Poppy Thaxter
0 min read

Ribant Creative Office’s Kyle Ribant on the fun, freedom and flexibility of going your own way

For many multi-faceted creatives, it can be near impossible to find a singular role that allows you to express and explore all of your creative passions. This is precisely the predicament that became Kyle Ribant’s catalyst for launching his own practice. A designer, developer, coder and overall digital mastermind, Ribant’s San Francisco-based studio is both a showcase and celebration of his vast skill set. Reflecting on his first year as Ribant Creative Office, he delves into the good, the not-so-good, and honest truths of going solo.

PT Hi Kyle! How has your first year as RCO been so far? Was launching your solo practice what you expected? What have your learnt so far?

KR It’s been emotional, exciting, and so many other things. Ribant Creative Office is the next big experiment in my career. Coming from a decade of working in-house, going independent was a giant leap, but I felt ready to prove what I could do. And last month, RCO won Site of the Day and the Developer Award on Awwwards! It’s truly a bucket list moment for me.

I prepared for this shift as much as possible, but I honestly didn’t expect to feel this fulfilled. Being in charge of my schedule, the people I partner with, and how I create has positively changed my life and work. It’s almost like a metamorphosis, frequently challenging, but I’m becoming a better designer every day.

While this is not a learning lesson and more of a reflection, I’ve learned that I don’t need to have it all together. Every project is a lesson on perfecting my business acumen and an opportunity to learn about the subject matter at hand. I love that about RCO: I feel like I’m learning about the world while doing what I care about.

PT You mentioned you’ve been many roles throughout your career – web developer, front-end engineer, growth engineer, UI/UX designer, interactive designer and design engineer – how does that impact the set-up of the studio and the work you look for? Is it just you fulfilling different roles on a daily basis, or do you bring other people on board?

KR My favourite kinds of partnerships are in the spirit of “I want a website from the ground up and I want you to make it happen.”

During my career, I’ve contributed to brand campaigns, rebrands, and web experiences in different ways. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to explore different avenues, like growth engineering, product design, and user research. I maintain that variety with the clients I partner with: I love seeing a project through from beginning to end while advising along the way.

As someone who loves both disciplines, I am often switching between design and development. However, the capacity in which I operate ultimately depends on my clients, their needs, and their deadline. Despite the differences in my clients’ needs, the through line is always the digital experience, so I pride myself on being able to give counsel on matters outside that lens. I have Dropbox and Airtable to thank for that.

I’m only one person, so I partner with my friends and colleagues as much as possible. They inspire me constantly, so I use RCO as an opportunity to work with them, learn from them, and make something special together. It’s a bonding experience to work on something we’re proud of and attached to, together.

Ribant Creative Office’s Kyle Ribant on the fun, freedom and flexibility of going your own way

PT You mentioned the Y2K spirit plays a prominent role in RCO’s identity and ethos, what about that has resonated with you?

KR I grew up when the internet was becoming more accessible through technology like AOL and dial-up. Without going into the history and spirit of the Y2K zeitgeist, I would say the overarching theme was an emphasis on playing with what could be instead of worrying about constraints.

There was no established design language for hardware or software: you could find a phone for every sensibility; I pined for Cher Horowitz’s virtual wardrobe in Clueless; I, like many of my peers, had a keychain full of Tamagotchis.

There was a definite sense of camp, but also a sense of endless possibility and excitement. There was almost a cultural commitment to figuring out what it meant to be in a world with technology: how to use it, how to design for it, and how to connect people with it. It was odd and colourful, and most importantly, optimistic.

This commitment to finding novel and fun ways to engage with the world is at the core of RCO’s mode of work. I want to see a world that has well-designed technology but with spirit. I want RCO to be part of that movement.

PT What tools do you think you couldn’t work without? 

KR RCO runs on Figma,, and Dropbox. I use Airtable for planning, user research, and time tracking. I use Notion for notes, brainstorming, and content creation.

I’ve begun a steadily-growing library that I constantly peruse for inspiration. My favourites are Actual Source’s Shoplifters series and anything from viction:ary. My favourite tool is my dotted notebook. I find the tactile and physical nature of writing on paper helps me to better connect my thoughts and emotions.

The cost-cutting technologist in me has made a small hobby out of making internal tools as well!

Check-in with yourself frequently about the path that you’re on: does it feel right; does it inspire you; does it offer challenges for growth?

PT As someone who has oscillated between these various roles, what advice would you give to creatives who – like yourself – don’t necessarily fit into one singular role?

KR Having a plurality of skills and interests is a good thing! There were times in my career when I felt forced to choose between design and development. Despite this, I decided to embrace the opportunity and ultimately came out of those experiences as a more well-rounded maker. If I could do it over again, I would still encourage myself to go down the metaphorical rabbit hole but stand up for myself when I wanted to explore a specific subject more deeply.

Companies rely on hierarchy, which often means we’re forced into a singular role despite being multifaceted individuals. Finding the right type of work and the team that will support your curiosities is challenging, but it’s definitely possible! Following your interests and running with projects that afford you cross-functional work will help you create the space you want to occupy.

Check-in with yourself frequently about the path that you’re on: does it feel right; does it inspire you; does it offer challenges for growth?

PT Can you tell us a bit about RCO Labs? How do you balance and put time into this alongside your primary practice? 

KR Ribant Creative Office is a practice first and a revenue-generating business second, so creating a platform for experimentation was always in mind. RCO Labs is a space where I can make mistakes without fear of not being taken seriously. It lets me explore adjacent interests and infuse new perspectives into future work. RCO Labs is the formal commitment I make to myself to get weird.

