Work

People

We are a tight-knit team of optimists, creators, artists and activists who believe wholly in one another’s instincts and abilities. While each of us has a specific focus, all of us work side-by-side, pushing one another to test the boundaries of our disciplines. 

Skills

  • SHARING
  • EMPATHY
  • PLANT CARE
  • COOKING
  • TRUST
  • HOPE

Thrills

  • EQUITY
  • HONESTY
  • GENEROSITY
  • COURAGE
  • GRATITUDE
  • PLAY
  • Dawn Hancock
    Dawn Hancock

    Dawn Hancock

    Founder & Managing Director she / her / hers

    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
    Will Miller

    Will Miller

    Partner & Design Director he / him / his

    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 (80+), teaching typography to leading our creative process. A fixture at Firebelly since 2007, he’s continuously refined that process to strategically balance spontaneity and discipline, moments of playful ideation and fine-tipped precision. Will keeps things fresh.

    As Design Director, he approaches every project with a wide open mind, listening and looking for the hidden magic that he can shape into a world, whether that’s a holistic brand identity, a concrete custom alphabet, a flagship retail experience or an art installation made out of arduino-powered LED robots. He uses his hands and his head in equal measure to create intentional, immersive moments that are easy on the eyes and linger on the mind.

    Will has spoken at Creative Mornings and the Type Director’s Club and picked up an Honorable Mention for Innovation by Design. He was featured in New City’s Design 50, and his work’s been included in the STA 100, TDC Annual, Chicago Design Archive and at the Society of Typographic Arts. He’s built 9 years worth of Typeforce installations, 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. He teaches Typography Fundamentals at the Chicago Portfolio School.

  • Kristin Lueke
    Kristin Lueke

    Kristin Lueke

    Strategic Director she / her / hers

    Kristin is a Virgo, but that's not all. She's also a native Californian, published poet and damn good listener who hurls her whole heart at everything she does.

    Upon joining Firebelly in 2015, Kristin swiftly made herself indispensable, helping transform and expand our creative practice. A firm believer that the quality of our work reflects the quality of our conversations, she takes a fearlessly loving and meticulous approach to brand and communication strategy, as well as DesignOps. She somersaults into each week eager to build from untapped strengths and nurture fearless, productive relationships with clients and co-conspirators. From spearheading a Webby-award winning campaign for Planned Parenthood to building brands from scratch, she imbues every project with a joyful sense of play and precision.

    Kristin’s work has been recognized by Fast Company and Communication Arts. In the tireless hope that radical honesty might spur conscious, collective action, she's spoken near and far about imposter syndrome among women of color, wage equity and the need for greater diversity in design, including at Hopscotch Design Festival, Ladies Get Paid and AIGA Chicago. She says hello to every dog she sees and takes hydration very, very seriously.

    Kristin's got two—that's right, two!—degrees in her own language; a BA in English from Princeton and MA in Humanities and Creative Writing from the University of Chicago.

  • Alibaster McDonald
    Alibaster McDonald

    Alibaster McDonald

    Research Strategist he / him / his

    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.

  • Ariel Rudolph
    Ariel Rudolph

    Ariel Rudolph

    UX + Strategy he / him / his

    Ariel is a stubbornly curious and incurable optimist who's fully committed to designing the future. He is baffled by job titles and believes in breakfast, four seasons and thoughtful lighting. He mostly spends his time learning and listening then learning some more. Sometimes that looks like reading books, other times like traveling—one way, he says, to better understand one's self, home, world and role within it. At least part of his time that means working alongside the studio team to steer brand and user experience projects with deftness and alacrity.

    An adjunct expert in brand strategy, UX, design and research, he brings to Firebelly a bindle full of big, beautiful ideas about integrity, honesty, humanity and its potential. He's conducted research and interface-level work for next-generation autonomous cars, created digital experiences for granddaddy of big hogs Harley Davidson, dabbled in game design and developed disruptive business strategies for healthcare innovation, all of which is to say—dude's got the range.

    Ariel's also a teacher, drawer, and collector of guestbooks, whose ongoing experiments in communication design are as much an exercise in saying things simply as they are in generating sheer delight. One day soon it may all be a book.

