Since opening in 1999, Firebelly has produced solid work they believe in and clients trust. Work that has merited mention in a journal here and a design archive there. While certainly proud of the studio’s history and accomplishments, Dawn feels no need to rehash the past.
She prefers to live and work in the present, to make of it something rich and sustainable that can make a lasting impact.
Though the studio remains Dawn’s focal point and her center of gravity, Firebelly has expanded into a bustling little world that she hustles across daily. A world built with her own two hands, the fearless work of her team, and an abundance of neighborhood support. Already coordinating the annual Grant for Good, a charitable award that supports one non-profit for a year, she decided to launch her own organization, which evolved into an entire socially minded enterprise.
The Firebelly Foundation, established in 2006, includes several programs, each a reflection of Dawn’s passion and ethic. Under the Foundation’s umbrella, she established the Humboldt Park non-profit Reason to Give and runs the 10-day intensive Camp Firebelly for hungry young designers. Most recently, she started Firebelly University, an entrepreneurial incubator that emphasizes taking risks and doing good. Yet Dawn continues to ask what more could she be doing.
Dawn knows that sustainable innovation and social responsibility are not simply badges or buzzwords. They are principles. Ways to live. Through the Foundation’s work and her civic and social engagement, Dawn is ceaseless in her dedication to building and inspiring, to connecting ideas to individuals, and individuals to each other.
Upon joining the board of AIGA Chicago as Community Outreach Chair in 2009, Dawn seized upon the opportunity to create a free mentorship program available to the entire Chicago community. Each year, nearly 300 individuals from all areas come together in design therapy groups. They share their success stories as well as their missteps and questions, seeking and offering guidance regardless of career level. Together they form a community that believes, as Dawn does, that we are all in this together.
And still more. Always more. Dawn is thrilled to occasionally speak at design schools, workshops, and conferences near and far. Presenting at TEDxWindyCity in February 2010 was an honor and a challenge – terrifying, uplifting, and wholly exhilarating. As most things are. She is ready.
Dawn holds a BFA in Visual Communication from Northern Illinois University and was named one of The 11 Most Generous Designers by Fast Company.
When Will came to Firebelly in 2007, he came adamant that each day presented not just the opportunity but the obligation to make or do something worthwhile. Something thoughtful. As Creative Director + Partner, Will upholds a standard of quality that reflects the passion and perseverance inherent to the Firebelly philosophy.
Armed only with a degree in Graphic and Interactive Communication and a desire to explore new territory, Will moved to Chicago from Florida in the early aughts, determined to make something happen. He sought out learning opportunities and challenges. Between freelancing jobs, he studied typography and lettering in his free time - an exercise in his thirst for continued learning. He ran a marathon - an exercise in his thirst for continued running.
Will continued grinding and designing his way into a position as Marketing Director for a luxury lifestyle magazine that grew as significantly as he did during his time there. After two and a half years, the vital impulse to continue onward, to explore and create anew, led him to Firebelly.
During his early tenure at the studio, Will focused on the boundaries of unique print materials and processes. As web and mobile applications became increasingly prevalent among clients’ needs, he turned his attention to interaction and usability design. He is particularly adept at handling the tenets of the design process that force constant re-evaluation and demand critical thinking and problem solving. Each day - a new project, a new challenge. A constant revitalization.
Will sees opportunities in every day obstacles. Moments for understanding, improving and playing. Design is a hands-on exercise, a marriage of art and technology; like any marriage, it requires constant dedication and practice. In both traditional design work and installations, Will uses his hands and his head to create immediate and immersive experiences that linger.
In his role as Creative Director, Will holds himself and his team accountable for reliable and inspiring design. Never content to rely on old formulas, he encourages a ground-up approach that treats each client and challenge uniquely. Every project is, at its core, a new opportunity to explore, create and see what happens.
Will received his BFA in Graphic and Interactive Communication from Ringling College of Art and Design, where he minored in Photography.
His formal title is Account Manager, but Nick functions as more of a translator. Nick is a conscious communicator who understands clients’ particular needs and his colleagues’ unique strengths. He specializes in how audiences relate to messaging, environments and each other. Facilitating conversations between clients, designers and developers, he sees the genesis of images from words and impact from ideas.
An early interest in Chicago’s subcultures introduced him to street art, prompting him to consider the idea of community and what it means to participate in one. A humanist who respects the differences and complexities of each person’s inner life, Nick strives to create work that is positive, purpose-driven and powerful.
While working as an Art Director at a premier publishing house, Nick also contributed as a designer to various art collectives. Any free time he had he spent creating art that called for positive social change through honest conversation and mutual respect. Eventually, inevitably, his urge to reconcile his personal ethos with his professional life led him to Firebelly.
