In this documentary, Maria describes her journey from freelancing as a self-taught painter to founding and leading a design firm for 15 years that she sold to Facebook in 2013. Not everything along the way was planned—in fact, many things just happened organically. This "accidental entrepreneur" trajectory came with immersion in many facets of design, including graphic design, interaction design, experience design, and more. Such experiences revealed the need for coining the role of a DEO, a design executive officer. If you are looking for inspiration from a real-life example of using the natural or honed talents you already have, then listen in as Maria describes her approach to leading people, working for people, and ultimately working with people to create solutions using design.
Skill Level Intermediate
(bright music) - As long as I could remember, I wanted to be an artist, a famous artist. And I really took to drawing and painting very instinctually. One would think that if you are tagged an artist, then you are certainly not tagged as a businessperson. Those are kind of two trajectories in life, and I was going down this creative path. But when I was very young, like 12, 13, I started painting dog portraits for like $35. And then soon as I went into high school, that turned into jean jackets and band posters. That trajectory just kept growing throughout my whole career. I've always been able to exercise my creative skills and superpowers and make a living off of them. Experience design intensely focuses on the human experience as a driver for change. And it's not just about products. It's about services. It's not just about the packaging. It's what you say to your customers. It's how they experience you. So that really became sort of the underlying system that has connected my whole career together. I had a company called YO for five years with a partner. It started very organically. I have work to do. I have more work than I can do. I need to bring people on. And then thus a business was born. From '93 on, I started doing less printed book systems and much more interaction web work. So by the time Hot Studio started in 1997, we were fully entrenched in interaction design products, web products known for explaining complex things in the digital environment. I went from Hot Studio, sort of master of my kingdom, built a company, never worked in a big company my entire life, then being acquired by Facebook, suddenly being plopped into a giant corporation in Silicon Valley. That was a wild ride. I learned a ton. And I was pretty content to stay at Facebook, but the opportunity for Autodesk, I could not let this one go by. I like to call myself accidental entrepreneur, and there's so many people out there that can completely relate to that story. I didn't get a degree in business at all. I really just used what I knew as a designer to design the Hot Studio experience. Like every problem, I treat it as if it's a design problem. What kind of company do I want to have? What kind of leader do I want to be? What kind of experience do I want to have for my employees and my customers? And really when you think about the kind of leadership attributes, they're really design attributes, and that's where the mapping of the DEO and the CEO come to be. A DEO, or design executive officer, looks at all problems as design problems solvable through this sort of cocktail of imagination and metrics. They live in this world that is both analytical and intuitive. And they're really born to make huge impacts on this world. So I created this talk called "The Rise of the DEO," talking about these unique leaders and how they're well-suited to solve today's problems. It was like I had put a label inadvertently on a whole group of people who never really associated themselves as traditional business leaders. So the concept of the DEO was born out of that. (upbeat music) There are six distinct characteristics for a DEO: being a systems thinker, being intuitive, being a risk-taker, being socially intelligent, being an agent of change, and then finally, being able to get it done. Those are the six drivers for being a DEO. A systems thinker kind of scans the landscape and looks for the interconnections behind a problem that you're solving, a design that you're trying to understand. A large part is observation, and the more you observe and the more you can connect the dots that lead to insights, an underlying system will emerge from that. And then visualize that system through diagramming, drawing it out and plotting it. Historically speaking, CEOs' jobs are to assess risk and to mitigate risk and to move the needle linearly one step at a time. DEOs, on the other hand, they're the complete opposite. They thrive in chaos and ambiguity. They love risk. They assess risk in a very different way. Risk is sort of a canvas to which they play in. In the case for the Hot Studio acquisition, it was one of those big risks that required a lot of soul-searching, required a lot of analytics, and at end of the day, it was a decision that had to be made based from the gut, from your intuition. Here I had grown this amazing design studio. Why would I want to screw that version of my reality? Facebook had a need to invest in great design talent. I had a company that was known for its best design talent. And it enabled me, who wanted to do something very differently, to suddenly be inside of a product company that was going to continue to be successful and grow. And I also saw that it was going to be very hard to financially compete and keep my designers because, like who work at Facebook and Google, can pay employees so much more than typical agencies. So the timing was absolutely perfect because suddenly design studios were becoming valuable in the marketplace, and Hot Studio was certainly a catalyst for more design studios to be acquired after this giant acquisition. (dynamic music) One of the most important traits of being a DEO is being socially intelligent, being people-centered. You are serving people's needs. You have to be beholden and care deeply about people. And when I talk about being people-centered, it's not just your customers. It's your employees, it's your friends, it's your community, it's your environment, that whole landscape of serving people's needs. It's really, it's your mission in life. It's not like you're growing networks for the number of likes, for the number of friends you have. It's not a math problem, it's a human problem. And you start with really respecting the networks that you have and making sure that you're tapping into them for the right reasons, that it's mutually beneficial. The more people that you can connect and the more empathy that you can have across a network, the greater the impact that you're going to have. It enables you to be a better designer because you connect the dots between the thing that you're trying to solve and the people who are going to help solve it. I know how frustrating it is when you look back and say, "I didn't get anything done today." Designers have been very much accused of being divergent, just spending endless hours iterating and exploring. At some point in time, you have to turn the corner and make some decisions. I am very good at going very wide and knowing when to turn the corner to narrow the choices and make a decision and move forward. I also am a firm believer of deadlines, shooting for done over perfect. What is the best experience that you can do in the time that you have in order to get something out the door that people could use? I'm also the master of to-do list. What are the top three things I need to accomplish today before I leave? And I stick a Post-it Note on the most important thing that I use all day long, either my phone or my monitor, and I say, "I am not going to remove this Post-it Note "until I accomplish this task." (gentle music) When I think of design, I think of not as a noun of making things but more a verb. So I think design is about change. If you are designing something, you're inherently changing it for the better. To be a change agent, it demands incredible leadership. It demands the ability to be able to work with ambiguity and chaos and be comfortable with the messiness that comes with change, and that's why the change agent role is critically important for the DEO. The DEO is really a celebration of the design leader because they have these superpowers, because they learn in design school to be systems thinkers, they learn to understand and flex the difference between being analytical and intuitive. If you use these skills and you step it up and you take command and control of a problem, if you guide people using human-centered design techniques, you are a leader. My name is Maria Giudice, and I'm the vice president of experience design at Autodesk.