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


June 28, 2018

After months of good, hard work, we’re thrilled to share the launch of Unstoppable, a new national campaign powered by Planned Parenthood

Friends, it’s been one hell of a year.
We’ve seen the emergence of two powerful movements in #MeToo and #TimesUp.
Young people have shown us their strength as they call out #NeverAgain.
Women—and especially women of color—have been mobilizing en masse, leading the charge to push us closer to the promise of truth, equity and justice for all. 

(Shout out to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez for a stunning, beautiful victory in the NYC congressional primary earlier this week. A bright spot in an otherwise harrowing news cycle.)  

Despite the weight that this year has brought down upon us, let us keep reminding ourselves that there is no wrong that can’t be made right. No harm that can’t be healed.

But it’s going to take work. 
And that is what Unstoppable is all about.

“One of us can be dismissed.
Two of us can be ignored.
But together, we are a movement.
And we are unstoppable.”

Unstoppable is designed to ensure that we do not lose hope.
That we keep our hearts and our eyes on the future.
That we move toward it together.
That when we aren’t sure what to do, we turn to each other.
We see in one another the strength and resolve we need to keep moving forward.

To keep speaking up.
To hold onto joy.
To have the difficult conversations that are vital to progress.

We worked long and hard with PP's creative and communications teams, workshopping ideas and tactics for recruiting new allies and advocates. Together, we created, which brings together facts, resources, inspiration and calls to action—all of which are designed to lower the barriers to entry and induct new activists to the cause.

We encourage you, our Firebelly family, to support this work by reading and signing the manifesto, sharing it far and wide, and posting your Unstoppable stories to Instagram. Every step in the right direction is a step worth counting.

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for caring.
Thank you for showing up and doing the best you can today.
And thank you for giving us the chance to design the world we want to live in. 

Broken Language

January 12, 2018 – by Kristin

We are, the majority of us—by trade or even by preordained path—communicators. We think, we feel, we share and exchange. Here’s what I've got. Your turn.

Me, I’m most comfortable speaking and writing. Studied my own language twice over, just in case the first time didn’t stick. I am intimate with English. My vocabulary’s not bad. I’m in close, constant contact with my insides and I share them, freely, unabashedly. This is what I have to offer.

Dawn took us to San Miguel de Allende at the end of 2017. A surprise! (The destination, not the trip. We knew all year we were going somewhere, but where? We weren’t to know until we got to O'Hare, bags and spouses in tow.) We suspected Mexico. There were hints. An oddly specific mention of prickly pear cactus. A known need for passports. We’re puzzle-lovers. We can follow a scent. But we had no clue we’d be visiting Guanajuato. My grandmother’s home state.


I panicked. A touch. Probably no one else expects me to speak Spanish, but I do. On this count, I’ve been letting myself down my whole life. 34 years is plenty of time to pick up a language. But there’s shame in not just knowing it, in my bones, the way I know lilting is onomatopoeia, or how a period can be a shrug. And so language failed me. I could see another version of myself in every encounter—I spoke gracefully, asked good questions, knew my way around syntax. As it was, I could manage entry-level pleasantries and little else beyond basic subject-verb constructions. If you’ve spent your adult life defining your self-worth by your ability to say things well—even with the occasional flourish!—this was not ideal.

Self-indulgence aside, it was a learning experience. If you can’t depend on your words, what then? If you don’t have the right pen, what then? What do we turn to when our strength isn’t there for us?

Each other.

Maybe someone steps up, to our collective surprise and delight. (P.S. Welcome Ariel. He’s a brand + UX strategist that I guess speaks fluent Spanish. Maybe there’s something to well-timed reveals. Give people what they need when they need it, and not a moment too soon.)

Maybe we find other means of communication. High quality eye contact, strong facial expressions, gestures, props. We want that large, fun balloon and every one of those sparklers, please. ¿Cuánto por todo? Even broken language works, if we want it enough. The trick is to stay humble. Stay patient. Believe that we all have the same goal—to understand each other.

It’s important, too, to remember it’s never too late to learn nearly anything. I’d like to tell my grandmother about the trip. She’d like knowing her granddaughter has a really good job. I’d like to speak to her in her language, to fail, just a little, and know she’ll understand.

Beautiful photos by Tom Tian

Professional Personal Development

December 13, 2016 – by Tom Tian

About midway through our intake questionnaire, we ask prospective clients to describe what animal best represents their organization’s personality. It’s a question that invites and reliably elicits entertainingly unexpected, thoughtful responses. Still, it’s a special day when someone describes themselves as a war-paint-wearing, battle-scarred “female centaur holding a spear.”

