Typeforce X Process Vol. 2: Electric Boogaloo

February 13, 2019 – by Will

This past week we've been in assembly line mode. Our piece for this year's Typeforce involves a wood form repeated many times, but due to its complexity, this means lots and lots of cuts.

After making a single prototype to prove the idea, we spent a bunch of time getting the set-up right: making jigs, building tools and buying way more clamps than we expected. Only after everything was dialed-in did we start production.

We had a huge amount of material to cut—so much we often couldn’t get finished in one work session. In addition to ensuring accuracy, having a strong set-up meant that we could easily hand off tasks, one person jumping in where another left off.

We wanted to avoid using nails or waiting for glue to dry, so we used finger joints locked together with a dowel. Everything went smoothly until we hit the lap joint at the middle of the unit. At first we made the cut with a handheld router, but this wasn’t accurate enough. We solved this by building a jig for the CNC router, which gave us spot-on results every time.

After a bunch of nights and part of the weekend, we’re finally done constructing all the forms. We’re feeling good that things are on-schedule so we can avoid emergencies in the final hour. Next step: fire up the soldering irons for the lighting elements.

Typeforce X Process Vol. 1: A Gorilla Walks Into a Bar...

February 4, 2019 – by Will

A creative idea (whether writing a gorilla joke or a creating a design) often starts with a premise and then thrives within constraints. That gorilla in the bar—what if she’s carrying a dozen eggs? Now we have to incorporate the eggs into the joke. Maybe she’s really into pisco sours, who knows, it’s a constraint that also gives us direction.

Client work is like that gorilla in a bar: it comes with its own premise and constraints. But when we design something for the annual Typeforce show it’s a very different animal. It’s a blank Illustrator artboard staring back at us. We can do anything, we have no constraints, which can really send us designers into a panic. So what do we do? We make up our own constraints.

This is the tenth anniversary of Typeforce. We’re always looking to outdo our previous work, but given this milestone, we’re looking to go all-out. This piece has to somehow represent both this show, and the accumulation of all the past shows. A decade in, we also want this Typeforce to be future-oriented: what ideas are still to come?

Clearly this thing has to be big. One lesson we’ve learned is that when scaling up, precision is key, otherwise at some point you might realize stuff won’t fit together. Add a material with unknown properties and you can end up with more problems, like the plaster that wouldn’t dry for Typeforce 8. This year, we’re developing a scalable system that we can reproduce consistently.

Typeforce 8 Making
Typeforce 8 was right down to the wire, waiting for the plaster to dry

Here’s another goal: produce a well-made artifact. We admit to solving last-minute problems with gaffer tape in years past. However, we saved the best of those same pieces and they now grace the walls of our office. So this year we want to make something beautiful but also solid—an heirloom piece. Luckily, we have some sweet new tools in our shop to assist us.

Introducing: the Shapeoko XXL CNC router. This handsome devil is many things, but we’re attracted to its power and accuracy. We've already tested its capabilities with some personal projects and we’re excited push it further. You know that saying, when you have a hammer all your problems look like nails? Well when you have a new CNC router, all material decisions look like WOOD.

We’re not sure exactly what we’re building yet (client work always comes first). But we’re confident now that we’ve committed to a few choices it’ll all work out by February 22. We’ll keep you posted on any progress here.

Feeding the Firebelly

January 4, 2019 – by Emily

Food is love. What better way to show we care than with food? We offer it in times of need: to new neighbors, to the sick, to parents of newborn babies. We gather over meals in the midst of grief and celebration alike. And we reconnect at the end of a long day of work or school around the table with our loved ones.  

Here at Firebelly it’s my job to cook freshly-made lunches to our staff (and sometimes clients and lucky visitors including my 8-year old on occasion) every day. Free meals made by an in-house chef is a unique perk for a company of our size, so why do we do it? From a practical perspective, feeding our employees saves them time and money and takes a basic need off their plate, freeing them to do their best work. It’s a way to care for the whole person. On a deeper level, sharing our midday meal together brings us closer. It makes us more of a family. And when we invite clients and guests to our table, they too become part of our Firebelly family.

Folks here occupy a wide spectrum of dietary choices: omnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, vegan, gluten-free, mushroom-free, even raw onion intolerant. To accommodate everyone, the meals I make are always vegetarian with a vegan option (with offending mushrooms, raw onions, etc on the side). I’ve found even the most passionate of carnivores can enjoy a plant-based meal, but you can’t flip it and expect everyone to be happy.

Cornmeal crusted tofu po' boys

I am not vegan or even vegetarian, but my culinary values and skills align with what I get to do in the Firebelly kitchen every week: whole foods, lots of vegetables and everything from scratch. I love learning new culinary techniques and tricks, and vegan cuisine is chock full of them. For instance, I had never made seitan, vegan ricotta, vegan peanut butter cookies or cashew sauce before coming here. Now not only are they staples in the Firebelly lineup, I make them at home for my family as well.

