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Firebelly Design have quite an incredible mixture of projects and approaches. As a designer trained across the disciplines of textiles, art and illustration I was drawn in by the cross-media installation project of the “You are Beautiful U” work. Firebelly are an agency specialiZing in socially responsible design, and are “committed to cultivating connections between human beings and ideas, inspiring conscious thought and action”.

Firebelly Design make the bold step each Summer to shut the studio doors and work with students and graduates on conceptually and socially driven projects, including the meme of You are Beautiful. They are an award winning agency, and are a collective of typographers, writers, photographers and makers.

Intrigued by what drives an agency to give so much back to the community, and keen to discover how such an innovative design collective works, I asked Creative Director and Partner Will Miller some questions about what goes on at Firebelly Design.


Tell us about the “You are Beautiful U” Project

During each summer, for 10 days, Firebelly Design closes its doors to work with students and recent grads in our space. This opportunity allows the students to see what it’s like to work hard, fast, long hours but with a clear goal in mind. Alongside some of the bigger projects they tackle are smaller “side missions.” These usually involve ongoing campaigns or active organizations who thrive and appreciate help from groups of young, energetic designers and makers. This year, one “side mission” was to participate and create letters for the internationally known You Are Beautiful campaign.

You Are Beautiful is a simple, powerful statement aspiring to create moments of positive self realization. The intention behind the message is to be received as a simple act of kindness, an innovative approach to a fundamental concept. Each “camper” and staff member was given a letter to create out of reclaimed building materials generously donated by Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago, IL. All work was done in Rebuilding Exchange’s space over a Saturday and Sunday stretch.

Your work combines installation art and design, how do you feel the two disciplines merge together?

My process of creation typically starts on paper or in two dimensions. So many of the rules we’ve learned about composition, balance, hierarchy and grids crossover into installations, where two dimensions become three and hierarchy is no longer just about size, placement and alignment. Removed from a screen, design becomes z-space, physical interaction, a balancing act of revealing and concealment, repetition and pattern play. It’s extremely satisfying and exciting to see a flat design become a space someone can move through and be a participant.

Who or what inspires you?

Maybe it sounds expected and usual, but everyday life inspires me. The present, past and future are really exciting things to imagine and dream about. Being truly inspired takes practice. Bending your view of the world around something that seems very commonplace takes time. It can start to feel like chasing the rabbit down the hole but it’s wildly fun to re-imagine a small thing we take for granted as a huge thing, taking centuries of culture, thought and technology to arrive where it is today. Somewhere in all of those discussions about the state of everyday life (imagined or real) is a massive source of inspiration ready to be utilized.

What does your workspace look like?

Depends on the project and the process. Typically, I like my space tidy and organized at the start. My left and analytical side of the brain needs a clean slate and organized tool palette for when the right side takes over, makes a mess and moves fast. I work in a space where there are others doing the same thing I do and since we often have client meetings at our office, the general space is usually clean and organized with areas of great and messy work being done!

How do you approach a new project?

A very quick glimpse at how I like to think about a small design project would be something like step one: get as much out as quick as possible. Sketch on paper, sketch digitally, make terrible photoshop mashups to convey ideas, use iPhone cameras to get down and dirty pictures, write, write some more but always move fast. I still like to feel that it’s similar to being in school. You just have less time to complete something. Step two: head to your crew and make your case for proving your point. At this stage I like to get our team on board with my ideas and thoughts. It allows the whole studio to participate and become invested in the ideas and projects but also eases your own self doubt.

I become much more a fan of what I make when I have a studio of creatives supporting the idea and making the case for why it works alongside of me. After that is refinement and perfecting. Step three: Everyone at the studio enjoys discussing work when it’s completed. Learning from what was tried, what succeeded and what failed. The more you draw inspiration and knowledge from your own projects the quicker I think you’ll begin to see positive jumps in your own work. The final step happens over months where we revisit old projects, ideas and inspiration hoping to turn them into new and exciting bits of creative endeavors for projects in the future tense.

Camp Firebelly is an amazing practice. To close your studio for 10 days and tackle social design issues takes dedication and a lot of planning. Why did you start Camp Firebelly?

We felt there was a big gap for students and recent grads. There’s lots of fun work out there to be had but it’s not easy to find work for the greater good that can be fun. We also felt great organizations could benefit from great design but may not have budgets to do so. Students need experience, non-profits need a discerning design eye and so Camp Firebelly started. It’s definitely not easy for the Firebelly crew or the “campers.”

Many, many late nights and lots of coffee. I barely go home. But there’s always at least three square meals cooked on-site by us, lots of work (mostly done in pajamas!), and many good vibes to go around because when the camp breaks you leave with finished, printed pieces that everyone worked on together. Even better is the feeling you get seeing how the organization has improved their message as a direct cause of the work done over just 10 days. It always puts what’s possible into perspective for me each year.

What have been your proudest moments or projects?

I’m really proud of the Camp Firebelly moments because they are all team efforts. There’s also a lot of emotion floating around because you’re tired and driven but always amazing to see and feel a big group of people who don’t know each other, drop their guard and become best of friends for a short stint in early summer.

What aims do you have for Camp Firebelly and Firebelly design for the future?

I’d say more of everything. We don’t have any plans to put anything on hold. We’re always looking to get our hands dirtier or try new things. Stay tuned…

How has Kickstarter helped your 10 year anniversary campaign?

The Kickstarter You Are Beautiful Campaign was actually started by Matthew Hoffman. He is the originator of the Campaign but it’s grown far and beyond just him as many have become excited to participate. In a sense there is no ownership. It’s a message for all and for you, forever.

Will’s personal work can be found HERE.
Firebelly can be found on their website, on Twitter and on Facebook