    Ariel holds a BS from Tufts University in Human Factors and Philosophy(!!!). He is also, according to the IIT Institute of Design, a Master of Design Methods. He has eight houseplants.

  • Adam Geremia
    Adam Geremia

    Adam Geremia

    Strategist he / him / his

    Adam is a filmmaker, photographer and obsessive seeker given to wandering down rabbit holes. He is uncommonly interested in just about everything. Give him a subject—any subject! He will learn all that he can about it. Naturally, we had to have him as part of our team.

    A long-beloved collaborator and IDEO alum who first worked with us on a little brand called Divvy, Adam officially joined Firebelly in 2018. He’s a skilled interviewer, facilitator and practitioner of what we’ll call method strategy, immersing himself as fully as possible in the discovery process. For instance, when Brooks Running wanted to find its place in the minimalist trend, Adam cast aside shoes to explore running as meditation. Along the way he started They Call Us The Seekers, an imaginary running cult, as a commentary on modern running culture. He brings a beginner’s mind to everything he does, from barefoot running to user interviews. It’s a good way to go about design research, and also life.

    His work has been featured at the Chicago Cultural Center and Mana Contemporary Art. He’s taught at Illinois Institute of Technology, given talks on visual storytelling and, as a conceptual project, captured a photo of the same white wall at noon every day for a year.

    Adam holds a BA in English from Brandeis University and a Master of Industrial Design from RISD. He once spent a semester abroad in Kathmandu to study Tibetan Buddhism and write a children’s book about clouds.

  • Ross Burwell
    Ross Burwell

    Ross Burwell

    Senior Designer he / him / his

    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
    Tom Tian

    Tom Tian

    Senior Designer he / him / his

    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.

    Perceptive and steadfastly 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.

  • Nermin Moufti
    Nermin Moufti

    Nermin Moufti

    Senior Designer she / her / hers

    Nermin is an artist and designer, a traveler, a cook, a mother and a whole-hearted warrior for grace and gratitude.

    She made her way from Syria to Chicago by way of Dubai and Toronto, with pit-stops in NYC, Phoenix and Granada, where she once took a course in De-Colonial Struggles, Liberation Theologies and Feminism in Islam. Her creative practice embodies the belief that design can and should catalyze positive change and social justice. Observe: her graduate thesis, Encoding Resistance, was a large-format installation examining media control and the role of design in the Syrian Revolution. It was featured at the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as at Typeforce 8.

    In her past lives as an independent and big agency designer, she focused on brand experience, dabbled in UX/UI design and helped launch passion projects like SpeakOutPoetry and The Friday Collective. Nermin joined Firebelly in 2017, where she builds beautiful brand systems, gets to flex her hand lettering skills and steps outside her comfort zone every day.

    Nermin holds a BSc in Visual Communications from the American University of Sharjah (UAE), as well as an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, Media and Design from OCAD. She's a member of AIGA Chicago's Diversity + Inclusion Committee.

  • Dean Sweetnich
    Dean Sweetnich

    Dean Sweetnich

    Jr Designer he / him / his

    Dean is a rare and tender bird who steps all the way up when called. He is the quintessential team player—humble, disciplined, considerate as hell, ready to learn, eager to grow and beyond that, deadly talented.

    He joined Firebelly fresh out of undergrad as a design apprentice, and quickly carved himself a place in our studio and our hearts. A human swiss army knife, Dean is a type nerd and an illustrator with a killer eye, a systems optimizer and trained developer, equally adept in Sketch and SASS/CSS as he is at wielding power tools. Whatever the project, whatever the task, he takes any opportunity that comes his way to sharpen his skills and expand his mind while doing his work with grace and aplomb.

    Dean’s been called an obsessed perfectionist (he got an award for it and everything!) and an absolute mad yoke (Irish term of befuddled endearment), due in large part to his bottomless appetite for a job well done. From helping create elaborate installations for Typeforce to giving young design students Hot Industry Tips, he gives all he’s got to the people around him.

    Dean earned his BFA in Communication Design from Kent State University, where he ran a tidy little side hustle running the Poetry magazine and revitalizing typefaces for Google fonts.

