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Hot Studio founder Maria Giudice and her exceptional multi-disciplinary design team "make the complex beautifully clear" for web clients like eBay, Gap, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Maria focuses the studio’s work on people-centered design to create amazing user experiences on the web and in print. See how they apply "collective intelligence" through the phases of discovery, strategy, design, and building. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers inside one of the coolest design firms around.
Lynda Weinman: Hi! I'm Lynda Weinman, your host of Creative Inspirations and today we are with Maria Giudice here at Hot Studios in San Francisco. Maria, it's so great to be with you. Thank you for agreeing to be a part of our series. Maria Giudice: Lynda, I always love to be with you. Lynda Weinman: Oh! I always love to be with you too. And speaking of that, we do have a little bit of a history. How do you remember our first encounter? Maria Giudice: The first time I heard of you was through the web-safe color palette. That was sort of the underground. Everybody was searching for the web-safe color palette online. Was it just through email? It might have been through Apple Link, I don't know.
But you know, Lynda, you always had the keys to all the secrets when it came to web design early on. You seemed to be the only one who knew anything. And then you started designing books and I remember I was really taken how you used your kids in the book. This woman is really cool. And then we started designing a book on web design called Elements of Web Design, which was to teach print designers how to move to the new medium. So we were, I think, kind of pioneers early on in educating people about how to design for the web.
Lynda Weinman: Absolutely, and I remember being in awe of your book because of the information design of the book and I have just really never seen anything like it; it was so clever the way that you broke out the information and it was very clear to me at that point that there was going to come a day where if I could ever hire you, I would love to work with you. And that ended up happening when you designed our Hands-On Training book series. Maria Giudice: Yeah, that's right. Lynda Weinman: It's a beautiful, beautiful design. Maria Giudice: Thank you very much. Now that was also a very interesting time because Darcy DiNucci wrote the book, and my partner at the time, Lynne Stiles, and I designed it and we all got author credit because we felt like the success of the book was really not just what the words said but how the information was displayed. We were authors but we were designers and I thought that was an interesting position to take.
Lynda Weinman: I think so and I mean the visual design was so exceptional and it really truly did participate in conveying the information as much as the words. So I think that's appropriate. Maria Giudice: Thanks. Lynda Weinman: Now had you already started Hot Studio at that point? Maria Giudice: Back then I was a partner in a company called YO with Lynne Stiles who I used to work with at The Understanding Business when I was working, back when I was working for Richard Wurman. And we had a business from '92-'97 and we parted ways in '97 and then I continued on and founded Hot Studio.
I like to tell the story that it was called YO and then our partnership dissolved and she took the Y and I took the O. Lynda Weinman: That's great. Maria Giudice: Yeah. Lynda Weinman: Something else that we both have in common is that we are both moms. And my daughter is a lot older than your children but you are still right at the point where your kids are young and you are running a pretty large company. Can you talk a little bit about what that's like? Maria Giudice: Yeah, we have lot of moms and dads who work at Hot Studio because they really appreciate the live- work balance because I know that I need that in order to be happy and successful. So our culture at Hot, too, is very much welcoming for kids. When I started, I had my first child in the year 2000 right in the middle of boom. So, Max was born in May of 2000 and our company went from 6 to 20 and I had my baby right in the middle.
I would bring the baby, I would put the baby on a bouncer, I pushed, I moved the baby from desk to desk. People started taking care of the baby or if I had a client meeting, I would ask Cathy, can you just roll the baby around the block until I am finished with this meeting? So I really figured out how to balance trying to be a mother and being the best mom you can, especially in those early years, with running a business. And that being a mother is natural and you shouldn't ignore the fact that you are a working mother.
So my goal is to set sort of a model for anybody else here and say, you know, you can do this too. If you want to bring your baby to work and the baby is not disruptive and bothering other people, bring the baby to work. We will figure it out. You spend so much time at work, but it should not be at the expense of your life and as a working mother, as all working mothers know, you have to cram everything in, in a short period of time. So your life and your work blend together and you have to make that work well.
Lynda Weinman: Well, speaking of the working and your staff, how do you go about recruiting for new employees and what do you look for in a staff member? Maria Giudice: I think now that Hot Studio is all about 12 years old, we have kind of earned the respect of the industry, but early on, it was very hard. You had to kind of earn that good brand equity that we have now. So for my part, it's really important to create an environment where people are going to do their best work that we have a clientele that people we want to work for and that we treat employees well and appreciate the lives that they have outside of Hot Studio.
