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Meet the Makers: Rachel Gant & Andrew Deming of Yield Design Co.

In this installment of our Meet the Maker series, I’m excited to introduce you to Rachel Gant and Andrew Deming of Yield Design Co. Rachel and Andrew are on a mission to create a range of goods that “balance progressive and innovative design alongside thoughtful craft and ethical production.” Translation: they make beautiful and innovative things in an ethical way. Things that we’re all obsessed about over here at Brit + Co.

Their quality over quantity motto is evident in all of their pieces. You might remember their signature picnic blankets from the BritList not long ago—they have incredible vision for both the form and function of every bag.  I’m also slightly freaking out over this gorgeous cobalt necklace. Um, amazing.

And guess what? You can snag your favorite Yield Design Co. pieces this fall at Re:Make on October 5th! They’ll be onsite all day at Fort Mason Festival Pavilion selling their gorgeous goodies. Be sure to reserve your ticket to Re:Make here.

First things first, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Rachel: I grew up in North Carolina where I have fond memories of living a somewhat idealistic, southern childhood. I was pretty independent when left to my own devices; I viewed my two black labs as my best friends. We’d roam the woods where I’d build rope swings and secret hideouts. In contrast to the very typical, rural lifestyle, my mother was an ER doctor and my father was a professional bowler. I had more unconventional experiences of road-tripping across the country with my dad as he bowled while my mom maintained a busy routine yet cherished her time at home and outdoors. They set an incredible example of doing what they love, to which I attribute a lot of my curiosities and motivations. With that seeded interest in a little bit of everything, my undergrad naturally spanned both Architecture at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo as well as Industrial Design at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco, where Andrew and I first met.

Andrew: I, too, am from the South. My early childhood was spent in South Carolina and I lived most of my life Florida. I grew up with punk music loving, vegetarian, counter culture parents in an otherwise very conservative environment and I think that contrast was very influential for me. I was eventually drawn to the country’s oldest city, St. Augustine, FL, where I got a degree in Graphic Design from Flagler College. Prior to starting Yield, I worked at a number of design agencies in San Francisco, most recently working for Yves Behar at fuseproject. In 2012 I completed the MBA in Design Strategy program at CCA, where I met Rachel. My experience has ranged from branding and print design, to product strategy and digital design.

When did you first realize you love to make?

Rachel: It wasn’t a conscious realization at first, but looking back I can see there was always a love for problem-solving. I wasn’t one for memorization, but I did well in classes because I liked to observe and figure out the root of how things worked. I also always deeply admired the beauty and vastness of the natural world as well as the complexity of human nature. That appreciation combined with problem solving is really where my love for designing objects and spaces is rooted. There’s nothing more satisfying than a beautiful solution that speaks to people.

Andrew: I was always curious and asked lots of questions when I was younger, but it took a little while for me to realize that more than amassing knowledge in an academic sense, the really fulfilling work is in doing. My first real creative outlet and passion was in the music realm, playing drums and guitar. While I took some formal training early on, I quickly realized that improvisation and creation of music was so much more enjoyable than the act of reciting. The same is true of design. You can always replicate what others have done, but the beauty is in the process of taking something new from concept to reality. I’m fascinated by the challenging and rewarding work of doing that every day.

Why did you decide to start Yield Design Co.?

Ever since we met, we knew we wanted to create together. We share a very similar perspective and style, yet our skills are quite different and complementary — it’s almost uncanny. We are always overflowing with ideas, so it has always been a matter of “what” and “when” rather than a question of “if” and “why”.

We decided to call our studio “Yield” because it encompasses the ideals we hold closest to us. We are firm believers in the importance of always striving to live a balanced life: to be healthy and work really hard while never taking things too seriously. It’s our passion to create products that embody these ideals and inspire others.

How do you come up with your designs?

Recognizing existing problems or voids, but we don’t take these initial problem sets too strictly because the most interesting solutions are often in the peripheral. For example, the picnic series began as an exploration in health, but instead of jumping straight for the hygiene or exercise product categories, it moved towards social and mental health. It became an exploration of what makes people happy and how we could integrate more light-hearted “play” into the habits of a society that’s often so work focused. Alongside designing the functional aspects of our work, we integrate the best suited materials, emphasize craft, and balance forms that engage but don’t overwhelm.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Every city we visit. Our favorite source of inspiration is traveling. We try to live modestly in order to be able to get away frequently and immerse ourselves in a variety of places and experiences. Copenhagen has been our single most inspirational city so far. We love the Danish approach to design. They’ve mastered the combination of rich human warmth with restrained minimalism.

Which project/design/collection are you proudest of? 

The thing we’re most proud of to date is no single project or product, but rather, the company itself. We’ve both had little tastes of success here and there working for others, but since we embarked on the journey of building a company together, we’ve learned an incredible amount and the support we’ve received from friends old and new has been remarkable.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other makers?

Find a way to get some distance from the things you’ve made. This is often best achieved by getting out of town and spending a few days not tethered to email. While there are obviously times that require staying in the office late and powering through, we’ve often found that distance and perspective is the best way for us to break through areas where we are stuck and get new inspiration.

What other creative hobbies do you have?

Rachel: I love to photograph various aspects of our daily lives. Photography was the first medium I truly explored and valued both the immediacy of digital outcomes as well as the permanence of analog. It is a beautiful combination of experimentation and constraint.

Andrew: As I mentioned earlier, music has long been a passion of mine and an escape like nothing else. In the past year I’ve really gotten into making cocktails, which has been a nice complement to Rachel’s good cooking.

How has technology changed and supported what you do?

Technology has always been a central part of what we do. Although our products are all very physical and craft oriented, we both approach design as an active conversation between digital and analog tools.

In a sense you could say that technology has enabled what we do. We not only span a local community and work with domestic manufacturers, but our audience is international and was from the beginning. We’ve developed close friendships and partnerships across continents and feel more freedom than ever to set up shop wherever we choose.

How do you think the analog world is changing as the digital world continues to boom?

New advances in technology always have messy beginnings. It takes time for makers to take hold of the new and even more time for the societal and cultural ripples to even out, but there are many interesting opportunities where analog and digital converge. For example, our friends at Social Print Studio have created an intuitive service that prints your selections of Instagram or Facebook photos. Their products are returning the joy of physical prints to a world of digital sharers and making the process of photo printing easier than ever.

Photography never killed painting. Escalators never killed stairs. Books, printed matter and other analog products will remain, but the ones we choose are becoming more valued artifacts, not the commodities they once were.

As technology continues to change the way we live our lives, disrupting one industry after another, it’s remarkable to realize that human nature has remained consistent. We grow and evolve and adapt. It’s what we do.

Have you fallen in love with Yield Design Co. yet? Then don’t forget! Rachel and Andrew will be joining us at Re:Make on October 5th. Stop by Fort Mason from 11am-6pm to check out their bags and home goods. 

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