brand I wanted to continue with.
Will designers take the time to constructively critique others in a way that is genuinely helpful?
Great question. We’re making an assumption that creatives like helping other creatives.
If you look around design communities on the web you’ll find designers have a tendency towards helping other designers. They do this by sharing their own work, sharing articles and having discussions. Many designers are self taught and they learn through these forums. We’re providing what we think is a better way to do this.
Some might feel the concept of “critiques” carries negative connotations. Are you worried about this perception?
It’s been a huge debate with advisors, investors and mentors but I always make this argument:
I wouldn’t want to use ‘feedback’ because that’s what you get from customers and clients. What you get from Hunie is the opinion of professionals. What they give in terms of feedback cannot be classified the same as what customers and clients give.
Additionally, Hunie essentially provides a way for designers to collaborate. Hunie is a place where it’s safe to give and receive critiques without worrying about someone being offended. Members of the community know that it’s given with respect and focused on improving each other’s work.
How does Hunie compete with sites like Dribbble and Behance?
We don’t. Their mission/ purpose is different from ours. Behance wants to organize the world’s creatives. Dribbble is aimed at being ‘Twitter for designers’ and they are both doing an amazing job at it.
Hunie aims to be a platform where designers can learn and improve through collaboration. We’re not a portfolio site. We’re here to help designers and their work improve.
Sometimes client don’t want their work displayed to the public, and this is enforced by NDAs. How do you plan to deal with that?
It’s a challenge. Right now, the work submitted is not searchable and can only be seen by members of the community. In the future, we’ll take that one step further by allowing members to control exactly who sees the work submitted.
Hunie aims to be a platform where designers can learn and improve through collaboration
So if I want to join right now, how do I do it?
Right now it’s invite only, as we’re in private beta. If you visit new.hunie.co, you can get on the invite list.
The reason, just so everyone understands, is because we’re trying to create a culture of critiques. We’re slowly onboarding users so the ones who are already on the site can set the tone. If there’s something we’re doing wrong, we want to fix it to ensure that culture can be clearly defined.
We’ve learned that bringing in the masses from the outset is not necessarily the best way to cultivate a community. If we can’t get 500 engaged, then how can we get 5000?
You’re a single design founder in 500 Startups. How did you get in? What’s the experience like?
Being in 500 Startups is great. You get connected to some of the brightest designers in Silicon Valley through their mentor network. What’s great is that they’ve helped me take Hunie off this path of being just a project and make it something much bigger. I really love that.
It’s a great learning experience, though I’m guilty of focusing more on work than cultivating what could be valuable relationships in the future.
There isn’t a process for getting into 500 Startups, though they’re now accepting applications via AngelList. I liked it the old way - it was like this secret society that no one knew how to get into but everyone wanted to be part of. Getting in is an accomplishment in itself. How did I get in? Well, I had a product and I approached them with it. That’s the gist of it, but it’s not necessarily that simple.
Thanks for taking the time to talk about Hunie, Damian.