Interview: Robert Miles Kemp

Digital technology touches nearly everyone’s life. Be it delivered through cell phones, home entertainment devices, ATMs, storefronts or countless other means, digital design is big business and Robert Miles Kemp is at the forefront of that exploding movement.

The son of a carpenter and general contractor, Kemp visited job sites from the time he was small. At nine years old, his father gave him the challenge of designing a structure for a neighbor, which was subsequently built. Kemp loved both the process and the end product. Thus began a career in architecture. More after the break.

Starting as a teenager, Kemp worked in nine architecture firms of various sizes, specialties and markets (New York, Los Angles, DC) before going out on his own. He participated in more traditional residential and large apartment building design at SOM, then moved over to more modern design projects that included flexible, modular spaces and his passion; interactive design.

As founder of Los Angeles based Variate Labs, Kemp now wears numerous hats: leader, rainmaker, translator, social media machine and chief creative. They have grown steadily to a staff of 16 (which include architects, engineers, developers and marketers) with projects ranging from video games and mobile phone and tablet applications, to interactive museums and wine bars.

Variate Facade

Kemp is obsessed with human behavior. During the recent design of the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles, he formulated 12 main archetypes, which represent most museum attendees and developed a corresponding narrative, which drove his technology and design. Balancing the informative and the emotional, Kemp made design decisions with this narrative in mind and modified his design as users revealed more about their habits and desires, through real time behavior.

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

Knowing his own storefront is his best avenue for self-promotion, Kemp has implemented their signature interactive retail façade on their West Hollywood location. Images glow and various Tweets display (including the one I sent, which is pictured here) for passersby to see and consider.

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust - Audioguide

The façade has infinite uses for retailers who want to interact with existing or potential customers. Examples include fashion brands that allow users to try on outfits virtually, financial institutions that facilitate customers checking their balance or paying their bills or real time voting or input at large social events. “The possibilities are endless and we have solutions for any business that wants to communicate effectively to their customer,” says Kemp.

Variate Facade

A challenge for Kemp’s team has been to convince executives overseeing large brands of this new approach. They are skeptical and want guarantees before spending the time and money to create something untested. A hybrid of the two, Variate Labs competes with both with digital agencies and large architecture firms, which are attempting to expand their offerings through these projects.

Gates Foundation

Rather than pursue one project at a time, Kemp is developing technologies that can be licensed for numerous applications. Seeing the larger picture, Kemp creates solutions to benefit retail, healthcare, financial, advertising and gaming sectors.

Simple and straight forward, Kemp offers his company mantra: Excite (looks cool); Connect (personalized for an audience); Engage (create technology that enables interactive experiences) as his approach for getting to the next level.

Variate Facade

Watch my interview with Kemp, tour his office and see samples of Variate Labs projects below. Follow Kemp @variatelabs.

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About this author
Cite: Jenn Kennedy. "Interview: Robert Miles Kemp" 15 Feb 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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