From Classic Cars to Cannabis Magazines: The Design Journey of Dava Guthmiller

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 04/08/2019 | 5 Minute Read

What sparked your love of design? Was it an iconic branding campaign or a piece of packaging from your childhood that was particularly memorable? Maybe a supportive high school art teacher, or a life-changing college course?

For Dava Guthmiller, Founder and CCO of San Francisco-based Noise 13, it was classic cars.

Growing up near Sacramento in Galt, California, her family ran an auto repair shop, so she grew up in a car-centric family. As a teenager, she worked there, and both her father and uncle also built hot rods on the side.

“I saw a huge variety with these cars, especially amongst people who are passionate about vintage cars and hot rods,” she explained. She worked alongside people who were constantly trying to improve what they were working on, from the color to the wheel size to the dashboard details.

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Dava also remembers attending car shows. “You are surrounded by these beautiful, expensive objects, and people are putting effort into designing this thing they may or may not drive.”

As for Dava’s father, she described his style as clean, elegant, and classic-looking—form, but without sacrificing function. “It was training the eye on form and design and the balance of things,” she added. “It was a big part of my every day, just being in that environment of judging, observing, and staying aware of popular styles.”

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Dava officially decided to go into design during junior college and then attended Academy of Art University. She snagged an internship at Capybara Island Design where she worked with a single designer named Bernardo, and his scope of work had an influence on how she would later run her design studio.

“He worked with big and small brands,” she said. “One client was Sun Microsystems, but then he would work with nightclub promoters and restaurateurs, too. The variety he had as a designer was really interesting to me.”

As a senior in college, she began working with a new company that had just landed a gig with Adobe. The team was small—only six other people—so she oversaw more than a junior designer typically would.

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“It was a sort of ‘get thrown into the fire’ type of project,” Dava mentioned. “I was still in school and sort of running this project. I got to learn about the business and flex my design muscles, and I was allowed to do things as a junior designer and get my hands dirty. It was invaluable because I was trusted to do assignments, even though I was young.”

It’s when she felt like that trust was taken away that she quit the job on the spot. Instead of looking for a new position, she decided to launch an agency herself—something she’d envisioned as a lifelong goal.

Coincidentally, trust is a huge priority in how she runs Noise 13.

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“I am open and clear about my business and how things operate here,” she explained. “For instance, I won’t hire someone new that makes more than someone who’s been here for two years, because I was in that position. I had people working under me who were making more than me, all because they’d come in at a different time and asked for more.

“Being a female and having women work for me, I don’t want people to feel like they’re in a position of distrust.”

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As an entrepreneur and woman, Dava also puts an emphasis on delegation—something which women in management roles struggle with.  There’s the pressure to do it all, to handle every problem, and to take on every role. After nearly two decades running Noise 13, she’s learned that assigning tasks to others is essential—and the best way to delegate jobs is to first hire for the culture rather than the skills.

“People need to respect the culture and the way we work and the collaboration aspect,” she said. “We can always train someone for a skill, but we can’t train them for a style or for taste or personality. Once they’re here and understand the system and tools, then I find it much easier to hand things off since they understand how I expect things to work.”

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The success of Noise 13 has brought them clients like Amber & Ash and Uber, and it’s allowed other endeavors to blossom as well. In January 2018, Dava and Ariana Orland launched In/Visible Talks in an attempt to bring more than one type of designer into conversations about design. “I’m inspired by architecture and travel," Dava mentioned. "Arianna is inspired by letterpress printing, and she’s in tech."

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“There’s something about being a well-rounded creative individual that has a lot of influence and crossover with other industries that we weren’t getting from other communities,” she added. “In order to grow, we needed to bring other people into the room, but we were missing these conversations. So it was born out of a need for ourselves.”

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Another project which launched in 2018, Revel & Rouse, came from the ever-changing cannabis industry. The digital publication gives users and entrepreneurs a place to learn more about the landscape, especially in terms of wellness, as well as highlight amazing individuals who work in cannabis.

“Cannabis is becoming food, beverage, hospitality, and wellness,” added Dava. “It’s gone from something under the counter to the top of retail shelves, so it’s an interesting scene.”

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From an admiration for classic cars to running a studio in San Francisco, organizing events, and putting together a publication, Dava Guthmiller has made an impressive impact in the design community. But her comprehensive scope of work is just as vital as the small acts she does to help pave the way for other female designers—some of whom may go on to one day run their own agencies, conference, or online magazine.

“As women, we tend to quiet our opinions,” she said. “So whether you’re giving or receiving feedback or presenting your work, have confidence in your job.

“We always have a lot of women in general in my office, and we have a lot who are quiet. So I try to encourage people who aren’t as outgoing to make sure they’re given the space to speak up. Not everyone is the same, so you need to make sure everyone has the time to have their voice heard.”

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