Believing in the potential of good design to improve and simplify daily life, Nick found a home at Firebelly. Since joining the firm full-time, he liaises considerately and articulately between staff and clients, in doing so creating a positive energy that breeds better communication and ultimately better solutions. Put simply, he makes people happy.
Nick received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication at the Illinois Institute of Art - Shaumburg.
Nate does not mind being called a nerd. If translating high level abstract ideas into effective code that breathes life into static content is the domain of the nerd, call Nate its sovereign. We also call him Web Developer.
Nate came to Chicago in 2008 from Oregon by way of Los Angeles, perhaps having tired of sunny days and demeanors. Despite his affinity for the outdoors and gardening, he was compelled to seek adventure and challenge elsewhere. A talented cartoonist with a soft spot for vibrant music and arts communities, he decided on the Midwest; for this we are grateful.
The coder’s task is, like any other facet of design work, a rigorous and hands-on assignment. Nate enjoys the interactivity of codework, the opportunity to explore and manipulate a complex language to present content in a way that is easy to use. Though the process is intricate and itself a constant learning experience, Nate writes the code that gives the design the appearance of simplicity and seamlessness. The finished product unites beauty and complexity with functionality and effectiveness, availing itself to users as a complete system of image and content.
Coding, in this way, is not unlike drawing cartoons, Nate’s other mistress. An active part of a local comics artists group that hosts weekly drawing events around the city, Nate combines text with image over several panels to create a singular narrative, a unified whole that communicates an immediate message. It was in this pursuit and as part of this collective that Nate learned about and was eventually drawn to Firebelly. Just another case of creativity and personal passion intersecting at the design studio’s threshold.
Nate studied Computer Science at Virginia Tech, where he received some of his education. Some of it he culled while living without electricity in the woods of Washington, and the rest he received where he could find it.
Amelia is one of The Vanderbilts, if by The Vanderbilts you mean the New Jersey offshoots that missed the money by a single generation. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she left California to experience the rest of the world and escaped mostly unscathed (except for her yoga teaching certification). She only misses it for a few weeks in March.
Her background is in theatrical stage management and psychology. She put herself through college by working with several small businesses as a data analyst/receptionist and by teaching yoga. After college, she worked backstage at a major regional theatre organizing everything from the props to the people, ensuring the production went off without a hitch.
Keeping people organized has always been Amelia’s strength. She delights in Post-It notes, calendars and label makers. She has a system for everything and a love of small details that make her life and everyone else’s life easier to beautify.
For fun, she is an avid letter-writer, participating in the More Love Letters Project, sending love letters to people in need of connection and leaving love letters around the city for strangers to find. It was in a letter that Amelia persuaded Firebelly to work with her, to help the team do good by smoothing the bumps in the process. She is forever glad her letter was answered.
Amelia holds a B.A. in Theatre & Drama and Psychology from Indiana University Bloomington.
Education, empowerment, continued growth. These are the cornerstones of Shannon’s career and ethos. As Executive Director and the first full-time employee of Reason to Give, she nurtured the non-profit from its infancy into a bustling, full-service organization.
A Chicago native, Shannon spent time traveling the country and world, encountering and engaging with different cultures while researching and advocating for women’s issues and human rights. Upon returning to the midwest, Shannon refocused her energy on her local community. She joined the Americorps Public Allies program designed to place capable, passionate people in non-profit management positions.
Through Public Allies she learned about Reason to Give, which at that time was essentially just a website and a good idea. Compelled by its mission and attracted to the challenge of building a successful organization from the ground up, Shannon took the position in 2008.
Each new program she develops, every new family and donor reinforces her investment in her work. Shannon forms personal relationships with the people and projects she sets her sights on. She cultivates trust as she gives it. Intuits new needs as she serves others.
Her passion for learning, teaching and creating a space for the voices of “all the people who generally go unheard” guides her as she continues to provide invaluable resources and opportunities to the underserved in Humboldt Park and neighborhoods beyond. Driven by instinct and good intentions, she looks to her personal life to inform her professional ambitions. Having spent a year and a half renovating her house on her own, in 2011, she selected a local family to whom she, with an army of dedicated friends and knowledgable volunteers, would provide full-scale DIY home renovation services. Shannon sees where she can help, and she does.
Her heart, when not set on community outreach, belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Between envisioning new service programs and helping others help themselves, she also runs a fantasy football league. Shannon’s collection of championships is nicely complemented by her collection of degrees.
Shannon earned her Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a minor in Women’s Studies. She also studied Art & Architecture and Language at the University of Florence. She received a Masters in International Studies, with a certificate in Women’s and Religious Studies from DePaul University.