Learning from a Creative Expert: Maria Giudice and the Rise of the DEO


Last week I saw Maria Giudice, Director of Product Design at Facebook and Co-author of Rise of the DEO, speak at Webvisions in Portland last week. She wanted us all to “take a risk” by hugging someone we didn’t know. For 10 seconds. That’s a long hug which can feel a little awkward. Lucky for me I’m a professional hugger (not really, I just don’t mind doing it) and got a great hug from a woman I had never met before. That definitely led an impression, and made me want to hug more. When she told us the importance of having at least 8 hugs a day from someone you care about, it was immediately clear Giudice is an amazing woman and one I wanted to pay attention to.

As a designer and solopreneur, I am constantly looking for other successful women to learn from. After the talk I went up to Giudice to speak with her. First, I told her we have the same name. Second, we hugged. Third, I acknowledged that I too am Italian and from New York. I then asked her as a solopreneur, how can I incorporate her ideas into my business? She said to reflect on what she said in her talk for myself and my  clients. And to keep things sassy.


Here are 4 things that I have learned and have been reflecting on as a designer and business woman since Giudice’s talk.

1. Spark my inner DEO.
Giudice states that a DEO, Design Executive Officer, is “the creative leader that holds the highest position in an organization.” Not hard for me since I’m currently an organization of one. However, she continues to say that these DEOs are agents of cultural change, a force that influences transformation. “Creative leaders possess certain super powers over traditional business leaders that are both unique in nature and powerful in practice.” This really got my creative and business juices flowing. I mean, she said I have super powers!

Although I’m not running a large studio, I’ve been thinking about how I can implement this into my design practice. I currently do this by  designing things that are relevant and meaningful to my clients, versus creating work that is flashy or trendy. That’s why I always want to learn about my client’s mission before I design anything: to create a bona-fide design.

2. Treat clients like humans.
This feels like a no brainer for me, but I admit I have to be reminded at times. I have had the joy of working with people who share similar goals, beliefs, dreams and hopes. At the end of the day, we’re all closing our laptops and commuting home to our families and communities. My clients are not only marketing experts or business owners or the dean of admissions at a private school, but they are also wives, sisters, yoga practitioners, church goers, and fellow food lovers. I get the work done while having empathy and care with my client base.

3. Heal the world.
There was a general tone at Webvisions this year about the world around us having complex problems: poverty, environmental deterioration, human rights issues. This is happening with the conjunction of too much technology (phones, tablets, watches that show your emails). Giudice states that designers have the ability to solve these complex problems because we have the ability to think outside of the norm and naturally be more innovative.

When I reflect on my design work, I do my best to work with clients that have meaning behind their product or service and are agents of change themselves. I feel more connected to others that have similar ethics as mine and act as experts in their field. Since I craft my work environment through a network of peers, clients, and collaborators, I want those around me to ask themselves: how can I make this world a better place?

For now, it doesn’t have to be grand donations to non-profits or volunteering a certain number of hours per month, week, day (although I wouldn’t stop you). We can start to solve some of these problems by interacting with each other on a more genuine level, and have a concern for the people and environment around us. Recycle a bit more; consume a bit less. Commute using public transportation or by bike. Talk to people face-to-face while not texting. Be humans.

4. GSD.
That’s a pretty acronym for “Getting S*** Done.” Inventiveness and deliberation are important. Trying new iterations to see if a design fits more authentically is part of the designer’s plan. But when it comes to it, I gotta get stuff done. I admit it. I’m a thinker and a strategizer. I want to know your dreams and your values. I always keep my client’s focused on the dream and the vision behind the design, but never to the point where I ignore the functional elements to the work. And I never ignore the deadlines.

Giudice states that a DEO’s “compulsion to push for completion may be rooted on one or more neuroses.” How did she know? Ability to complete tasks on time is a skill required for the success of a design. It signals to everyone the importance of moving the design out of the meeting room and into the world. Despite the strictness of sticking to deadlines, the enthusiasm for action needs to be contagious. It’s the reward of the delivery we’re all really excited about.

I’m glad there are women out there leading design and business with sass, humility, and professionalism. To the other Maria from this Maria, thank you.

Check out her talk here:

photo credit: Design Feast via photopin cc