Mongolian "beef"

I get a lot of questions about how I put together the weekly menus. Planning daily meals for 17 people can be a juggling act, so I made some tools and strategies to help me. Spreadsheets organize and track everything: ingredients I’ve stockpiled, who’s in the office on any given day and a calendar of every meal I’ve ever cooked here. I try to rotate the star ingredients and mix up flavors and cuisines so we aren’t having Mexican three days in a row or tofu in every meal for a week. Sometimes I have to switch it up when my grocery delivery is late or subs the wrong ingredient, but that’s part of the fun of cooking—being creative and adapting.

Squash soup

For inspiration there’s an ever-changing stack of cookbooks on my desk. Veganomicon, Food 52 Vegan and the Moosewood cookbooks are some of my favorites. I very rarely follow a recipe exactly—I use them as a starting point to tweak and edit to make something that is my own. But if I’m in a slump I flip through the pages and usually find something new or a reminder to bring back an ingredient I haven’t used in a while. I also flip through plenty of non-vegan cookbooks for recipes I can imagine veganizing, as well as restaurant menus and of course, the internet. Culinary inspiration is everywhere if you are open to it.

I feel incredibly lucky to be the person feeding the Firebelly—it’s the perfect way to express appreciation for my colleagues. And I’ve noticed how everyone responds to eating a homemade meal together. There’s an emotional connection when someone puts the energy, thought and time into providing you with delicious sustenance. And when you eat a meal with your coworkers, you can’t help but grow closer. Every day we sit around the kitchen island, taking a break from client work to talk about our lives and share stories as we break bread and serve each other seconds. That’s the magic of food: you put love into it and it makes more love.

Hungry? You can see everything we ate on our Feeding the Firebelly Instagram account.

Vegan Peanuttiest Peanut Butter Birthday Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 12 minutes

If you are lucky enough to work at Firebelly, you get to choose which kind of freshly baked vegan cookies to have on your birthday. This recipe is one of our favorites.


  • 1 ½ cups dry roasted unsalted peanuts, divided (dry roasted is important for a super peanutty flavor!)
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-natural peanut butter, room temp
  • ½ cup vegan butter, room temp (I use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk (or any other non-dairy milk you like)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (you may also use vanilla almond milk and omit the extract)
  • flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Roughly chop 1 cup of the peanuts - you want varying sizes of peanut chunks, including some whole nuts for the peanuttiest texture and flavor.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, cream together the peanut butter, butter and both sugars until smooth. I use a rubber spatula and press the mixture against the side of the bowl to incorporate it thoroughly but you could use an electric hand mixer or Kitchenaid for this step if it pleases you. Add the almond milk and vanilla (you could also just use vanilla flavored almond milk and omit the vanilla extract) and stir thoroughly to combine. Next add the dry ingredients, one third at a time, folding with a rubber spatula. Once all of the flour is incorporated, fold in the peanuts.

Using a tablespoon, portion the dough into 1 tbsp portions and roll with your hands balls. Space the soon-to-be cookies two inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet and press each ball down slightly with your palm to flatten. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and press an extra peanut or two on top if you’re feeling extra nutty.

Bake the cookies for 12 minutes until the cookies look dry and the edges just barely start to brown, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from the oven and let cool for 2-3 minutes before removing from the sheet pan.

Enjoy these warm love filled cookies with your colleagues, friends and family within 3-4 days, if they last that long.

Tip: You can freeze the slightly flattened balls of dough for the future and bake straight from the freezer! Just add a minute or two to your baking time!

A Beautiful Overlap: The Eternal Search for the Perfect Job

December 1, 2018 – by Ariel

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question that’s hammered into most of us since childhood. One we’re forced to answer early and often, at a time when our only reference points are the few adults surrounding us. Parents, teachers, firefighters and zoo-keepers—those who stand out in their bold costumes and obvious responsibilities.

Remember how you used to answer? Remember your first dream job? (Of course you do.)

Astronaut? Actor? Musician? Athlete? Detective? Veterinarian? Ventriloquist? Scientist? Socialist? Senator?

It’s a question that weighs heavier on us the closer we get to that perilous transition between school and the Real World (as misnamed and terrifying a moniker as that may be), culminating in possibly the most stress-inducing iteration of all: “What are you going to do after graduation?”

Or the variation posed by our more cerebral allies: “What will we become?”

Or the one that haunts us as we lie awake at night: “What will I do with my life?”

Those lucky enough to have the liberty to explore answers to these questions may find themselves on a path that’ll last a lifetime. One that zigs and zags and winds through the cosmos, sometimes spanning industries, trades, professions, time zones and even cultures. The desire to find our place moves us all differently. We all search in our own ways.

But we all search.

Many of us actively. Some, haphazardly. Others, desperately. Seeking, yearning, climbing, crawling, clawing . . . Looking for our fit. Our kingdom! Our calling.

Some who can’t find it, build it. Yet even those of us who can’t create it still try as we might to shape it.

