Things We Like: A Design Firm Doing Great Things For The Community As Well As Great Design.

Posted on November 23rd, 2010 at 6:26 pm by in Things We Like

Things We Like: A Design Firm Doing Great Things For The Community As Well As Great Design.

Interested in starting your own design firm that does great things for your neighborhood and community as well as fantastic design?

We consider it our business to know organizations who are rethinking professional design practice for the greater good, innovation and to better meet the needs of the world around us. Indeed, we spend a lot of time looking far and wide to find these people. Quite frankly you will be hard pressed to do a better job than our friend Dawn Hancock, the founder of Firebelly Design. Operating under the belief that if ‘you do good things, good things will come to you’, Firebelly is an excellent model of a design firm in which good design, good business and good things for the community are inseparable. Yes, the scale and work flow of graphic design is different than architecture and perhaps industrial design but folks, you can learn a lot from Dawn and her very smart endeavors.

Here are five reasons why you should admire Firebelly Design just as much as we do.

1. They do uncompromisingly great design work.  *

Have a look at their website, poke around a bit on the web. Enough said.

2. Firebelly Foundation and Reason To Give  * *

Firebelly created a non-profit to initiate their own socially motivated projects as well as to better reach out to and support the community where they live, and work. The first project, Reason To Give, provides concrete, substantive help to the community in the form of helping families in need from Humboldt Park acquire the basic necessities they need to live on a daily basis. The Firebelly Foundation also operates as the umbrella organization for managing the Grant For Good and Camp Firebelly.

3. Camp

Traditional design organizations often struggle mightily to incorporate socially motivated or pro-bono work seamlessly into the routine of the office. In our experience, even when the most well intentioned and diligent of firms set aside time and money for their employees to work on such projects, paying work subsume or routinely edge out the ‘reduced’ and pro-bono work. Even Google’s vaunted 20% time is reportedly under threat as the company continues to grow. Furthermore, because the work flow is often so disjointed, it’s hard for offices to reap the full benefits of such work internally in the form of skill growth, knowledge and shared sense of purpose. Externally, this means that it’s harder for an organization to benefit from social capacity building, P.R. opportunities, excitement, good will, etc..

Firebelly addresses these challenges by focusing the entire office’s attention twice a year on pro-bono work- once in the form of the Grant For Good and the other through a design summer camp called Camp Firebelly. Camp Firebelly, a more recent endeavor, grew out of the tremendous demand for pro-bono design services and mentoring opportunities for young designers that they simply couldn’t meet through the Grant For Good alone. For ten days each summer, the firm completely shuts down and literally has a camp-out charette in the office with young designers from across the country who have applied (and in most cases, paid) to be the design team for the event. Over ten days, the ten interns serve as the primary design team while Dawn and the Firebelly team provide critical mentoring and feedback to create a complete branding and marketing strategy for a non-profit in Chicago. By having it as an event rather than a dispersed series of actions, Firebelly can capitalize on and easily share the incredibly energy of the charette with the community, friends and potential clients.

4. Camp Firebelly part two.

It’s hard to create meaningful opportunities for young designers to gain the skills necessary to do really good, smart and beneficial work in their communities. Universities have to wrestle with balancing curricular goals, the skills of its professors, time constraints, often tricky community relations and the needs of the students when trying to run community design studios. Because this type of work is often a sidebar in most traditional design practices, it’s hard for employees to get the mentoring or critical feedback necessary to do great things. Camp Firebelly allows Dawn and the other members of the firm to provide a truly meaningful mentoring experience for a host of aspiring community designers from across the United States while a Chicago organization gets some really great design help. This allows her to mentor more designers than she is traditionally able to do through the Grant For Good. Unsatisfied with the impact she can have in one week and hoping to better meet the tremendous needs of organizations in Chicago, Dawn is working to start Firebelly U., which will be a formalized intern and community designer development program.

5. Grant For Good *

Originally created eight years ago under the Firebelly Foundation umbrella, the Grant For Good has been Firebelly’s primary tool for doing pro-bono work in Chicago. This year they’ve decided to make a few innovative and notable changes to the grant. If you’re doing as many great things as Dawn, there’s a good chance your friends are similarly motivated. If you pool the skills, time and resources of said friends, and focused them for a year on bolstering one lucky organization, will everyone benefit?

Actually, although I am quite sure that the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, the jury hasn’t even been summoned because this is a brand new initiative of Dawn and her fantastic partners, such as Shannon Downey of Pivotal Chicago.

In fact, if YOU are a non-profit you still have a couple of days to apply for this fantastic opportunity. Hop to it and good luck!

– Alex Gilliam

*All images are from Firebelly Design.