Work

  • Dawn Hancock

    Founder & Managing Director

    Dawn is a troublemaker, a bleeding heart, a designer by trade and a do-gooder by choice. Two things she likes: ideas and people. She’s been known to put them together in a room, just to see what happens.

    She started Firebelly in 1999 with a simple mission: Good Design for Good Reason™. Since then, she’s been diligent about hiring passionate overachievers, seeking out fearless allies and taking on projects with the potential to uplift communities and maybe even change the world.

    While she’s kept the team intentionally small, Dawn's kept hustling to expand Firebelly’s reach and impact. In the studio alone, she's established and housed a community nonprofit, a start-up incubator and a 10-day design bootcamp. She also co-founded Typeforce, an annual exhibit and celebration of Chicago's type community, in partnership with Public Media Institute. And then there's the Grant for Good, started in 2003, which provides a full year of free, comprehensive design services to a local nonprofit.

    She’s hyperactive beyond the studio as well, preaching the gospel of good design in venues near and far. She’s spoken at the School of Visual Arts and the Type Director’s Club, appeared as a guest on the Design Matters podcast and gotten vulnerable on the triumphs and tribulations of social impact design in print and in person for audiences big and small. Named one of Fast Company’s 11 Most Generous Designers, Dawn leads with love, keeps a close eye on her people and believes that together, we will create a better world, one good idea at a time.

    Dawn holds a BFA in Visual Communication from Northern Illinois University.

  • Will Miller

    Partner & Design Director

    Will is a designer and maybe also a person-shaped manifestation of pure energy.

    Everything Will does, he does with purpose and perseverance, from running marathons (plural) to fostering dogs (many), teaching typography to leading our creative process. Since joining Firebelly in 2007, he’s continuously refined that process to balance spontaneity and discipline, honesty and genuine collaboration.

    Will approaches every project with a wide open mind, ready to dispel presumptions and discover hidden magic. By thinking critically about how each element of a design comes together, he’s able to see where it can go and how it can evolve and interact with those who encounter it. Whether it’s a city-wide campaign to revitalize a neighborhood or a giant LED light display influenced by World War I maritime defense tactics, he creates intentional, immersive experiences that inspire—and are inspired by—the world around him.

    In addition to teaching at the Chicago Portfolio School, Will has spoken at Creative Mornings and the Type Director’s Club. His work has been featured in various design magazines and at the Society of Typographic Arts. He’s fostered over 70 dogs, watched nearly every episode of the original Star Trek, and he believes in the persisting power of a good night’s sleep.

    Will holds a BFA in Graphic and Interactive Communication, with a minor in Photography, from Ringling College of Art and Design.

  • Kristin Lueke

    Content Strategist

    Kristin is a Virgo, but that’s not all. She’s also a native Californian, a poet and a damn good listener who hurls her whole heart and weird brain at everything she does, whether it’s creating healing spaces, developing digital advocacy campaigns or proofreading copy for anyone who asks. Whatever’s most useful.

    She’s got two—that’s right, two!—degrees in English, so she knows her way around a sentence. Coupled with a bone-deep fancy for radical empathy and affinity for well-designed systems, her fondness for words and where they go led her on an only-somewhat roundabout path into communication strategy and social impact.

    As our resident wordsmith and unflinching idealist, Kristin brings to every conversation with co-conspirators and clients an almost terrifying sense of optimism. From crafting brand strategies and messaging architecture to nurturing relationships, she somersaults into every project eager to excavate hidden magic, build from untapped strengths and share a few feelings along the way.

    Kristin serves on the board for Reason to Give, Firebelly’s homegrown nonprofit, and raises money and awareness for her favorite causes, among them youth empowerment and wage equality. She writes and performs poem-shaped things around Chicago, says hello to every dog she sees and lives for Shine Theory.

    Kristin holds a BA in English from Princeton and an MA in Humanities, with a focus on Creative Writing, from the University of Chicago.

