Circles 2014 Conference

This was my first year attending the Circles Conference, put on by my friend Ismael Burciaga, so I wanted to record my first impressions for anyone looking to attend next year (hint: I highly recommend).

Swag Table

Let me begin by saying the conference was very well-organized. There was a lot of polish and attention paid even to the smallest details. Great swag, beautiful items that didn’t just get thrown away like the chintzy trinkets handed out at most conferences. Beautiful venue with a lovely overflow room for those who didn’t get tickets to the main event. Fantastically strong coffee and delicious all-natural pops from Steel City Pops.

The speakers were well-rehearsed and thoughtful. The conference managed a good blend of inspiration and practical advice, though I personally tend to favor a bit more practical discussion of the craft itself. There were a few too many “portfolio” talks where people primarily talked the audience through work they’ve done; though to be fair, many of the speakers had really powerful experiences to share. It’s not every day you get a behind-the-scenes look at the design process for a presidential campaign, a Times Square takeover, or a Wes Anderson movie.


Pacing throughout the day was good. The days started about an hour too early, especially since there was a party that went late every night. (Or am I just old?) However, there was a good amount of time given for lunch, which resulted in some meaningful conversations.

Those conversations, as always, were the best part of the conference. I met several people, many of whom I’d only ever talked with online and deepened several relationships already meaningful to me.

Great Conversation

One thing that stood out in my mind, though, was the generosity of the people in attendance. Four times during the conference, someone else paid for my meal. So many people jumped at the opportunity to cover the tab; it meant a lot to me and inspired me toward that same level of kindness and thoughtfulness.

And now, a quick list of my biggest takeaways from each conference speaker:

  • Heads of State: The things you do and talk about define you. Sometimes personal projects can help change your creative trajectory.
  • Jay Argaet: Don’t be afraid to try impossible things. They push you to work harder and often pay off big when you’re successful.
  • Kathleen Shannon: Don’t let fear control you. Figure out what you love, then find a way to make every day your ideal day. Define it specifically so you know when you’ve achieved it.
  • Lee Steffen: Creativity is an important part of finding your identity. “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” —Socrates
  • Doug Bowman: Everyone deserves a voice. Use your talents to help give the voiceless a way to be heard.
  • Becky Murphy: How do I become the most best designer that I can be? Experience things and let those experience inform your design process.
  • Matt Lehman: Learning to say no is learning to shape your future. We often say yes without thinking or because of fear, but that’s us being pulled along somewhere instead of intentionally choosing where we want to go.
  • Josh Brewer: When leading people, you’re setting the bar for creativity. Culture matters a lot to a team of people because it helps define your way forward, even in subtle ways.
  • Josh Higgins: If someone working under you is close, don’t nitpick over details. Let them take ownership of a project.
  • Jessica Hische: Our jobs can be difficult at times, but you can still smile. (Oh, and don’t use Live Trace in Illustrator or crack your neck.)

Thanks, Ish, for putting on a great conference. If you’re interested in signing up for Circles 2015—and I heartily recommend you do—registration is already open.

Goodbye Texas!