I was super stoked that I got the opportunity to go to Circles Conference this year on such a short notice. This was my first conference ever so I was pretty excited to get the opportunity to attend. Thanks to the leadership team for making it happen, I’m very grateful.
Circles Conference was a three-day event with great speakers, a bunch of crazy talented designers, and a ton of coffee. I woke up Thursday morning ready to drive through the traffic and hour drive to Grapevine, where the conference is held every year. Luckily, Grapevine has a ton of public parking so I didn’t have to spend too long trying to find where to park. I walked in and almost immediately, was handed my pass and a bag of some legit swag like a mug, t-shirt, a sketchbook, and a ton of stickers. After grabbing a bagel and some coffee, I went and found a seat in the Hangouts section.
The very first speaker was Mikey Burton, a self-proclaimed “designy illustrator.” He has done work for Converse, ESPN, Target, and even Playboy. He began his presentation talking about his journey from school to his first “job” making posters, to working in advertising, to becoming a freelancer. He mentioned his struggle getting started in freelance editorial illustrations and working with clients. One of the things he learned from his experiences was to say yes when you should probably say no. Doing work that scares you helps you grow as a designer. I took from it that doing work that scares you means you’re trying something different and new. It keeps designing rewarding and entertaining and you’ll be damn proud when you complete something new. He also mentioned how important it is to sketch. Take a sketchbook with you everywhere! Sketch different things you see. Sketching is a huge process in design and sometimes we take it for granted. He finished off his presentation talking about his Barrel Body project where he illustrated the food he ate every day. Because going to the gym is hard and it’s a lot more fun to draw the food you ate.
The next speakers were Brooke & Tyler Eide, the co-founders of Flint, a design studio in Seattle, Washington. They opened by speaking about some of their recent work, like their branding project with Mr.Holmes Bake House, a bake shop with pot jokes. They then dove into the general misunderstanding of the role of a designer. They talked about how the digital landscape (Google, Pinterest, Dribbble etc) has led to the misunderstanding of the design process and how much work goes into design. Template designs where you can buy 50 logos for 50 dollars with a click of a button devalues the role of a designer, making our jobs seem easy. Sites like 99 designs are doing the same thing. While although they are a great way to earn some money as a starting designer, it is speculative work (doing work for no guaranteed compensation). In all, Brooke and Tyler explained some of the ways we can communicate our value to our clients: being honest with them, being educational and explaining the process, and sincere expression (expressing our client’s message in a positive way). Their talk was a reminder that as designers, we don’t just make things look good, we are problem solvers finding meaningful solutions for our clients.
Sean McCabe of seanwes spoke right before lunch. Sean is an entrepreneur and author who stressed the importance of sharing your knowledge. Like the rest of the speakers, he begins with his background and going freelance. For the first seven years of his career, he was doing the same thing over and over and expected different results. My favorite part of his presentation was that he showed charts of his annual revenue. In 2007, when he had just started on his own, he was making about $14,000 working 18 hour days. Now, Sean’s annual revenue is $600,000. His secret? Writing and teaching all that he knows. It’s not something that happens overnight. He mentions that you shouldn’t wait for someone to say you’re qualified, just do it and teach others. His advice is to build a habit of writing, starting with 1,000 words a day. Don’t think about what you’re going to write, just start writing. I was definitely inspired by how much writing has impacted his career. Maybe I should start by writing more blog posts.
Next up was Joshua Blankenship, the Creative Director of NewSpring Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He talked about how he played multiple roles at NewSpring’s from Creative Director to Web Designer to Editorial Designer, leading multiple groups and learning along the way. Joshua’s presentation was full of 15 different points of advice for designers, but I’ll go ahead and highlight my favorite. One of his starting points that I really enjoyed was, “you’re probably not as good as you think you are.” His advice was to be humble as a designer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Working on a design team is great because you get the opportunity to put your work in front of them and get their opinion. Closing yourself off and hiding your work will produce work that isn’t as great as you think it is. Another one of my favorite points from his presentation was the importance of stepping away from your computer and getting inspiration from the world around you.
Allan Peters, the former Creative Director of Target, closed up the show for Day 1. Many of us have seen his work for Target without knowing the creative mind behind it. Well, Allan Peters is that creative mind. He started off by talking about his two very different styles of design: minimalistic and the polar opposite of minimalism. His work ranges from clean simple designs to design with filled with different fonts and elements. The rest of his talk revolved around Badgehunting, finding different badge designs in antique shops and around town. He explores the beauty of vintage signs and designs, remembering the days where designs were made by hand in wonderful detail instead of on the computer. Allan’s talking about his love for design and the attention to details in vintage design was very inspiring. His talk reminded me that design isn’t just our jobs, it’s our passion. We, as designers, are extremely lucky to get to do what we love on a daily basis. I recommend checking out his Dribbble account to see all the incredible designs he has created.
In all, you can see that I learned A TON in just one day at Circles. I left that afternoon feeling inspired and lucky to be able to do what I love on a daily basis.
Check out the Circles Conference Day 2 Recap here