Currently, I’m collaborating with a friend on ways to use text-to-image stable diffusion models in a responsible manner. There’s a lot of talk about how AI can be abused, particularly with stealing intellectual property from under-recognised artists. I’m excited to find ways to use stable diffusion without abusing this incredibly powerful technology. I’m also designing a book on interior architecture alongside my partner; it’s my first time designing a book, and it’s so much fun.

I spend half of my time exploring new ideas under the Labs umbrella, even if they may never get published on the platform. The time I make for RCO Labs is precious to me; it allows me to come up for air without losing the creative spark, and it allows me to come back to my clients’ projects with new ideas.

PT Where did the idea to have ‘three reference pillars’ – considered subversion, wistful futurism, and parallel universes – come from? 

KR RCO has gone through many iterations both visually and in name. These reference pillars feel true to me; their visual applications may shift through time, but their ethics bleed into how I operate and work.

The concept of subversion stands for the fight for the better. With considered subversion, I envision an evolution of the rebellious spirit into a more thoughtful, elegant thing while still wanting positive change. Finding the most effective avenues for change is core to my practice.

The other two pillars, wistful futurism and parallel universes, go hand-in-hand. Futurism – retrofuturism specifically – is the anticipation of the future through a lens of optimism. I prefer to look at technology as a way to benefit society instead of harming it. This perspective opens up a re-imagining of our current world, one where technology brings joy, connection, and empowerment.

Zooming out, RCO specialises in creating niche and experimental outputs that are always backed by rational and logical systems. These three pillars hearken to that very idea: no matter how silly or illogical it may seem on the surface, it’s intentionally crafted. I guess you could say this is RCO’s secret sauce.

Ribant Creative Office’s Kyle Ribant on the fun, freedom and flexibility of going your own way
Ribant Creative Office’s Kyle Ribant on the fun, freedom and flexibility of going your own way

If I could set my desk up in the middle of a meadow in the French countryside, I absolutely would.

PT How would you describe your perfect working environment?

KR If I could set my desk up in the middle of a meadow in the French countryside, I absolutely would. Surrounded by fragrant flowers and the crisp breeze. One can only dream.

More practically speaking, I dream of an intimate studio space filled with natural sunlight, an extensive archive of books and a dramatic sound system to keep me focused throughout the day. A space that shifts from getting my work done to hosting clients to collaborating with others.

PT How has your time working for the likes of Dropbox, Airtable and Evernote influenced the way you’ve built your business?

KR I look back on my time at Dropbox, Airtable, and Evernote fondly.

Dropbox taught me that polished work comes from patience and rigour, and that time is finite so we should use it intentionally. I learned how to create intelligent design systems and build in-house experimentation frameworks. I worked on brand campaigns that the entire world would engage with. Dropbox’s Brand Studio placed a significant emphasis on experimentation, which was one of my inspirations for RCO Labs. I owe Dropbox so much.

As one of the founding members on Airtable’s brand team, I primarily worked on growing our team and scaling our website. I learned the importance of communication and prioritisation. More often than not, ideas would transform into new ones. Expect a bit of the unexpected and do what you can with it!

With my career before RCO being exclusively in-house for technology companies, I’ve learned that every decision must be strategically sound, researched and documented for longevity. Although my day-to-day life doesn't involve OKRs and other business metrics anymore, being able to understand where my clients are coming from is invaluable.

Ribant Creative Office’s Kyle Ribant on the fun, freedom and flexibility of going your own way

PT What are the best lessons or words of wisdom that you’ve received throughout your career?

KR I was a straight-A student in school, and I think the desire to do my best and to do things ‘the right way’ still pervades my adult life. Recently, I’ve had some conversations about making up your own rules instead of worrying about doing something the accepted way. This shift has given me more agency to play with what I create.

Perhaps you don’t like giving presentations with certain software or relying on social media for engaging with your audience. While we can’t always change the game, we can change how we participate. Play by your own rules sometimes – some things may not be standard, but can still be effective.

PT ​​You’re a man of many skills, but what would you like to learn that you haven’t yet found the time for?

KR I’ve picked up 3D design again after a nine-year hiatus and I’m having a blast! That said, the landscape has changed dramatically and there’s so much I have yet to learn. I’m excited to learn sculpting with ZBrush and garment creation with CLO.

Right now, I’m getting a taste of editorial design with a project I’m working on with my partner. I like the idea of producing something physical, something you can feel with your hands. I’ve also enjoyed designing for one context and dimension, whereas with web, everything is fluid and you can't design in a vacuum. With print, you can, but not without its own unique challenges, of course!

Outside of design, I’m enrolled in a French language programme. This is my first time learning a new language. Wish me luck!

Ribant Creative Office’s Kyle Ribant on the fun, freedom and flexibility of going your own way

PT Now that you’ve built up a rhythm with RCO, what goals or plans do you have for the future? 

KR I expect RCO to stay as a solo practice as I continue to shape it into something I’m proud of. Honestly, I’m making it up as I go along, but I feel like I’m in the right place for now. There’s so much to figure out, but I’m having a blast creating something from scratch. I'm definitely making space for internal tooling, rethinking the rulebook on how to run a practice, and finding other creatives that want to collaborate on experiments.

I have a few projects coming out in early 2023 that I can’t talk about just yet, but I'm excited for you to see. And I’m booking for 2023, so if you have ideas, let’s talk!

Graphic Design

Ribant Creative Office