Community Spotlight: Dawn Hancock

Dawn Hancock

Dawn Hancock

I am really proud to present this Community Spotlight of Dawn Hancock. Dawn is someone I learned about in college. As a budding designer, Firebelly Design was the kind of company most of us graphic designers only dream about working for. Dawn is an inspiration for all of us, a successful, young, and OUT entrepreneur calling the shots at her company, Firebelly Design. But Dawn didn’t stop there. With her success, she decided to give back, ergo Reason to Give, Camp Firebelly and Firebelly U were born. How does Dawn have time to eat? Who knows.

Dawn’s design aesthetics are beautiful, meaningful and if you can’t tell just by looking at her websites mentioned above, then just take a look at a website some of us are familiar with everyday. The LCCP website designed+developed by Firebelly Design. And if you caught Garden of Eve last year you must’ve seen the “Garden of Eve” logo last year, Firebelly’s work yet again. Dawn’s work has had such a positive impact on our community and Chicago is so lucky to have her. Every year Dawn also holds a grant where she awards a company with a whole re-branding of sorts, that really revamps the company, from strategies down to the eye-catching and inviting design. This years 2011 Grant Winner is the Chicago Women’s Health Center. Here you can see a list of all past winners. Firebelly’s signature is truly being left on a big part part our community.

Garden of Eve

Garden of Eve logo 2010

Dawn did an awesome talk at TedXWindyCity about the 5 Mantras of Happiness. If you haven’t heard of Tedx or Ted Talks in general, invest a few minutes when you have time.

This is a great watch for all walks of life, proving that when given the opportunity, giving back is just as rewarding as receiving, if not more so. Even in Firebelly’s location of Humboldt Park, Dawn chooses to help the less fortunate in the neighborhood as can be seen in the video. Dubbed the “Red Tornado”, Dawn talks not only about the struggles she faced as a youngster, but the journey she’s taken to lead her into who she is today and why giving back is something that she will continue to do.

We took some time with Dawn to ask her questions about herself in her own words. Enjoy!

1. Where were you born? Neighborhood?

Born in the burbs – grew up in Rolling Meadows, went to school in DeKalb and moved to Chicago right after college. have lived in Old Irving, Lakeview, Andersonville, Humboldt Park, Lincoln Square + Albany Park.

2. Fave book/movie?

Books are tough as I’m not much of a book/fiction reader – mainly read magazines like Inc. or Good. Books tend to be more business and these days are all on audio – but the one that changed my life and made me believe I could run a company the way I wanted to was Body and Soul by Anita Roddick (founder of the Body Shop). After that book, she became a mentor to me without ever even having met her.

Movies are all over the place. I could watch Better Off Dead every day. I want my $2!  Or pretty much any Mel Brooks movie, History of The World Part 2, being my first pick.  Next I would lean towards documentary as my next fav type – Fast Cheap & Out of Control + King of Kong are two of my tops. Where do these people come from!?!

3. Fave toy from your childhood?

No question, Legos were number one.  I had every damn set I could find. Stupidly gave them to a boyfriend in high school and never ever saw them again.

4. Best thing about Chicago?

The people. I travel a lot and to as many different countries as I can… there really are not people like Chicagoans anywhere else. We have the best people.

5. Favorite restaurant in Chicago

You are asking a foodie to pick one spot… impossible. And as a vegetarian, I am constantly on the lookout for the best veggie options at the most unusual spots vs the obvious all vegetarian spots. I even have a blog + tweet about these at — but since you’re asking for just one, I have to say Tweet. Maybe because I’m a sucker for good brunch spots, but I’ve never had a bad meal. Ever. And their bbq tofu sandwich is incredible.

6. Occupation? What are you passionate about doing?
occupation = do-gooder
passion = changing people’s lives in ways they never saw coming or thought possible

I founded and manage a design studio called Firebelly. We do work for people we think are making a difference in the world. Often that is big picture brand strategy for tiny little nonprofits. Sometimes it’s complete web overhauls for large institutions. Our work tends to encompass everything from brand strategy to print collateral to web development to motion. We’ve been giving a year of our services away to one nonprofit for the past 8 year (now called the Grant for Good). This year’s lucky winner is the Chicago Women’s Health Center. We’re honored to be collaborating with them during this transformative year.

