Designer Dawn Hancock wants to do work that matters.
For several years, she said, she worked at a large web-consulting company that focused on creating logos, brands and websites for big corporations. But it wasn’t inspiring for her.
“I ended up volunteering at a bunch of nonprofits,” Hancock said. “Even though I wasn’t getting paid for it, I saw the impact that I was making in other people’s lives.”
It wasn’t until her dad died unexpectedly that she reconsidered what she was doing with her career.
“It made me think, ‘Why am I not working on things that really matter?” she said. “‘Life is short.’”
Hancock quit her job at the consulting company and in 1999 started Firebelly Design, which focuses on designing for projects that matter, she said.
The Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts welcomes Hancock as its final speaker of the semester Friday. Hancock will present lectures at 1:30 p.m. and 5.
In her lecture, she plans to deliver her “Top-10 List of Shit I’ve Done to Create A Life I Love.”
Her list is composed of the principles she used to build Firebelly Design and the lessons she’s learned along the way, such as being flexible and investing in your community.
“I started the idea that I wanted to do work that mattered,” she said. “Thankfully, I was young and didn’t realize that I was doing something risky.”
The company began when she designed a website for a friend of a co-worker. The man made his own handmade guitars, which sold for about $10,000 each.
Hancock was initially drawn to him because of his passion and interesting art.
“Firebelly truly only works on stuff that they care about,” Firebelly designer Nick Adam said. “You’ll never have to do any big, evil corporate work.”
Adam followed a path similar to Hancock’s in finding Firebelly. He had previously worked for six years at a publishing company.
“During the six years doing the publishing gig, it was a very easy job,” Adam said. “You got in at 9 and left at 5 and never thought about it.”
Adam took on freelance work and art projects he found more interesting when he wasn’t working at the publishing company.
Adam met Hancock at an exhibit where some of his work was being shown, and she was impressed. She gave Adam a freelance opportunity and eventually created a position for him at Firebelly based on his skills.
Adam now works at Firebelly as a strategist, which means his main role is to meet with an organization or group to devise a plan for its brand. He talks to clients to figure out what they need in terms of design work.
Firebelly design now has about six designers, and it has won awards and taken on larger projects.
One of the most recent is a project called Divvy, a bike share system implemented in Chicago which allows users to rent a bike for half an hour and return it to any station across the city.
The city project was intended to be an alternative to public transportation and cars in order to get citizens more active in the community, Hancock said.
Firebelly was contracted to name and design the project for the entire city. This meant designing everything from the actual bikes to be rented to the signs and maps people would see at the stations.
“Every time I see someone riding one of the bikes, there’s this sense of pride that we were a part of that,” Hancock said.
The design firm also took on a project called Rebuilding Exchange in 2008. When the market crashed, many people were out of work, which affected their ability to buy things and the job market itself.
Many buildings were
being neglected in Chicago as they fell apart, Adams said. Usually these buildings would be torn down and the materials thrown away but, the Rebuilding Exchange salvaged these materials and sold them at cheap prices. To do this, they employed people who would normally never be hired, such as ex-cons, Adam said.
Firebelly taught the workers how to disassemble the buildings without damaging the materials, which included wood, sinks, chairs and appliances.
The program put people to work, created an inventory of high-quality materials and put them on the market for a fraction of the price.
Failing businesses that needed cheap materials were able to access them for less than market price.
When the project contacted Firebelly, it didn’t have a brand or identity. Firebelly built the Rebuilding Exchange project a brand that would stand out from other companies in the building material market and a Tumblr page within the company’s small budget.
Helping projects like the Rebuilding Exchange was the main goal of Firebelly, but in 2006 the company expanded to also house a nonprofit called Firebelly Foundation.
The Firebelly University program is an incubator for people who want to start design businesses in a socially responsible way, according to their website.
Firebelly Camp is a 10-day training program to help college students learn design skills and collaboration to give them more experience in the design world, according to the website.
IU alumna Alysha Balog participated in the camp in 2011. She said she saw the camp as a great networking opportunity and a way to explore her passion for doing good.
While at the camp, Balog worked on the Center for New Community in Chicago, which helps with immigration reform.
The organization is focused on creating diverse communities in the United States, and Balog worked on developing a website for the project with the other campers.
While working at Firebelly, Balog said she saw Hancock’s passion for her company and designing for good causes.
“I love when she mentioned to us that she wanted to hire people around her that were better designers than she was,” Balog said. “She doesn’t design as much as she used to, and that’s because she’s running a company of people who she thinks are more talented than she is.”
Adam said she sees the same passion and humility in Hancock.
“She’s a massive inspiration to each one of us here,” Adam said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone have the ability to dream so big and actually make it happen.”