Interview With Firebelly Design Founder Dawn Hancock

by Tim Jahn on April 30, 2010

In this episode, I’m chatting with Dawn Hancock and Darren McPherson of Firebelly Design, a Chicago based strategy and design studio focused on doing work for sustainable and socially responsible organizations.

Transcript

Dawn:
My name’s Dawn Hancock and I’m the owner and Creative Director at Firebelly Design.  We are a strategy and design studio focused on doing work for sustainable and socially responsible organizations.

Firebelly Camp is pretty crazy.  It’s literally ten days where people from all over country come in and sleep on the floor on air mattresses.  They work from literally eight in the morning to four in the morning everyday on one project for a non-profit that we’ve picked out for them.  Over the course of the ten days, from beginning to end, they have to do every single piece of it and we’re just their advisors on the project.

Firebelly Camp is pretty intense because by the last day they have to have the finished printed piece in hand or the website must be launched.  In ten days, that’s pretty intense to try and make happen.

We also have our Firebelly Grant, which is where we give an entire year of our services away for free to one non-profit.  The grant really helps educate the non-profit to understand the value of design and enables us to, over the course of a year, to really affect them in such a huge capacity.

It’s almost a way to ensure they’re a future client in some capacity because we’ve set them up to succeed.  We certainly don’t do it that way intentionally but that’s definitely been the case in the past.  You end up with these people who love you and are so happy they’re constantly passing your name around.  We’ve gotten some of our biggest clients and jobs because of our Firebelly Grant, which I think is just more of a karma thing than anything.  We’re doing something good so good things come to us.

When you’re doing work with non-profits, sometimes it takes six months or a few years to see the impact that you’ve had on their organization.  With our Firebelly Grant, we get to work with them an entire year and redo everything sometimes.  I love seeing the complete package and then two or three years, hearing how much of an impact all of that had for donors and funders.

Darren:
I think I was definitely drawn to a smaller company.  At first, I thought I wanted to go to an ad agency, but then I ended up looking at a list of different Chicago design firms and agencies.  I then realized I wanted to be involved in the process from beginning to finish.  I didn’t want to be passing off my work but rather be presenting my own work.

I wanted to be a part of a collaborative process in a small group of people.  A place like Firebelly seemed like a perfect fit.

Dawn:
I try to look for employees who always bring something new, whether their skills overlap with someone else at Firebelly or not.  You’re never really just good at one thing; you have other skill sets you can offer.  I appreciate people who come in here and have other things they do that they can teach the rest of us, like cooking, or some other random skill that may not be directly related to a client project.

Darren:
I think we all treat every project like a portfolio piece and taking on that mentality from the beginning.  Everybody at Firebelly is so encouraging of putting in the extra effort and doing the best work possible.

Dawn:
When I started Firebelly Design, I was really naive because I just didn’t know any better.  I was 25 and I figured, if it doesn’t work out, I could just go find a job or whatever.  And I think that’s a good mentality to have because so many people get a fear of not getting clients or getting paid or all these things, and then you’re stuck living in that world and never thinking about the future or just making things happen.

You’re stuck in that sort of fear then.  Don’t be afraid to do it.  If something doesn’t go right, be quick to change and figure out the next best thing to do or learn from your mistake.  And it’s not even a mistake because I feel like everything happens for a reason and so if something doesn’t go your way, figure out why it didn’t and then make something happen in a different capacity that’s improving upon that.

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