A brand evolution can include visual updates, stronger messaging, building larger design systems, or implementing internal brand changes that strengthen values and touchpoints to attract and keep the right talent. The need to rebrand can be triggered by expansion to multi products or services; new leadership with new visions; stagnating sales and greater competition;
As a part of my series about brand makeovers, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dava Guthmiller, founder, and chief creative officer of Noise 13, a top San Francisco branding and design firm focused on creating distinct brands that deepen consumer connections. Noise 13 clients include Tile, Instacart, Uber, H2O+, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Good Food Awards, World Wrapps and more. Dava is also co-founder of In/Visible Talks, a year-round series of creative salons — from maker workshops to artist discussions — that culminates every January in a one-day design conference. Bringing together global designers of every medium — interior, product, architecture, graphic design, fine art and more — it’s the ultimate inspiration mashup.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Asa little girl, I worked in my family’s vintage auto repair shop — washing cars, going to Hot Rod swap meets and, developing a love for colors, lines, and craftsmanship. Then, an early trip to the grocery store sparked an obsession with wine labels. I was fascinated and wanted to learn more, so I enrolled in San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. Working in restaurants throughout design school furthered my interest in wine and food. Shortly after graduation, I launched Noise 13, building my team and business from scratch, focusing first on what I loved best: SF’s foodie scene. Many of our first clients were small restaurants — and I was super lucky to meet Dina Mondavi (of iconic Robert Mondavi Winery) during those early years to develop a new wine brand for her family. That said, it’s been a long road to get here. But today, Noise 13 is celebrating 20 years strong with a Fortune 100 list of clients and a slew of international design awards for everything from inspired packaging to creative branding.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
The tipping point came in 2013 when Uber came knocking on my small studio. Bringing together my passion for cars and design, I led Noise 13 in spearheading the sleek, modern design for this now iconic startup — from art direction and design for global campaigns to illustrations, photography and beyond.
Working with Uber brought massive growth and takeaways. Being small and flexible allowed my business to adapt quickly to needs. My team doubled to accommodate the work, as we learned to manage project requests from multiple offices globally. We designed hundreds of projects over two years, driving us to create new workflows and tracking systems to keep ourselves — and Uber’s internal team — super organized. And stepping-up our time-tracking shed huge light that we were under-budgeting which sparked a big shift in our proposal approach.
While all this brought Noise 13 milestone success, I also learned an important lesson in team burnout. I realized designers come to Noise 13 for creative freedom and project variety — from designing food and spirits packaging to hospitality and beauty branding — not just technology. If you don’t give your creative team a breather to work on other projects, you’re sure to lose great talent.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
Most recently, we created a fresh careers site for Instacart, the leader in online groceries with same-day delivery/pickup from over 20,000 stores across 5,500+ cities. And we’re now excited to be building their website’s first corporate section and bringing their community guidelines top-level as a resource for customers, shoppers, and partners.
We also just designed new packaging and branding guidelines for H2O+, helping the skincare company launch a sensitive body line. The revamped look reflects a commitment to cleaner, more earth-conscious products, while also creating standout differentiation on the shelf.
In addition, we’re evolving and clarifying the visual branding for Spare the Air, a well-known Bay Area organization that offers actionable tips to help improve residents’ air quality. Likewise, we’re working with San Francisco General Hospital Foundation (SFGHF) — bringing awareness to the non-profit’s great work in supporting the hospital. We just finished the new brand positioning and are working on core messaging and an identity update this year.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout occurs with repetition — be it working on a project too long or being overwhelmed by advertisers with the same loud and distracting messaging. You need to keep things fresh and consider how a change of pace, new message or image will affect results. Be sure you’re finding new sources of inspiration, like mixing it up by moving to new projects or teams. Remember how YOU feel seeing, doing, hearing the same things over and over and dare to change it up to keep your ideas fresh — and keep you and your teams inspired.
In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between branding and advertising?
Branding is who you are as a company from the inside out, and how consumers experience your company at every touchpoint. It might evolve over time, but at the core, branding should always be consistent. If you think of advertising like trying on the latest outfit that begs people to pay attention to you and what’s new — branding makes sure that style matches your core personality so people know it’s still you.
Can you explain why it’s important to invest resources into building a brand, in addition to general marketing and advertising efforts?
