Henry Daubrez is a belgo-spanish Creative Art director at Belgium-based studio Dogstudio. As of this January, he is also a member of the Awwwards jury. He is 28 years old, curious by nature and passionate about drawing.
Henry has been kind enough to do a little interview with us. Here he introduces himself and tells us something about his career trajectory, motivations and working style. Get to know him a little better...
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Awwwards Team: How did you become a web designer?
It’s quite a long story as I was lost in my career choices for a very long time.
I’d always been doing some illustration work and quickly got interested in everything related to design, animation, movies, architecture and so on… I think I’m more of a curious person than anything else, and attracted to creativity and the emotions you can convey with design and it’s perhaps the main cause which got me where I stand today…Still struggling to come up with the best ideas, and the pixel-perfect designs which will excite, communicate and get things done.
When I was a little boy, my mother used to take me each Friday to the library so that I could choose books and comics with her. This little habit of ours surely contributed to developing my interest in graphic design with all those nicely illustrated covers and the amazing illustrations from those really old comic strips.
At one point, I wanted to become an illustrator and started to draw like there was no tomorrow but growing up can be the biggest obstacle to your dreams for the future, as I soon realised I wanted to make a living from my job as an adult. The problem is that at that time, I wasn’t aware nearly everything around me was indeed created by graphic designers and I thought I could only get to illustrate comics or children’s books, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make a living out of it ( It seems so derisory right now). That’s why the idea of graphic design quickly went out of my mind.
Years passed and after a first year at university studying computer graphics, I felt like I needed something else: less maths and more creativity. While watching the bonus DVD from “The Lord Of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” box set, I discovered the outstanding work from the guys at Weta Digital. I still remember how amazed and excited I was by their 3D work and how I felt I needed to change my horizons and start new studies.
Next thing I remember? I was taking computer graphics classes, learning 3DSMAX, photoshop, XHTML and CSS 2 and after three years of studies and a 3D modelling internship in a game design company, I got my degree with honours and started to look for a job.
At that time I was freaking scared to leave my country for a job and I quickly became resigned about finding a 3D Job in Belgium where the market wasn’t really developed.
Three months later, I thought about starting to look for jobs in web design agencies even If I clearly remember hating it and I quickly got a few interviews which got me to my very first job as a web designer in a little digital boutique.
Time went on, I learned and worked more and more, changed company, got my first position as Creative Director, became partner and associate creative director at Epic agency and finally left to join Dogstudio (and the upcoming Superdog you will hear about really soon).
I cannot say the path was really straightforward and I’m convinced it was as twisting as interesting and a good life experience until now.
Where do you look for inspiration in your day-to-day work?
Obviously, Awwwards is a must and comes in first with the FWA, but for the rest it really depends. I used to have a really long list of RSS feeds (The Fox is Black, Change the thoughts, Graphic-exchange, Behance, etc…) and took some time to review everything but these days, I’m much more about time optimization, that’s why I tend to rely a lot on Twitter. There are many designers, illustrators and agencies I follow and I am constantly inspired by their own work and the work they tend to share. Twitter can be an amazing tool for inspiration because people already pre-chewed everything for you. Thank you for that, guys.
Apart from that, I still collect the images that inspire me and sort them by type in a large folder which includes logos, web designs, illustrations, interior design, etc…
How much is your work focused on user experience and content?
People tend to forget our work is much more about communication and efficiency than it is about “art”. I guess we’ve all had clients or relatives who told you your work is artistic or that you’re an artist. It’s still one of the biggest misunderstandings between agencies and clients: while you can be good at web design, user experience AND have an artistic side, these are completely different things. We have to think for users, come up with solutions where problems haven’t been met yet, and entertain our audience at a time when people have seen so many amazing things on the internet.
Yes, it’s getting more and more difficult because you constantly have to catch up with the new technologies to get all the tools you need for a good user experience but in the end, the very core is a good idea and without it, you won’t be able to cover anything under a pile of technologies.