  • Alibaster McDonald

    Experience Strategist

    Alibaster is an incorrigible learner who goes all the way in for justice, equity and avocados. A strategist and hardcore advocate for human-centered design, he leads our learning process, designing research plans and client workshops, while pushing us to consistently reflect on and strengthen our efforts to design for accessibility and inclusion.

    Baster brings to the 'Belly invaluable perspective on social justice and movement-building, having spent nearly a decade in nonprofit management, which includes a stint as Director of the Chicago Women's Health Center. It was while at CWHC that he first worked with the studio as part of the 2009 Grant for Good.

    Between CWHC and Firebelly, Alibaster clocked some time at business school, where he dove headlong into user-centered research and creative strategy. From exploring solutions for improving Rx adherence in low-access communities to promoting racial equity in the arts, his work puts people and progress first. On any given day, you can find him wading knee-deep in data and working with clients to understand and interpret their needs...even the ones they don’t know about yet.

    Alibaster holds a BA in African American Studies, with a minor in Latin American studies, from the College of Wooster, and an MBA from UIC with concentrations in marketing and entrepreneurship.

  • Nate Beaty

    Web Developer

    Nate is an interdisciplinary hacksaw. When he’s not writing stacks on stacks of exquisite code, he’s living a not-so-secret second life as a cartoonist and literally herding cats.

    Nate’s work with computers goes way back, to the mid-1980s, when his mother and grandfather peered into the future and returned with a fully equipped Commodore 64 with 15-pound floppy drive, cacophonous printer—the works. On this machine, he built his first programs, which included a recipe organizer for his mum and a game called Lawnmower (exactly what it sounds like).

    He freelanced his way through Los Angeles and Oregon, and—for a brief, idyllic while—he lived in a ‘77 Dodge Tradesman in a field near the hippie resort where he worked as a cook and a hot tub cop (exactly what it sounds like).

    Nate joined Firebelly in 2011, where he sits next to our cacophonous printer, sips tea and graciously accepts every new challenge our design team throws his way. He makes things work.

    You might not ever see his code, but you can see his cartoons in Lumpen, New City, various Trubble Club anthologies, or in his 120-page Wolfman anthology, which is great.

    Nate studied Computer Science at Virginia Tech and lived in the woods of Washington without electricity for a while.

  • Matt Soria

    Web Developer

    Matt is a front-end web developer and an unrelenting optimist. He’s also an artist and a teacher, and if you ever need some tea, he keeps a wide assortment in his top desk drawer.

    Matt began learning code as a young pup, in the era of AOL CD mailers. Soon enough he graduated to Yahoo Geocities, making skateboarding sites for him and his buddies. By the time he finished college, he was not only a well-seasoned web dude, he was also a professional picture taker and taught after school photography to high school students on Chicago’s Southwest side.

    Matt joined Firebelly precisely three days before our first annual Cross Park Challenge and he’s been indispensable ever since. As one half of our development team, Matt focuses on the front end, ensuring that everything functions perfectly and looks good doing it.

    In addition to coding, designing, skating and making art and pals all over the world (did we mention he lived in Chile for a year and biked through the Great Plains of these United States?), Matt has also coordinated local CodePen meetups and teaches evening classes at General Assembly.

    Matt attended Columbia College Chicago, where he majored in Photography and minored in Black World Studies.

  • Ross Burwell

    Designer

    Ross is a designer, which is a fancy word for problem solver. He can play nearly any instrument with strings and takes his coffee very, very black. He is afraid of almost nothing, except for poodles.

    Consider: at a kindergarten show + tell, Ross treated his classmates to a guitar rendition of AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Also worth noting: at the tender age of 16, Ross was already the in-house designer at an architecture firm and taking on freelance clients, creating websites for local and indie bands and asking record labels to hire him.

    After graduating from high school with an already extensive skillset, he took his talents to Florida, where he read every book about design he could get his hands on while in college. He then dabbled in advertising for a while before applying to an opening at Firebelly. A few Skype conversations later, he packed only the essentials (and two cats) into a two-door Mustang and drove to Chicago, the best city in the world, ready to make beautiful, useful things for rad companies.

