Speaker Highlight | Circles Twenty13: Matt Stevens

By Rocky Roark

The past month has been a series of firsts for me, including my first time flying in a plane and my first visit to an Apple store. (True story.) It was also the first time that our design team attended the Circles Conference.

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The annual two-day event takes place outside of Dallas and features some of the design industry’s key players speaking about design, as well as life outside of work. I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint a favorite speaker, but the talent and exuberance of Matt Stevens really stood out.


Matt specializes in branding and illustration work, so I really connected with him. He’s a frontrunner in the industry, with close to 20 years’ experience, and is commonly known for his “MAX100” project that began as a fun side project. This self-proclaimed “creative stunt” grew into a book and, eventually, led Nike to Matt’s door for a commission project. He’s been swarmed with work ever since.

Photo Caption: For Circles, Matt Stevens created a t-shirt that, in the spirit of his MAX100 project, showcased one thing multiple times (in this case the word “circles”) with completely different, and at times indecipherable, characters.

It was a goosebumps moment for me to hear his confession, “I love what I do and I work hard.” Like many designers, I really apply myself in everything I do, especially here at Focus Lab. But, admittedly, some projects get more love and attention from me than others. I’m sure this is common. It happens. But Matt’s simple statement made me realize that no matter if I’m working on a full branding project or just a simple icon, we should all commit ourselves to creating the best possible piece we can. And there at Circles, I recommitted myself to unceasing professional integrity, down to the most minute of project details.

Matt’s wisdom continued. “You can’t minimize risk enough for it to no longer be risk.” Meaning, there really is no “safe” route on a project. Regardless of what you put forth, you still run the risk that a client won’t like your direction/design/illustration. No matter how “safe” it is. So, since you can’t minimize risk away, it may be wiser to demonstrate both a “safe” option and options that span toward the more radical.

Throughout his presentation, as with the other speakers at the conference, Twitter feeds were screaming. A few Tweeters in attendance contended that Matt Stevens was one of the best presenters at Circles. In fact, some had traveled hundreds of miles just to hear him talk. (His hardcore fans even sported non-Circles Stevens-designed t-shirts.)

It’s a real testament to this industry how motivational and dedicated a group we are, as evidenced by many of the the Circles speakers. It’s those veterans who are still going strong and still loving what they do that most inspire me. Like Matt Stevens. What a great conference and networking opportunity. I’ve already got it on my calendar for next year.