I wrote most of this on the plane, flying back from Dallas, after a fun-packed week of conversation, inspiration, and some hardcore paintball. Now, over a month later, I’ve finally decided that I need to finish this post before it dies and sad lonely death in my drafts folder.

Inspiration is the main theme of Circles and Ish has done an incredible job, once again, of making this a reality. Each detail is impeccable, from the paper coffee cups with Kyle Steed drawings, to the gold foil printed programs filled with Matt Stephens' illustrations. The t-shirts, banners, flyers, napkins, signage; it was incredibly well thought out and a joy to have experienced.


becky murphy

circles panel


Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me, and a common thread through this year's talks, is how vital personal side projects are to doing the work that you want. Both this year and last, I left inspired with a new sense of purpose to carry through with my side projects.

For me now, those consist of designing branding and collateral for my friends’ cycling team, designing my first full typeface, and working on some in-depth Adobe Illustrator UX design tutorials.

When you start a side project you have full creative control, and if it fails, there's no one to blame but yourself. It's easy to complain about certain clients or certain type of client work, but with side projects there is no scapegoat. You choose the type of work you want to do, the style you want to do it in, and what the deadline is. You can do anything you want. It's freeing, but the freedom can be paralyzing if you don't set up some constraints.

Constraints are the secret sauce of successful side projects. Here's a quick snapshot of some of the side-projects mentioned at Circles.

Each one of these projects were non-paying projects, burning precious non-billable hours, yet they blazed a new path for each person committed to seeing them through. It's amazing that with a few boundaries, a little elbow grease, and consistent effort you can change the course of your career, and the type of work you do. You already have permission, no one needs to give it to you.

Last year after leaving Circles, I decided to work some more on a post-only Craigslist app idea that I had been tinkering with. It was because of that side-project that I designed the float label. If that would have been a client project or different circumstances, I might not have had the freedom or the time to explore new concepts for form handling interactions.

Nearly 5 years ago, a friend and I built a real estate web application for showcasing property listings. It was during that side project that I designed my first iPhone app, which wouldn't have been added to my portfolio otherwise via client work. Though we pulled the plug on that project a year later, it was those designs that helped me land a big contract job through another agency, as the creative lead on the AT&T U-verse mobile app. That app design led to another mobile project and another, and now iOS design is a large part of the work I do.

My career has continually evolved as a result of the work that I’ve chosen to do and not to do. There is always a choice. Times will come where those choices are harder to make and its definitely not feasible to start off doing only the work you want to do, but the bottom line is this:

It’s up to you.

It’s up to you to do what you want. You are responsible to find out how to make what you want to do work. Squeeze it in. Stay up a little later, get up a little earlier, whatever works.

Have you set aside time to do the work that really gets you excited?