If you don’t know the lyrics to the hook of the Huey Lewis and The News hit, “Back In Time”, from arguably the single greatest Sci-Fi adventure of all time (yes, all time) – please turn back now. You aren’t deserving of the following gems. Oh, you do know the lyrics? By all means, please, do proceed.

Recently, part of our creative team had the chance to visit the beautifully quaint downtown Grapevine, Texas for the 5th Anniversary Circles Conference. With a bevy of design/ad industry behemoths on the docket, a bodacious 80’s vibe, and one giant (functioning) boom box on display, the squad hopped in the Delorean, ready for a heavy journey, activated the flux capacitor, took it to 88, and went back in time at the Palace Arts Center. Here’s the low down.


Simon Fallavollita, Motion Designer

“I went in with little to no expectations, not knowing what to think, and wanted to come away with deeper insights into design and the design industry – as a motion designer – with usable things to improve upon my design sense. Also, I hoped to simply be inspired with everything I was about to see. This was right up my alley with the whole 80’s vibe.”

Carly Tobias, UX/UI Designer

“This was my 4th year to attend Circles, either online or in person, so I knew to some extent what Circles was about and what to expect. I knew there would be great speakers, with great work to share, and there would be a lot of knowledge to take back with me. The thing I love about Circles is that it challenges the way that I set goals for myself and think about my work on a daily basis. I don’t go to learn or copy the speaker’s design technique and style, but to learn about their lifestyle, where they came from and how they got to where they are today.

The thing that continues to make an impression on me is that behind every successful designer speaking on that stage, there are years and years of hard work, filled sketchbooks, weird ideas and lots and lots of brain dumps and chicken scratch. These people are open and honest and want you to learn from their mistakes and where they came from. Creativity is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s who these speakers are at their core. They remind me that it’s okay to mess up, it’s the only way you will grow. Just show up every day and work hard. Never stop sketching, even if it’s nothing to be proud of, continue to make work for yourself. There is no secret to success, just keep working and somewhere in the hundreds of failed attempts and chicken scratch filled notebooks, there is a stellar designer in the making.”

Nate Smith, Creative Director

“Needless to say, over the years, I’ve been to my fair share design conferences and show-and-tells. Thusly, I went into my first Circles experience expecting to witness some great designers present; people I really admire from an aesthetic perspective, to potentially learn some of the growth they experienced, coupled with the paths each took along the way in their journey to “the big show”. The philosophical side of me anticipated, greatly, the insights I’d receive, and at the very least (if nothing else) getting to spend some time with the team, while rubbing elbows with various industry heads.

While I appreciate seeing other people’s work and being inspired to do more myself, I’ve never been much of a fan of the pomp and stance that comes with these things. However, I went in with an open mind. To Simon’s point above, the 80’s vibe…nailed it. #80sBaby”

Below L to R: Ish Burciaga, Carly, Simon, and Nate in front of the rad Circles signage.


One. Most designers function in a purely creative space, they don’t give two pieces of monkey poop about data and numbers.

True blue creators (our pet peeve is the word “creatives”) function subjectively to make their clients look good, because they know good design. Granted, this idea sort of goes against why we’re all at BuzzShift to begin with, to be informed creatively, and uniformly, by data. This wasn’t a user experience-based display, this was more about tapping into one’s creative soul in order to dig up old “relics” the digital age would have you believe are long dead and buried.

Regardless of what numbers can tell you, they’ll never measure up to true human empathy, the part of the spirit that allows us to understand others, causing them to emote through visuals, written pieces, music – it’s about tugging ever-so gently at the heart strings; seeing into another’s life. When the tears of joy fall, when the excitement comes, when the words “that is freaking amazing” fly out – that’s the payoff. That’s what gets people to stand in line for days on end to buy $800 smartphones and tablets. While data ultimately helps us creatively determine what ad designs will resonate most with target audiences, it sure as hell ain’t sexy. Creativity is as sexy as it effin’ gets. Don’t ever forget it.