    When he’s not designing meticulous lettering systems or perfecting pixels for the greater good, he’s probably riding his bicycle, making music or fetching hard-to-reach items for the vertically challenged.

    Ross attended Full Sail University where he earned a Bachelor of Science (strange, right?) in Digital Arts + Design.

  • Tom Tian

    Designer

    Tom contains multitudes, exquisite multitudes. He is, in brief, a documentary photographer, illustrator and a gifted cocktail party conversationalist whose wits are as sharp as his everyday office attire (very sharp). He is also a self-taught designer whose liberal arts background brings a distinctly humanist edge to our studio DesignSquad.

    Since emigrating from China at age nine with just those aforementioned wits and a handful of English phrases to guide him, he’s worked methodically and thoughtfully to understand and respond to the world around him.

    Curious and incorrigibly proactive, Tom’s talked his way into several jobs simply by observing an unmet need and meeting it—for instance: political cartoonist for his high school paper; managing editor for The Chicago Maroon. Drawn to the cerebral aspects and human effects of visual communication, he parlayed these dalliances into a full-fledged career, designing for local heavyweights like IDEO and the University of Chicago before joining Firebelly in mid-2015.

    If he's not designing like the wind, Tom's likely reading or behind the lens of one of his 12(!) cameras—one of which he built himself(!). His photos are as gorgeous as they are powerful, documenting history as it is happening in Ferguson, Chicago, Turkey, China, et alia. 

    Tom put the arts in his Bachelor of Arts, which he earned in Political Science from the University of Chicago.

  • Bryant Smith

    Web Developer

    Bryant is a 6’100” clash of thunder and a many-splendored dude of myriad gifts. His specialty: using any and all available instruments to bring cool ideas to life. Relevant examples include, but are no means limited to:

    • Composing a three-part electrofunk opera for beatbox, wah pedal and trombone
    • Building an LED-powered, smart signage system for the office WC
    • Bringing together a digital sangha that meets every morning via Skype for guided meditation
    • Turning dank content into a fully-functional, user-friendly websites

    Driven by a primordial hunger for new ideas and excellent vibes, Bryant pays close attention to the world around him. He listens and learns what people need, then reverse engineers the right solutions.

    A proficient front- and back-end coder, he's always ready to jump into a project at any point and help bring it home. Sometimes that means tweaking a CMS to meet user needs or finessing the front end to bring out the best in the design; sometimes it means taking an eagle eye to every speck of content to make sure it's in the right place and in top form. 

    Bryant double-majored in Psychology and Trombone (a classic combo) at Northwestern University.

  • Shannon Medic Young

    Executive Director, Reason to Give

    A native Chicagoan and alumna of the Americorps Public Allies program, Shannon has traveled the world, researching and advocating for women's issues and human rights in communities near and far. In 2008, she came on board as the first full-time employee at Reason to Give, Firebelly’s home-grown nonprofit.

    As Executive Director, Shannon has nurtured the organization from its infancy into a comprehensive community support program. Under her thoughtful leadership, it has evolved from a direct donation service into a year-long adult education and wellness program, administered with the help of the skilled volunteers she's recruited along the way. She oversees RTG's healthy living and life skills workshops, coordinates child care, provides one-on-one student support and organizes annual holiday and back-to-school drives, all while cultivating deeper relationships with every individual who comes through the door. An experienced home builder, she once planned and oversaw a full-scale home renovation for a local family, completed in a single week.

    Though it remains a mystery how she finds the time, Shannon also runs a fantasy football league (she collects championships like she collects degrees) and catches every Steelers game she can.

    Shannon holds a BA in Communications, with a minor in Women’s Studies, from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned an MA in International Studies, with certificates in Women's and Relgious Studies, from DePaul University and studied Art & Architecture and Language at the University of Florence.