Keith Ciampa is chief creative officer of San Franciso-based branding agency Cibo. Daring to explore the unknown is in Ciampa’s DNA. He left the United States for jobs in Poland and Sweden, rode a motorcycle 1,000 miles across the Baja Peninsula and won top industry awards, including a Cannes Lion, for category innovators like the Yahoo! Bus Stop Derby, San Francisco’s first citywide, outdoor, real-time social video game. At Cibo, Ciampa fearlessly leads the creative team, and works with clients to identify new opportunities for success. He brings deep experience at top agencies such as Houston Herstek Favat, Digitas, Deutsch, McKinney, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Tribal DDB. In his 20 years in the industry, Ciampa has been essential in building numerous major brands, including Adidas, Converse, IKEA, Intel, Mini, Nike, Puma, Snapple, Tanqueray and Virgin Atlantic.
A Scientific Approach
How did you get started in interactive and digital design and learn the necessary skills?
I got my start by designing posters, T-shirts and CD covers for my friends’ bands. While at art school at University of Denver, I got really good at designing fake IDs, which we used to pretend that we were under 21, so we could buy cheap lift passes. I dropped out of college to pursue snowboarding and partying full time, and when that lifestyle got old, I took a legit job in San Francisco with Southern Pacific Railroad. As a designer in their advertising department, I created a first-of-its-kind multimedia presentation for a proposal to bring high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I had to teach myself Cinema 4D and Aldus (now Adobe) Premiere to create the presentation. The work I did at the railroad led to my first ad agency gigs.
You’ve studied social science and neuroscience to create more effective work. Can you explain?
Back in the early ’90s at Houston Herstek Favat, we had a planner who embedded herself in youth culture 24/7, 365 days a year. She reported back things like fashion trends, music, education, etc., but what was more interesting were things like what drugs were “in” or “out,” and why teens didn’t trust corporations or advertising. It was these unique insights that sparked breakthrough creative ideas for Converse and The Truth Campaign. At Deutsch, we hired an anthropologist to live with families to see how they interacted with our clients’ products in their daily lives, which gave us a crazy idea about moments when consumers dropped everything, all the stress of work and life, and had a pure sensual experience with the brand. This led to an innovative Snapple campaign. At Cibo, we understand that our brains have evolved to selectively care about certain types of stimuli. We are wired for narratives—studies in cognitive psychology have found that our brains literally experience more through narrative. Stories allow our brains to vividly experience the abstract; they provide the framework to link imaginary elements to the things the brain is designed to seek, namely, physical, social and emotional rewards.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you design in the next few years?
So many clients want a responsive website these days. The challenge is that when you design for so many different breakpoints and devices, it’s as if you are designing five different websites. Add a bit of complexity to the design and you quadruple the difficulty. This is why sites that use all kinds of cool features like full-bleed video, complex animations, parallaxing and scroll jacking are usually not responsive. At Cibo we overcome these challenges by educating clients about the impact building a responsive site will have on resources, timelines and budgets. We also learned that it helps to build proof-of-concept models to identify UX and technology issues early on.
What is the most exciting work in interaction design that you’ve seen recently? Uber. Everything about the brand and customer experience kicks ass.
What’s the strangest request you've received from a client?
The strangest request (that I can talk about without getting anyone fired) was to create a campaign to decrease the number of teens abusing cough syrup, also known as “robotripping,” without turning any new kids onto the fact you can hallucinate by downing a bottle of cough syrup. People don’t typically die from cough-syrup abuse, so we had to focus on the most common negative physical effect, which is vomiting. We hired a special effects guy who specialized in vomit, and experimented with recipes and ways to emulate projectile vomiting. I had a real visceral reaction to the creative—I actually vomited once while watching the dailies, even though I knew it was faked. You can check it out at sipitup.me and DXMstories.com.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career?
When your name is on the work you have to take full responsibility for the end product. Nobody can force you to produce bad work. If you put something out into the world that sucks, you can’t blame the client, the account person, the producer, budget or timeline. Never hand something off to tech or a production partner and hope for the best. You have to guide the work through every stage of the process.