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One Executive Defines the Future of Business By Design

One Executive Defines the Future of Business By Design

“Being a smart risk taker, going with your gut, and breaking the conventional paradigm are characteristics needed in today’s leaders.” 

Photograph by Jacqueline Bates. Hair/Makeup: Kay Wamser

Design is not about decoration anymore. It’s about being a great facilitator and unlocking creativity,” asserts Maria Giudice, who, as founder and CEO of Hot Studio, specializes in the intersection of business and collaborative, human-centered design.

If such a career path sounds unusual for an art school graduate, that’s classic Giudice: an alum of The Cooper Union School of Art, the Staten Island native set out in 1985 to fashion a career tailored to her unique abilities. In March 2013, her visionary thinking paid off when her 16-year-old, SoMa-based consulting firm was acquired by a one-time client, Facebook. “The skills you learn in art school apply directly to leading companies for the 21st century.... with Facebook, the culture was a perfect match,” she says.

As head of Hot Studio, Giudice has guided multifaceted projects, including app creation and web redesign, for clients such as Charles Schwab, Gap Inc., the California Academy of Sciences, and SFMOMA. And in addition to her new role as product design director at Facebook, she is currently promoting her third book, Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design, which she coauthored with design strategist (and former CEO of design research company Cheskin) Christopher Ireland.

In it, she hypothesizes that the future of innovation in business hinges upon a design executive officer (DEO)—a leader who is versed in both business strategy and creative problem solving. A DEO, she says, is a “catalyst for transformation,” with the agility to excel in an environment where “career ladders have been replaced by trampolines.” The book aims to unlock right-brain thinking in a traditional executive and left-brain thinking in a creative professional. “Being a smart risk taker, going with your gut, and breaking the conventional paradigm are characteristics needed in today’s leaders,” says Giudice.

Growing up, Giudice had “a loud voice, a Staten Island accent, and mile-high hair.” Although she is still that girl who loves heavy metal and Howard Stern, her achievements are unarguably sophisticated. Hot Studio has been named to the Inc. 5000 list—Inc. magazine’s roll call of the five thousand fastest-growing businesses—every year since 2008. In 2011, the company was inducted into the San Francisco Business Times’ Hall of Fame. And in 2012, Giudice was named an AIGA Fellow. It’s all in a day’s work for an author aiming to identify and cultivate the skills for “inventing the next generation of great companies and organizations.” 

This article was published in 7x7's November issue. Click here to subscribe.