If you haven’t yet established a strong brand start with your core, your marketing is just overly sweet frosting on a messy cake. A brand is more than your logo. It’s your tone of voice, messaging, mission and vision, your product offering, events, and customer service. If you don’t invest time and budget to keep all your brand touchpoints cohesive then no level of advertising or marketing will mask the mess on the inside.
What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
A brand evolution can include visual updates, stronger messaging, building larger design systems, or implementing internal brand changes that strengthen values and touchpoints to attract and keep the right talent. The need to rebrand can be triggered by expansion to multi products or services; new leadership with new visions; stagnating sales and greater competition; initial branding that no longer fits or reflects your company; or growing business demands requiring new internal branding to resonate with your team — from the clarity of purpose to philosophy.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
One of the biggest downsides is the cost and time it takes to implement a full brand evolution. As I’ve evolved my own firm’s branding, I understand the pain points. But when done correctly, it’s massively worth it. The other downside, or mistake rather, is not getting your team to align with the updates. Not everyone needs to agree, but your employees are your first brand advocates — if they don’t believe in the change, or you’re not providing best practices and tools to share your brand — you’re wasting your money.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please share an example for each.
1. Re-evaluate your internal brand. When was the last time you looked at your company’s core values? What internal or external touchpoints can be updated or strengthened? Recently, we did a brand workshop with high-end rug design showroom, Woven, to help their disparate teams — spanning designers, rug handlers and sales crew — feel better connected. After helping their leadership clarify messaging, validated by a full team survey, we successfully helped the company implement their refreshed values in candidate interview questions, monthly all-hands meetings, and even how the team interacts with customers.
2. Look at the whole visual picture. Where does your brand show up visually? What’s working best, and what opportunities can use a refresh? Even if you love your logo, the supporting design system is a key area that typically needs a reboot — and that involves a full touchpoint audit. This was our first step in helping Spare the Air evolve their branding. A great tip: find every example of your visual system and cover your conference room walls — seriously PRINT IT OUT and tape it up. Seeing everything side-by-side really highlights what needs the most help, which teams are executing best, and who needs more guidance.
3. Take stock of your photography. Most brands launch with free photos, which means you look like everyone else in your category. If you have to use stock, consider checking out new options like UnSplash where images are not taken based on the highest search terms. Or you can spice up photos with duotones, black and white effects or new cropping. Whatever you choose — the style should always reflect your brand personality and messaging. Never update without judging against your brand’s core.
4. Rethink your website. For brands that use their website as a brochure or simple resource, this is a great place to start with a refresh. Begin by looking at who’s actually using your site — and why. From messaging to visual style and content that’s relevant to your audience, a website redesign will have a great ripple effect on other parts of your brand.
5. Get fresh eyes on your brand. More companies than ever are building internal design teams. While we applaud this commitment to design — and have helped some of our clients build internal teams too — getting an outside agency’s fresh perspective can reveal priceless insights, opportunities and help highlight issues. Even for my own company that specializes in crafting brand platforms and identities, I found it necessary — when we were evolving our identity — to seek a strategy consultant to help with our brand, competitor and customer audits. This process was super eye-opening — not only observing how someone else tackles the challenge but to live the process through our client’s side. While we crafted our new identity in-house, the fresh perspective was absolutely invaluable.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
One of my favorite recent rebranding examples is the design firm Pentagram’s refresh for Fisher-Price. From the modern identity to playful brand assets that are like a toy box of tools for all touchpoints, every element authentically speaks to their values. I especially love the animated squiggles, patterns and great bits of fun messaging that capture the brand’s attributes built over the last 90 years — resonating with parents and kids alike. To replicate this type of brand refresh, audit your touchpoint needs and be sure any new elements do not distract — but rather enhance your overall brand message.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
There’s more competition than ever online and social media — and we’ve all become so used to hearing ourselves talk that we’ve all stopped listening. If there was a way to inspire more universal empathy, it would bring ground-breaking change — from better understanding employees’ experiences and perspectives to differing political views to just really listening and developing greater compassion for everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Stay true to yourself.” I love the people I work with — from my team to my clients. I value their insights, encourage their passions, and know that I’m a better person and business leader when I bring all of that into my work style. Far greater than monetary, I work for the joy I derive from creating with others. These are true-to-me values, personally and professionally. It’s super important to know your truths as these “why’s” help guide the “how’s.”
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