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 people, seeking out fearless allies and taking on projects with the potential to change the world (or at least the local community).
While she’s kept the design studio intentionally small, Dawn has kept on hustling to expand Firebelly’s reach and impact. Over the years, she’s founded a community-based nonprofit, a socially conscious start-up incubator and a 10-day design bootcamp, all operating out of Firebelly’s Humboldt Park studio. Along with her friends at Public Media Institute, she co-founded Typeforce, an annual show and celebration for Chicago’s art and design community.
And of course there’s the Grant for Good, started in 2003 to provide a full year of free design to a deserving nonprofit. Along the way, Dawn has rallied some of Chicago’s most talented and generous companies to join the cause. The grant now includes photo, video and printing services, space planning, research and marketing, as well as brand strategy and design.
While she was Community Outreach Chair for AIGA Chicago, she created a mentorship program to encourage more active collaboration across the local design community. She’s spoken at CreativeMornings, the AIGA National Design Conference, the School of Visual Arts and the Type Director’s Club in New York, numerous conferences and programs around the world, been a guest on the Design Matters podcast, and she’s written honestly about the triumphs and tribulations of designing for the greater good in various publications. Named one of Fast Company’s 11 Most Generous Designers, Dawn has never stopped focusing on people and their potential to create a better world together, one good idea at a time.
Dawn holds a BFA in Visual Communication from Northern Illinois University.
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 received his BFA in Graphic and Interactive Communication from Ringling College of Art and Design, where he also minored in Photography.
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, from pathologically adopting senior dogs and raising money for rad causes to proofreading copy for anyone who asks.
She’s got two—that’s right, two!—degrees in English, so she knows her way around a sentence. But her real magic lies in her ability to find a pleasing order amid chaos. It’s how she stumbled into content strategy, a discipline that combines most of her favorite stuff: structure, language, radical empathy and the internet.
She flirted with Firebelly for years before coming on board in early 2015 as our resident wordsmith, communication strategist and unflinching idealist. In every conversation with designers, developers and clients, she brings an almost terrifying sense of optimism, but that’s what growing up with so much sunshine will do to a person.
Mostly, she spends her days making lists, putting words in the right place and otherwise trying to be helpful. She says hello to every dog she sees, shoots a decent game of pool and lives for Shine Theory, also avocados. Her poetry's been published in print and online, and look, she even has a chapbook.
Kristin received a BA in English from Princeton and an MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago.
Alibaster is an incorrigible learner with a soft spot for inclusion, avocados and user-centered design. They’re also a strategist and UX designer here at the studio, where they lead our research process, facilitate co-creation workshops and help administer the Grant for Good.
Prior to joining Firebelly, Ali spent nearly a decade in nonprofit management, including as Director of Chicago Women’s Health Center, the 2009 recipient of the Grant for Good. That’s right folks, Ali’s got experience on both the client and studio side of the design process—they know first-hand that good design requires good communication.
Post-CWHC, Ali went to business school, where they first ventured into user-centered research and found their self a home. Whether exploring options for improving Rx adherence among low-income patient populations or promoting racial equity through the arts, Ali discovered their knack for true consensus building and collaborative exercises designed to identify effective, efficient and empathetic solutions. To this day, you can find Ali knee deep in data and working closely with clients to understand and interpret their needs, even the ones they don’t know about yet.
Ali received their BA from the College of Wooster, a small liberal arts school in Ohio, where they majored in African American Studies and minored in Latin American Studies. They also received an MBA from UIC with concentrations in marketing and entrepreneurship.
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 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 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.
Our office isn’t exactly typical, so why would our Office Manager be? Chelsey not only keeps our homebase pristine, she keeps our hearts healthy and our bellies full.
Part Office Manager, part wellness overlord, she cooks up vegetarian lunch for the whole team everyday and leads us in thrice-weekly 7:30 am workouts (because good design begins with good core strength).
Born and raised in St. Louis, Chelsey made her way to Chicago by saying yes to all the right opportunities. She’s been a hairdresser, a makeup artist and, after joining a local gym and losing 100 pounds, a personal trainer spreading the gospel of strength, confidence and body positivity. When it presented itself, she embraced the chance to bring some of that positive, powerful attitude to the Firebelly studio, and we’ve been getting stronger ever since. Though not as strong as Chelsey, who can deadlift 325 pounds.
Between bouts of kicking so much ass, she manages to read a book a week, plays a lot of co-rec volleyball and spends as much quality time as she can with the greatest Great Lake there is.
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 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:
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.
Education, empowerment and 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 nonprofit from its infancy into a full-service organization serving Humboldt Park.
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Shannon left her native Chicago to travel the world while researching and advocating for women’s issues and human rights. Upon her return to the midwest, she refocused her energy on her local community and joined the Americorps Public Allies program.
She learned about Reason to Give—at the time just a simple website and a good idea —through Public Allies. Compelled by its mission and attracted to the challenge of building a successful organization from the ground up, Shannon took the helm in 2008.
Under her thoughtful leadership, the organization has grown significantly and successfully, due in large part to the time she takes to cultivate trust and personal relationships with the people she works with and serves. Her passion for learning, teaching and making space for those who often go unseen and unheard guides her as she continues to strengthen the organization’s services and opportunities for underserved families in Humboldt Park and beyond.
Shannon’s always looking for new ways to help her community. After spending a year and a half renovating her house on her own, she was inspired to put her new skills to use. In 2012, she recruited an army of friends, volunteers and generous sponsors to complete a full-scale home renovation for a local family in a single week.
When not set on community outreach, her heart belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers and to running a fantasy football league. (She collects championships like she collects 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, and received a Masters in International Studies, with a certificate in Women’s and Religious Studies, from DePaul University.