So for my part, it's my responsibility to kind of uphold all those promises, brand promises. If you do all those things well, then people will be attracted to you. So that's been our strategy, was to create this environment and create this place where people want to come and work for us. And then in part, I need to make sure that my promises are kept to them. So it hasn't been that hard to recruit good talent but we are looking for the cream of the crop. So you're only as good as your worst employee. So everybody here has to be excellent at what they do.
Lynda Weinman: You have done quite a bit of charitable work. Can you talk a little bit about why that is and if that's part of your philosophy? Maria Giudice: You know it's funny because I think I am most proud about having the opportunity to do the charitable work because when you are just starting out with a company, you are scratching and digging and just trying to pay the bills and you don't have any money left to give. We are at a certain place where we can donate part of our time to do things that are important to us.
And having a business now is really not about the bottom line. It's really about making the most out of your life while you are here on this planet and to be in an environment that to be at a place where you love what you do and make just enough money where you don't have to worry. So that's kind of the philosophy at Hot Studios, is like we make money, we have a lot of great clients and they range from big corporate clients down to non-profits and startups but it's really rewarding that you can actually use your talent and skill to give back. So it's not just having to donate money.
You can donate time and energy and the big reward is that you know you can make a difference in this world and that's addictive. When you get to that place and you say, I have helped somebody and I can see that, you just want to keep doing it. Yeah, and it makes you a better person and it makes you really want to help others. So I feel I am a little addictive to the non-profit work and the charitable work and I keep saying, well what I can do to make my kids donate? I really want to -- especially now, we are so connected to the globe that I feel as individuals we have a responsibility to figure out how we can connect to other people and make their lives better and that's what I think the responsibility of the designer is. I mean, for me, I feel like we design things that are meaningful to people and that are useful and usable and beautiful and meaningful. If we can make somebody's life better, even if it's just to improve their day workflow, that's why we are doing the work. It's not an aesthetic exercise.
Lynda Weinman: At Hot Studio, you practiced what's called user-centered design. Can you talk a little bit about what it means to you? Maria Giudice: Yeah, we went from user-- you know that word user is like really bad. So we went from user to human and really we say people-centered design, because it's really centered on people. And that's the philosophy that I've had my entire professional life. Early on I got this people-centered design philosophy from Richard Saul Wurman. I met Richard in college.
I was a senior at Cooper Union and I started my career as a painter. I went into Cooper as a fine artist and I came out as a graphic designer. But in my senior year of Cooper, I was really conflicted because I knew what good typography was, I knew how to compose a page, but I really didn't see much meaning in graphic design. I thought it was more about-- it was pretty formulaic. Get a beautiful typeface, you make the picture of this size, you add a lot of white space, you call it a day, it's beautiful.
And I was really conflicted. But in my senior year, Richard came into my class, my design class, and he sat there, he walked in and he is a guy unlike any other designer from the 80s in New York. He sat down and he started talking about the responsibility of a designer. That it's not about the aesthetics; it's really about serving people's needs. It's to design things that people love to use. And he said, you need to focus on people and try to make their lives better.
And that moment changed-- that was a life changing moment for me because I got it. So right after school I went to work for him in New York in designing guidebooks. He said, 'you are Italian, you can do Rome Access.' Can I go to Rome to do it? 'No, but here is all the material.' And so I designed Rome. I started designing books but always with this sensibility that I am designing it to serve somebody, to make their lives better, to make the information clear and accessible.
So I worked for him out of school. I had that philosophy and this is in publishing. And then as I started my own business, again, I was designing books that people love to use, looking at it in a very different way. Then for the web, which is what you have to do, you have to understand what people's meanings, wants, and desires are and you need to come up with something that's going to serve their needs. So you do through that understanding, interviews, really gaining insights from talking, observing people in their natural environment and then you create an experience around that.
So that's really our philosophy. We don't come from-- we are creative and creative is a very board term but we are always grounded in creating things that are meaningful and that's what people-centered design is about. It's really starting from really asking those questions. Is this something that somebody is going to use? Is it going to make their life better? So everything we touch has that philosophy sort of baked into it.
Lynda Weinman: Well, it really shines through. You have done an excellent job. Maria Giudice: Thank you, thank you. Lynda Weinman: And thank you so much for being part of this. We have really been honored to have you join us and share your insights and perspectives. Maria Giudice: Thanks so much, Lynda.
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