To answer the question more quickly, my work is as focused on user experience as I can today. I mean, I still have a lot to learn and a lot of experience to get if I want to provide an entertaining while effective experience, but I’m more than aware that without content and a good concept our work is nothing but smoke and mirrors. We have to keep on focusing on content and to try our best to light a spark in our audience’s eyes.
Apart from using digital techniques, do you often draw, paint or work with physical materials?
Let’s be honest: If you never get to draw your concepts on paper, you won’t ever do great. In the same way you need a good idea first, you also need to express it in its more simple shape first, which means you only need pen and paper. In other words, I still draw when I want to come up with something different, I need to illustrate something, work on branding and so on.
A few years ago, I was really into painting (physical and digital), and while I don’t paint as much as I did before, all the things I learned through painting and illustration often come in quite handy. I know how shadows interact with lights, colours, distance, etc…and when you have to do more illustration or to go into skeuomorphic designs it is important to know how everything interacts.
Finally, there’s nothing more exciting than having the opportunity to shut down the computer and work on physical objects, papercrafts, etc…A few years ago we had a project involving creating a real-life model and it was as challenging as interesting and rewarding. Now looking forward to the next opportunity.
A question that may seem naive. As an internet professional, how do you think you could contribute to improving the world?
Ahaha, good one! I personally don’t think I actually improve the world at all right now and it’s sometimes a bit frustrating when you look at people really helping others to cope with the difficulties of life. You can’t help but think the world doesn’t really need you as a designer and all you do is sometimes finding solutions to problems that don’t really exist.
We know the power of communication and we surely know the power of an effective design and as the little humanitarian associations usually don’t have enough money [...] we should at least help them get proper tools to communicate their actions
So…. what could I do to improve the world? I think we, from time to time should get to work on humanitarian projects for free. We know the power of communication and we surely know the power of an effective design and as the little humanitarian associations usually don’t have enough money to get a decent website, we should at least help them get proper tools to communicate their actions. I somehow feel like a Miss World candidate saying that I would like to help people but It’s a fact. Internet is power and advertising too.
Which city do you live in? Is it a good place for designers?
I live and work in Namur (Belgium). First of all, Belgium is a great place for its artistic and cultural history and we should never forget it. Many great artists, writers and designers were born and lived in Belgium and it’s a richness we should cherish. In the specific case of Namur, I can’t say it’s the best place for designers as there are fewer public initiatives to raise design awareness but nevertheless, there’s one of the best digital schools in Belgium here in Namur. Before living here, I lived for 25 years in Liège which is much more into design and artistic events. I still hope there will be more interesting initiatives in Namur over the coming years (dear politicians, If you’re reading this…)
What’s your favorite book? And your favorite food?
Hard one…I love to read and it really depends on the kind of reading (and mood). I must say I’m a Lords Of The Rings and The Hobbit fan because of Tolkien’s talent for creating really detailed and epic stories. From the designer’s point of view, AKQA’s co-founder Ajaz Ahmed’s book called “Velocity“ was an incredible industry insight, so dense and interesting at the same time.
As for food, I’m not sure, but my beautiful and inspiring fiancée recently made me notice I really was into chocolate stuff (and Belgian beers too).
Having been recently nominated as digital agency of the year by AWWWARDS, what are you up to in 2013 ?
Yes, the end of 2012 was quite crazy for us yet left us hungry for more. We know the essence of our work is not about awards and fame but more about human interactions, rewarding experiences through word of mouth and emotions. That’s exactly why we dedicated ourselves to work harder in 2013 and come up with clever and exciting projects.
Last year we proved we could come up with original and pixel-perfect designs and our dedication to quality over quantity just grew even more.
In practice, this means 2013 is the year of international openness at Dogstudio and that we’ll be collaborating more and more with A-list brands and international agencies (We already are working on some exciting stuff).
For further development, we will be playing with more electronics, more connected objects, and creating more real-life and unforgettable experiences through a new company called Superdog (branding in progress), which is the perfect blend between our sister company Superbe and Dogstudio. We’ll work day and night to come up with fresh and new exciting stuff.
You’ll definitely hear from us this year.