Because our clients and friends inspire us so much, we felt obligated to join them in their mission to change the world. We decided to roll up our sleeves and get our own hands dirty by starting our own nonprofit almost 5 years ago. Our first program Reason to Give was started to help our neighborhood of Humboldt Park in which we’ve had our studio for the past 9 years.  We wanted to help the folks we could see around us. Make a difference literally in our backyard. To date, Reason to Give has helped over 600 people in our community with basic needs, workshops and events specifically designed for them. We helped save the music program at our neighboring elementary school, rebuilt a library at another school and have provided families with everything from school supplies and computers to stoves and winter gear.

In addition to Reason to Give, we have a few other programs under our nonprofit arm. Every summer we host 10 college students from all over the world to a 10 day intensive design program called Camp Firebelly. We give them a real client to work collaboratively as a team with, experiences and friends that will last a lifetime and hands-on proof that you can do anything you want in life.

The success of camp and the fact that I am constantly asked how I am able to do it all, has inspired me to take on my next challenge–creating an army of do-gooders just like me called Firebelly University!  For the next 9 months, 5 brave soldiers will learn how to run a business by running their own design studio. From getting a checking account to writing a contract, they will do it all. and they will work as a team like any other design studio to get things done. In addition, every Friday we will have guest speakers come in to the office or talk over Skype, arrange workshops on everything from writing a business plan to public speaking, and give opportunities to meet people who’ve inspired and mentored me. and since that didn’t seem like enough, by the time they are done, they will be launching their own businesses, nonprofits, social enterprises or whatever they are passionate about. Running the design firm full-time is really just giving them the understanding of what it takes to run any business.

And I cannot stress enough that none of this would be possible without the amazing people in my life – my co-conspirators at Firebelly, my friends who support me no matter what and a lady friend who’s never given up on me (even in my most unflattering moments) and inspires me every day with her generosity, support and sense of humor.

7. Was being gay an obstacle for you in your line of work?

Nope — I think it’s an advantage. There’s the obvious reason that we have a lot of queer-focused clients so they appreciate that I am coming from the same general place as they are, and the not so obvious reason I think has more to do with just a level of comfort and confidence I have being who I am, that I think people gay/straight/somewhere in between gravitate towards.

That said, there was one time a printer refused to print a stationery system for me because it was for Windy City Times… that was the first and only experience I have ever known about where I was knowingly discriminated against. In truth, I’m glad it happened because I fired them that day and never gave them another cent.

8. Tell me some of the obstacles you hope we get past in order to integrate into the world as we know it – as gay individuals?

Marriage is of course a big one…and I don’t just mean by giving us civil unions as an option. I really just want everything to be equal for everyone.

9. Are there specific shortcomings in our community that you see?

I think trans-folk (and those who don’t identify one way or the other) need a seat at the table when we’re having discussions, especially related to equality. We tend to include the ‘T’ or ‘Q’ in the acronym, but I don’t think often enough, do we actually include them in the conversation. I think we make a lot of assumptions.

10. What are your hopes for the future generations of young LGBTQ people?

I hope the hate disappears. There’s so much animosity and fear and distrust for no reason at all. I sometimes forget it’s there too because I am safe and secure in my world. I think that is why I’m drawn to helping the underserved. It keeps me grounded and reminds me every day that there is more work to be done.

11. Does it get better?

Yes, sure, of course. But that doesn’t mean we can let up. I have been fortunate to have not lost people I loved because of how I identify, but I know I am probably in the minority. The more we talk about, teach others, show off that we’re all just as awesome + fucked up as everyone else, the faster it will happen. But we can’t leave anyone behind.

12. Something not many know about you.

I was fired from my first job out of college.

You May Also Like:

Back to blog


One Response to “Community Spotlight: Dawn Hancock”

  1. Dawn is the real deal. Proud to know her and always excited to see the ways she is contributing to the world around her. Thank you for this closer look into the world of a local genius and rising star.

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig

    Posted by goal setting | September 16, 2011, 3:42 pm

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.