But how? We ask ourselves, haggard and road-weary as we wade through the jungles of modernity, leaving job after job in our wake. Or rather what, if it even exists, does this elusive gig look like? What is The Perfect Job?

Here at Firebelly Industries, we try to simplify.

To visualize. To reduce things to their barest bones. Their purest form. Their most honest essence.

One way to do this is with diagrams. Graphs, dots, circles and lines. Audacious attempts to represent big things swiftly and succinctly.

Like all things, finding our overlap—our happy sweet spot—is about balance. About trade-offs. About luck.

There’s the people. Those we work with. Day in and day out. Do you like them? Do you respect them? Are they your kind of humans? Do they inspire you? Challenge you? Make you better? Do you enjoy spending time with them? Would you say hi to them if you ran into them at the mall?

There’s the stark reality of the job itself, the practice. Whether you’re a pop super star or paralegal, a dentist or a designer—do you like what you do? The day-to-days. The tasks, the activities, and all that goes into it. Is what you’re doing fundamentally what you want to be doing? With your time? With your life?

And then there’s the purpose, the mission. The greater “why” and all of the context that surrounds it. What’s the spirit of the job, the company, the pursuit? Its reason for being. Do you believe in it? Do your values align? Are you contributing in a way that’s meaningful?

One might claim that inhabiting just one of these three spheres is the bare minimum for maintaining sanity in any work. Any use of time.

A gig that overlaps in two is generally a great thing, but is it sustainable? If you love the people and the practice but aren’t aligned with the mission, will you stay forever? If you dig the purpose and your peers, but can’t stand the day-to-day, is it healthy for you? If all is well except the people, will you last long?

And then there’s the intersection—the elusive triple overlap. Three’s the goal, three’s rare, and three’s a place you can hang out in, if only we can find it. If only it can find us.

One response to such a model comes from the grizzled pragmatist: there is no “perfect.” There is only better. There is simply progress. Forever forward, toward “a more perfect union,” to quote a famed preamble written many moons ago (U.S. Constitution, 1787). Which is damn well true, of course. It’s about the learning. The continual renewal. The “infinite expectation of the dawn” (Thoreau, Walden, 1854).

But how do we know when to move on? When to pursue a healthier overlap? Maybe it’s when we stop growing. When we stop learning. When we’ve gotten (and given) as much as we think we can from each and every stop along our path. Whether it takes five months or five decades.

Could it be so simple?

A Change is Gonna Come

November 8, 2018 – by Kristin

I wanted to work at Firebelly long before I worked at Firebelly. 

The studio first came into my sights in 2011. I was volunteering with a group of young, bright-eyed professional idealists, coordinating meet-ups to connect aspiring do-gooders with seasoned entrepreneurs. Helping good people meet good people, basically. Which is how I met Dawn. She was seasoned. I aspired. 

I asked her to come talk at one of our happy hours. For some reason, she said yes. 

She came. She spoke. I swooned.  

If you've seen Dawn in action, you know what I'm talking about.

She got personal. She cussed real good. (Some people are born gifted.) She spoke to us about being young, ambitious and uncompromising—maybe foolishly so—and in that fiery, hungry foolishness, starting her own design studio. A practice dedicated to good and only good. No assholes allowed. My brain and my heart, in perfect harmony for maybe the first time in my life, screamed YES.

She walked us through the studio's at times uncertain evolution. How it started tiny, serving mostly nonprofits, to slightly-less-tiny, working with clients on both sides of the internal revenue code. How it takes love to make this business work. 

She told us about Reason to Give. Camp Firebelly. The family. The hustle. The Grant for Good. I was toast. By hook or by crook, I would work for this woman one day. And then I did. Took us a few years to get our timing right, but I got my seat at the feast. My first major project: Plant Chicago. The 2015 Grant for Good. I learned a lot.

That there is no such thing as perfect. Everything will change. That mushrooms truly are magic. So is everything that grows. That listening is not an option. It's the only way. That what we do is show people themselves from a different angle, a new light. That light can be transformative. 

When we see ourselves as we really are, when we know our purpose with renewed clarity, when we understand our strengths and our boundaries, where we'll shine and where we'll struggle, the world opens up. The path reveals itself so we can walk it, sure-footed and strong, and bring others with us. 

We must allow this. We must accept new light if we're going to grow. We have to change the way we see ourselves if we're going to find our path. 

Change is painful. "Experienced loss." It can also be liberating as hell. We're all trying to get free. From the shackles of our past struggles. From the incomplete stories we tell ourselves, from our own presumptions, from our fears and inherited baggage.

I adore this work because it is terrorsome stuff. Our business is change. It is growth. It is light-loving pure potential. We start every project unsure of the path. We find it together. We bring others with us. My goodness, what a life. 

And here is the point: 

The Grant for Good begins again.
Another cycle. Another partner.
Another year to welcome change. 
To whomever comes with us, let's find new light. 

In the meantime, there's music. 

Playlist by Alibaster