Two. Freelance life apparently rocks. 

There are far more designers choosing not to work in agency environments these days, and those who have before sorta’, kinda’ hated it. Many have started their own companies after having worked in the ad world for years, braving 80-hour weeks and Creative Directors on high horses who simply want them to (sing it with me) “make the logo biggaaaaaaaaaaa”, only to exclaim in a faux-British accent, “thanks, but would you kindly f#%k off?” And while faced with the all too real challenges of being “indie”, these peeps have a lot of freedom in deciding exactly the kind of work they want to be doing, be it compensated or for gratis, and they ultimately seem pretty damn ecstatic about it.

Above: The most awesome notes we’ve ever seen. Carly’s Circles notebook.

Three. Discovery is paramount.

Jessica Walsh (Sagmeister & Walsh, NY) and The Eide’s (Flint Design, Seattle) made it known that despite the fact that some clients rail against them, discovery sessions are, honestly, the single most important part of the design process, and creativity thrives on the little constraints found within them. No shame in setting boundaries, and it allows you to get inside the sometimes arbitrarily difficult to enter Area-51, Fort Knox, Ocean’s Eleven-Terry Benedict-Bellagio security vault heads of your clients.

Four. There is an utter authenticity in showing imperfection throughout your process.

People love transparency, and presenting your flaws to peers you admire isn’t as scary as it may seem. Show your process, and allow others to learn from it. You’ll find most of them are curious to know how you did it, and why, not to criticize your work. Proof below.

“Get it out, make mistakes, and braindump.” -Mary Kate McDevitt

“Documenting is more important than creating.” -Sean McCabe

“Always be sketching.” -Mikey Burton

Above: Former CD of Target, Allan Peters, shows off his badge game.

Five. Get off the computer and go play outside!

All too often, for inspiration, we end up seeking out something to kickstart our hearts via places like Dribbble, Behance, and the like, only to end up replicating someone else’s work and style – second-hand versions at that. Suffice to say, there’s something freeing in going outside and playing with sticks, digging holes, walking around looking at birds, or whatever it is that you do when you travel outside. There, our imagination has the ability to create worlds we haven’t seen – at least a version that hasn’t been done umpteen times. Run. Run from the monotone hipster logo with crossed arrows, corncob pipe, slab fonts, and hatchets…run like the wind, I say!!!

Six. Best practices ≠ creative innovation.

Following trends makes not a true creative. Buck the system. Take more chances and innovate in the space. Your mind is all you need to get an idea going, not someone else’s stale leftovers.


Above: Simon, doing what he does best, and with passion.

Seven. Be humble.

In all honesty, not a single one of us deserves a seat at the table. Regardless of how great we think we are, the truth is all creatives are an emotionally complex blend of utter arrogance and complete self-doubt – and somewhere in between is where sheer magic occurs. Go into everything knowing how fortunate you are to be at the table, to have people marvel at the toiling of your hands; your gifts. There is always another designer (hundreds of thousands, millions, really) chomping at the bit to be in your position. And without humility, they could very well be. Look to serve others, to teach, to share resources and all that greatness behind your massive forehead. Don’t do work to feed your gargantuan ego – do work (though, it’s probably a crime to call it “work” at this juncture) to feed your true creative spirit and you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.

So, all in all, Circles 2016 was an absolutely tubular time, and while we weren’t able to make the after parties, we saw the videos (trust us, they’re hilarious). We’d like to thank Ish Burciaga and the Circles Conference team, as well as all the amazing sponsors, for putting on such a rad 5th anniversary event for us little people (that giant boom box was freakin’ gnarly, dude). Here’s to many more years of uncut, unfiltered creativity!

This post was penned by Nate Smith, Carly Tobias, and Simon Fallavollita. Snaps and hand-lettered notes by Carly Tobias.