Michael Ciancio ’06 Talks Chobani Brand Reboot

A Q&A with Michael Ciancio, creative director of content at Chobani.

Over his decade-plus design career, Michael Ciancio ’06 (Graphic Design B.F.A.) has balanced his “do-good” instincts with a yen for new challenges.

During his nearly seven years at brand consultancy Wolff Olins, he worked with both powerful clients like Target and charities like (RED); later, he took on Design and Creative Director roles at Refinery29, a media company aimed at empowering women. Ciancio is currently the creative director of content at Chobani, where he has been instrumental in the famous yogurt company’s recent brand reboot.

MICA How would you describe your graphic design career since graduating from MICA?

CIANCIO A little untraditional, having gone to [Italian art fellowship] Fabrica right after school. It’s “design sleepaway camp” – a creative think tank hosted by the United Colors of Bennetton. Designers, artists, musicians, and interactive designers come from all over the world to meet each other, work on self-initiated projects, and do projects for Bennetton. I worked in the product design department, which meant packing design, graphics as applied to form, and retail. I learned so much and made connections that helped me land on both feet when I got back. I was able to meet a few folks at Wolff Olins, and the rest was history. [Wolff Olins] was almost my grad school in a way. I grew up and learned a lot about working in the industry there.

MICA Can you tell us about the work you did on the Chobani rebrand? What was it like to help change the face of such a well-known brand?

CIANCIO I was a fan of Chobani  - I try to be places that have a bit of a “do-good” mission, and Chobani encourages wellness. The rebrand identity was actually ironed out by the time I joined. My role was to come in and help them tell that story to the world through TV spots and online videos, using 30-second storytelling to really paint a picture of what the new Chobani was all about. The mentality on our team is that there’s no job too small for anyone, so I think I am doing more execution than in previous jobs as a Creative Director. I like that. Also, being able to art direct and design around food is a dream come true, because I’m such a big foodie.

MICA Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there any designers that influence your work?

CIANCIO At Chobani in particular, the inspiration behind the rebrand was taking the idea of food back to its roots. We looked at folk art from Turkey, where Hamdi [Ulukaya, owner of Chobani,] is from, and from America, where we’re based. That started to come to life in this more nostalgic, handcrafted, natural look and feel. Outside of that, I love a few 3D animators that really deal with form, as I’m working in a more form-oriented world right now. Karan Singh is very poppy and plays with form in a very graphic way. Daniel Triendl and Luke Choice, too. But even the way that old cookbooks were designed and illustrated has come to the forefront for me.

"I think one thing I took from studying at MICA was really just a guiding concept: always showcase the idea and the thought behind what you’re doing."

MICA Was there a class or faculty member at MICA that changed your perception of design and your work?

CIANCIO [Former MICA professor] Bernard Canniffe was a huge mentor of mine. I forged a great relationship with him and TAed a few of his classes. He and I ended up staying good friends, and I knew that I could go to him with any career questions. Brockett Horne – she became chair after I left, but we’ve developed a great relationship, staying in contact around talent and making sure MICA stays on the map.

MICA How did MICA prepare you for life as a designer?

CIANCIO I think one thing I took from studying at MICA was really just a guiding concept: always showcase the idea and the thought behind what you’re doing. MICA, having a history of being a very conceptual, fine art-driven school, was always really successful at taking that and applying it to commercial design. But MICA was also about meeting new people and learning how other folks grew up and approached art. It primed me for the concept that good ideas can come from anywhere.

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