Design Conference Takeaways

This was my first time to attend Circles Design Conference, and it was totally rad! And yeah, 80’s themed. Not only did attendees get sweet swag, but great insight from the following peeps. These were my takeaways…


Mikey Burton

Say YES! even when you should probably say no. Especially to the work that scares you.

SKETCH! and make sure you SKETCH!

It starts with an idea. And then you smother that idea with YOUR style.

Make work for YOURSELF, even if you don’t know where it’s going.

COMMIT and be PATIENT (this career takes time, no such thing as overnight success)

Sean McCabe


Grow your business: WRITE

Ignore your critics, just do your thing!

Why you need to write:
you have experience and knowledge people can benefit from
1K words/day – build the habit

Why you don’t write:
nothing to say (once you start writing, you’ll find you do have something to say)
commit to show up. every day!
you can’t improve what you haven’t written (edit later)
starting with a target audience helps

How to start writing:
don’t overthink. mind dump.
stream of consciousness – release it.
everything you think, just write it. bridge the gap by editing later.
rip out the backspace key (not literally, unless you really want to).
keep writing and editing separate.
if you can talk, you can write.
minimize distractions/eliminate interruptions.
your brain DOES NOT EQUAL storage space, your brain EQUALS processing power.

What to write about:
share what you learn.
teach everything you know – your process, curate resources, tell a story, chronicle growth. share experiences. cover news. review products/services.
the only way to truly document the past is to write it as you experience it.
post ideas: lists, FAQs, research, case study, series, inspirational, BTS, crowdsource, what if, story, checklist…

* If you do something more than once, automate it

Editorial Calendar:
get content in the queue (weekly cycle, work 6-weeks ahead)
ideally daily (work a 2-week buffer)

What are people asking for?
ASK them? And then write the responses.

Where to use writing:
repurposing is your friend – write, audio, video
replay your best hits (do more of the things that are working)

Get better at writing:
write like you talk.
read what you wrote.
record your speech.
listen to your voice.
transcribe your words.
re-write your message.

*hybrid voice, intentional auditing

* Writing is the FUEL for every other medium.
* Your life will change when you start writing daily.

The slides.

Overlap. The book.


What is my definition of design?

As you journey in the design profession, you will at times feel like a fraud (self-doubt).

No matter your doubts, do it anyway.

Find inspiration in that which isn’t connected to your work.

Inspiration can not be forced, it must be allowed.

Your portfolio should show the kind of work you WANT to do.

Joshua Blankenship


  1. Don’t complain about what you permit.
  2. You’re (probably) not as good as you think you are.
  3. But you know more than you think you do.
  4. Get help (mentors).
  5. Get low (you don’t deserve it, you must work for it. offer to help the best).
  6. Get to work. Do it. Less talk. More rock.
  7. Learn to draw.
    “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image with a fuzzy concept” – Ansel Adams
  8. Develop in the dark.
  9. Learn to tolerate the discomfort of the process. You can’t short-cut the process.
  10. Copy the bones, not the skin. Plagiarism v. Inspiration.
  11. Turn off the computer. GO!
  12. Proximity increases the chances of serendipity.
  13. Specific seeds produce specific fruit. You grow what you sow.
  14. Everything is the pitch. YOU are your brand.
  15. Whoever you’re waiting on is leading the project.
  16. The tactics aren’t the mission. Every good brand has a true north.
  17. Study you. Know yourself. What is it like to be on the other side of me – the good and the bad?
  18. Don’t take yourself too seriously!
  19. Work is a rubberband. It will always bounce back. All other relationships are made of glass – family, friends, spirit (you). Make sure you “try as hard at home as you do at work.”
  20. Don’t be afraid to commit (stick around).
  21. Don’t be afraid to leave (take chances).

Allan Peters



LOGO Design

  1. Noun list (reduce to top 5-10, have client do it too) & mood board.
  2. Rough sketches (10-15 to share, many more for ideas).
  3. Digital concepts.
  4. Revisions & color
  5. Final revisions


Others ideas shouldn’t change your ideas, but rather challenge your ideas, so you can mold your own ideas with fresh perspectives.

Mary Kate McDevitt


Embrace your imperfections, make them work for you.
short attention span (check) = increased spontaneity
impatience (check) = gets the project to closure quickly

Side note: Mary Kate is a skillshare instructor. Try 3 months for only $0.99 (I’m a member and love it)

Ashleigh Axios


Every person is a leader… so help them thrive as such.

See yourself in those around you, and then some more.

“When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.”
– Ed Catmull, President, Pixar Animation Studios & Walt Disney Animation Studios

Hire like you want innovation, diversity breeds innovation.

Do YOU! Personality is a great thing. Being a phony is a tragedy.

Mistakes will happen. Turn them in to opportunities. Don’t let fear stop you.

S     T     R     E     T     C     H
Set goals that seem more than a little out of reach. Otherwise, it’s not a goal, it’s a task.

Luke Stockdale

Bringing good design and sign fabrication together. Again.

Designing for Signage:

Consider materials
Size, bigger is not always better
Hierarchy of type
Distance/legibility (google chart)
Think monoline (perfect for signs, create logo version in brand guidelines)
Application (where it’s going)
Conversation (between ALL parties involved)


Where do I find inspiration?

Aaron Draplin


His new book was his talk. Great stuff!
Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything

Jessica Walsh


My Work = My Play

Play is a state of mind…

Play is a flow state…

Have confidence (be willing to fail).
Take time.
Have a space (decrease distractions).
Have fun/be funny = creates interesting connections between things (ie creativity).
Establish constraints. Creativity thrives off constraints.
Play by your own rules (constraints).
See what everyone else is doing and do the opposite (stand out!).
Get off the computer and make some s***!
Fight for what you believe in.
Do the work that feeds your soul, not your ego.
If no one hates it, not one really loves it either.

Create work that has HEART. SOUL. & VOICE.

Personally, I loved the social experiments she has done with her friend Timothy Goodman. Pondering some social experiments I could do myself…

40 days of dating. The blog.

12 kinds of kindness. The blog.

As a side note, Jessica is partner at Sagmeister & Walsh. I have read Stefan Sagmeister’s books, and love how his mind works. So just to share…

“Design is about finding solutions. Art is about asking questions.” – Design Disruptors

DESIGN DISRUPTORS is a new documentary about the rising importance of design as a competitive advantage in disruptive technologies, by Invision.

If you found any of these insights interesting, you may want to check out Circles Design Conference. They are currently running a 50% discount! Find out more info here. I’m already registered for next year, and stoked!

Live inspired!


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