  • Nate Beaty
    Nate Beaty

    Nate Beaty

    Development Director he / him / his

    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
    Matt Soria

    Matt Soria

    Senior Web Developer he / him / his

    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.

  • Lindsay McMenamin
    Lindsay McMenamin

    Lindsay McMenamin

    Producer she / her / hers

    Lindsay is a natural-born people whisperer, keeper of Rose, 100-pound lapdog, and eagle-eyed master of every detail. She came into this world with The Vision—an uncanny ability to see exactly where a project can and will go from the very beginning.

    After first joining Firebelly as Studio Manager in 2010, she took a few years to pursue nearby hustles, among them: slinging picture-perfect pastries at local farmers markets, event marketing for Disney on Ice, coordinating high volume packaging production for McDonald’s, overseeing innovation strategies and rehabbing her 100-year-old house. Lindsay 2.0 returned to us in 2018 with a jetpack full of laser-honed PM skills and heart set on tangible impact.

    As one half of the studio’s project management team, Lindsay handles timelines and budgets without breaking a sweat and, my goodness, you should see her spreadsheets. From overseeing high-stake rebrands to weeding her garden, she understands the long game and steers her ship with a steadfast hand and a knowing smirk. Everyone needs a Lindsay.

    When she’s not wrangling a ragtag crew of creatives, she’s probably at her local library checking out some DVDs.

    Lindsay graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elmhurst College, where she studied Interdisciplinary Communications and minored in Art. She also completed the 12-week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland.

  • Kelly Knaga
    Kelly Knaga

    Kelly Knaga

    Director of Operations she / her/ hers

    Kelly is a full-time hustler, explorer and problem-solver. She’s a leader, a mama, an artist and a designer, and she’s somehow everywhere all at once.

    Since joining Firebelly as Director of Operations in 2018, she’s helped steer the studio through a pivotal point of growth with one eye firmly on the books and another on the team. Ever a calm sail on a cool breeze, she seeks balance and flow in all things—our process, people, accounts and culture. From managing social to monitoring margins to refining policies, Kelly collaborates across teams to ensure studio health and individual well-being.

    As Executive Director of AIGA Chicago, she oversees events and initiatives serving the local design community. In 2018, she co-launched the Future is Friday, a monthly series of interview-style talks focusing on women in design. In 2019, she introduced AIGA Grants to fund passion projects and innovative programs at the grassroots level. Kelly is also the Executive Producer for Chicago Design Week and an active muralist, painter and graphic designer. Her work can be seen in locales near and far, from Gary, Indiana to Barcelona. At some point, she found time to create two perfect, tiny human beings.

    Kelly majored in Visual Communications at the University of Indianapolis and earned her MFA from SAIC (where she created a library of dreams). She teaches and serves as Director of Design Education at Indiana University Northwest.

  • Emily Berman
    Emily Berman

    Emily Berman

    Studio Manager + Chef she / her / hers

    Here are some things that Emily loves: food, a good spreadsheet, making people happy. As studio manager and chef, she gets to do it all.

    A proud southern-turned-midwestern girl, Emily was born and raised in Virginia, where she learned how to smoke a pork butt and appreciate the finer things in life, such as sweet tea, pimento cheese and tending her garden. She moved to Chicago post-art school and promptly proceeded to kick ass, honing her organizational skills at Northwestern and gravitytank before enrolling in a culinary program. Since then, she’s worked as a personal chef, had some babies and made all their food from scratch, while helping launch a small housewares company with her designer husband.

    Emily joined the team in 2018 and immediately kicked so much ass, feeding the Firebelly photogenic, vegan-friendly lunches, nurturing our living things (plants, people, office dogs) and keeping this ship afloat. Her hustle extends well beyond the studio, too. She’s an active volunteer parent at her son’s school and advocate for Hate Has No Home Here, a jewelry maker who hosts local lady-maker pop-ups and the mastermind behind her neighborhood farmers’ market. She lives in an art moderne dream home with her college beau, two boys (who are going to learn to cook whether they like it not) and Norman the dog.

    Emily holds a BA in Studio Art with a concentration in ceramics from Virginia Tech and a Personal Chef and Catering Certification from Kendall College.