Go on, I’m listening.

The unapologetically badass centaur in question is Girls Garage (formerly Camp H), a unique camp and after-school program for girls ages 9–13 based in Berkeley that seeks to cultivate confidence and agency through a design- and building-centric curriculum. They’d recently acquired a new space and name, and—with unalloyed enthusiasm and drive behind them—were ready to grow into it all without losing sight of their original mission.

16 Gg Girs Garage In Situ 20160622 0184

Our case study on Girls Garage covers much of the collective process that led to their eventual identity, which I won’t retread here. I would instead like to discuss the messy work of the heart and mind that swirls invisibly beneath the deceptive grace of finished work, and of the deeper things you learn about yourself and how to go about doing what you do. The ensuing account is necessarily limited, both temporally and in scale, to my contributions to the enterprise. To borrow a common caveat: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author.

I wish I could say that reading our questionnaire filled me with nothing but the selfsame unadulterated enthusiasm that suffuses Girls Garage’s work. There was no shortage of excitement on my part, to be sure—how could anyone not perk up at such a signally spectacular answer?—but a not insignificant germ of apprehension seeped in almost as quickly: Shit, what do I know about designing for a girls’ building and design camp?

This doubt I knew was a function of a broader anxiety, that of feeling like a pretender whose disingenuity is perennially on the verge of being found out. Imposter syndrome is, I later found out, surprisingly common, though having not come to design by way of formal channels certainly didn’t help. That said, prizing action over deliberation has its occasional advantages, and in the end I didn’t answer the question so much as ignore it. Really, though, I’d opted to “fake” it until I “made” it.

At any rate, what was much more concretely helpful was a lengthy call with the incorrigibly upbeat Emily Pilloton and Christina Jenkins, Girls Garage’s founder and program director, respectively. Listening to them describe their mission reaffirmed and redoubled my initial excitement, adding passion to mere interest.

The back-and-forths and initial sketching of ideas that followed were not without their own internal challenges, chief among them the creation of custom type, which I’d not done before but knew would help Girls Garage distinguish itself.

Type design was—and I would say still is—a glaring hole in my skillset, one whose absence felt all the more conspicuous at a studio known for its work with it. The discipline’s relative arcaneness and uninhibited disdain for subpar work certainly made the task appear more daunting, though perhaps less so than the fact that I had never fully grasped and appreciated the made-ness of all letterforms. That is, the “ordinary” text that surrounds us, of the sort we absentmindedly write, encounter, and use daily, appear altogether ontologically different from their more spectacular and self-evidently made peers. Their very ubiquity imparts the appearance of naturalness, and therewith the untouchable mystery of irreducible things that just are.

And yet they, too, are ultimately artifices; made of shapes, malleable within the permissive bounds of custom, and subject to universal principles of visual design. Those who regularly alter them to address practical problems—and distinguishing a girls’ design and building camp surely falls into that category—are unburdened by any abstract considerations of the nature of type. It follows that the aforementioned tension doesn’t have to be answered because it’s demonstrably unnecessary. Perhaps there’s really no question to answer in the first place.

Besides, the practical problems have deadlines attached, and seemingly lofty challenges of representation dissolve in surprisingly straightforward resolutions. You and the client work out what they’d like to say, and you help them say it by drawing from a well of personal and accumulated knowledge and reconfiguring what you find in unexpected ways. It helps immensely to be able to chat about it with someone vastly more experienced and skilled along the way [points to Will].

So for Girls Garage, it went something like this:

Start from Wim Crouwel’s work because those corner joints and tight construction reflected the structure and made-ness they wanted to communicate, and the underlying grid still allows you to add some funky crossbars to give things a bit more character. But that turned out to look too digital, so you revisit things and look to stenciled type for its industrial connotations. Maybe those corners can make a comeback in some way that still makes sense, and after a couple of tries they do.

Gg Behind The Scenes 2

None of those more remote problems appear once pencil hits paper, and you emerge better prepared for the next challenge.

Appropriately enough, acquiring confidence through doing is essential to Girls Garage’s M.O., and I got a chance to see it at work when I flew out to Berkley for our portrait shoot (for which we owe many thanks to the wonderful Gizelle Hernandez). Seeing the fearless builder girls learn to construct bookcases—happily and intently as the young do, with the occasional reminder that safety glasses must be worn around the miter saw—was a powerful reminder of the necessity of suspending doubt in order to learn, whether the medium is wood or metal or type. It’s not about “faking” it until “making” it, but fearing less, building more.

16 Gg Girls Garage In Situ 20160621 0078