This is a collection of notes taken while listening to Maria Giudice’s talk on the rise of design leadership from the UIE, All You Can Learn collection.


Qualities in a DEO

Talking about qualities that separate Design Leaders from traditions of business leaders & discussing the rule breakers. Maria designed and built hot studio that grew from 5-100 designers. Facebook recently asked to buy it. Numbers worked. Took a big risk: Employees could be out of work or working for FB. Hot Studio is the largest design studio acquisition done to date.

  • Trust your intuition
  • Took a big risk
  • Disrupted the Statue Quo
  • DEO: Design Executive Officer
  • They are uniquely qualified to solve today’s business challenges

She asks the audience to stand up and say hello to each other. Then hug the newly met stranger. People said they thought it felt creepy. “But did you get a warm feeling from it?… This was your first step towards being a DEO…”

  • Treat people equally (“We are all peers here. When people feel like they are treated like equals then they start to do their best work.”)
  • Focus on being present (“Remember to focus. Say hi to the person serving you coffee.”)

DEO: A person who puts the importance of design at the center of the company (Design Chief Executive Officer)

  1. A person who possesses hybrid skills of strategic business executive and a creative, problem solving designer
  2. A person who looks at all business problems as solvable through the right mix of imagination and metrics
  3. A person who is a catalyst for transformation and the agent of cultural change

 “They live in this juxtaposition of analytics, anthropology, and creativity.”

Companies today have a much shorter life span than earlier years. In 1937, companies would be around for life. Today, there’s a life span of about 15 years. Average age of tenure for most people in companies today is about 18 months. Only 1 in 4 employees believe their organizations have the leaders to succeed in the future. But design led companies, where a designer is operating at either the DEO/CEO level, have flourished in this changing landscape. Some of these companies have been acquired for $10’s of millions/billions of dollars.

Before the designer boom, there was Steve Jobs. He was the fearless leader for designers.

“Here’s to the crazy ones – the misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of the rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple Computers

  • They are change agents (Disrupting status quo.)
  • Risk takers
  • Systems Thinkers (Pattern Finders. Solving complex problems)
  • Socially Intelligent (People centered and deeply empathetic. Creating relevant and meaningful experiences.)
  • Intuitive (Driven by curiosity, imagination and intuition. Passion fuels but devoted to excellence and craft.)

Finally they have GSD (Get S^%& Done). Get it done right and better than anyone else.


The DEO Toolkit: How to build the leaders

Change your mindset:

  • Emily Pilloton: Project H – Design is an active verb. It’s an investment.
  • Design = change
  • Design = participating, ideating, co-creating, listening, reinventing, facilitating, translating, observing, communicating, instigating, partnering, negotiating, innovating

Value WE not ME:

  • Chris Anderson purchased TED and made it available to everyone for free online
  • Making this work is about learning how to share power. There’s power in the team mentality
  • The best solutions come from multi-disciplinary teams
  • Designers, you must give up owning design and learn to work together with your team(s). Treat your co-workers as co-creators. They can all bring something based on their own unique experiences
  • Celebrate Diversity: POV, gender, race, etc… Lots of studies on the fact that diversity creates more success. Balanced ratio of experienced and rookies. Be willing to embrace the rookies and move forward

Live in People’s Shoes:

  • Architecture for Humanity
  • Inform your intuition by experiencing others lives
  • Care deeply for all people and improve lives

Champion Creative Culture:

  • You will spend 90k hours at work in your lifetime
  • Creating the right culture is the key to success
  • Create an environment that encourages & rewards creativity in others
  • Bake it in from the top down. Make it fun to come to work everyday
  • Co-workers model behavior like kids do. Come to work with a positive attitude everyday
  • Be aware of the controls that are barriers to effectiveness & overall happiness and increased stress. Bad bosses can increase strokes by 30%. Being positive can increase your lifespan by 10 years
  • Promote creative chaos: Good ideas are messy. A cluttered workspace can actually enhance problem solving skills and boost efficiency. (“Write on the walls, tables, any sort of big space… Take notes. People feel like they are being heard.”)
  • Go laptop-less and take notes publicly. Put away your phone. People will feel heard
  • Share a meal together
  • Alcohol in moderation can enhance creativity

Iterate and Evolve: Be open to change

  • “This journey is 1% finished.”
  • Be in a constant state of iteration & re-invention. Show progress and move forward
  • Travel not only broadens the mind but makes you smarter and more creative
  • Travel more or just get out of the office and go to the park. You may see that there’s several ways to do things
  • Stay humble and solicit feedback continuously – “How am I doing? What can I do better?”
  • Be empowered to change your mind
  • Vision without execution is hallucination
  • You are judged by what you do not what you dream
  • Take smart risks everyday and get stuff done
  • Use data and intuition
  • Don’t be afraid to show who you are. Step up. Be the champion or be the advocate


“You are all born super stars. Go and find your own stage.” – Lady Gaga