Job of the Future: The Rise of the DEO (Design Executive Officer)

Maria Giudice explains why you should embrace the characteristics of a DEO.

Maria Giudice holds a degree in design, but she's a successful businesswoman, too. During her 20-year career, she built up Hot Studio, an experience design company she founded, to 100 people and $16 million in revenue. One day a friend turned to her and said, "You know what you are? You're a DEO." It's an acronym that stands for Design Executive Officer, and it also represents the next phase in Giudice's career.

Recently, Hot Studio was acquired by Facebook, and Giudice is now the Director of Product Design at Facebook. She’s also writing a book called The Rise of the DEO and trying to start a movement to make the DEO the new CEO. It's a role she believes encompasses the characteristics leaders need to create massive change in the world and build human-focused products in the face of ever-changing technology.

But no matter where you are in your career, Giudice believes you'll grow your leadership skills and inspire others if you embrace the characteristics of a DEO. She talked with us about what a DEO is and how to approach any job like one. We think it's going to be an important role for any successful Creative Team of the Future.

What exactly is a DEO?

Here's the official definition: A DEO, or Design Executive Officer, is a hybrid. Part strategic business executive and part creative problem-solver, the DEO is a catalyst for transformation and an agent of cultural change. With this perspective and these abilities, the DEO looks at business problems as design problems, solvable through the right mix of imagination and metrics.

Who are some people who work like DEOs even if they're not using that title?

Lady Gaga is a DEO and somebody who's trying to break down norms and make something new. She's being very disruptive in the music business.

Who else is a good DEO? Mark Zuckerberg, my boss, is a DEO. I actually didn't even realize it until I started working here. His office is in the middle of the room. He's very accessible to people. Anybody can come up to him at any time and ask him a question.

He's disruptive in the field. He's constantly thinking about what Facebook can be for the future, and he's plowing a new territory when it comes to technology. He's got an environment that is highly creative and set up where people can move in groups.

What are some of the most important qualities that you need to be a DEO?

There are six qualities. The first one is being the disruptor, somebody who is disrupting the status quo, who's plowing new territory, is not accepting the norm but is actually breaking in and discovering new paradigms of working.

Another one is a systems thinker, somebody who's not just thinking about solving problems linearly, one at a time. Somebody who's looking at the entire system and understanding how to make changes system-wide, rather than one step at a time.

The third characteristic is being people centered. It's a very, very important characteristic. DEOs have deep, deep, deep empathy for people. They're focused on people and their needs. When I see DEOs, they're not just talking about understanding and having empathy for their customers. They have empathy for employees as well. DEOs realize that there is a very fine line between an employee and the customer.

What other qualities are important for DEOs?

The fourth one is driven by intuition and curiosity. DEOs feel very comfortable with ambiguity and they feel like they can move from creativity to metrics. They go back and forth. Many CEOs only make decisions by numbers. DEOs will take a risk. And that's the fifth: They're risk-takers. They'll take a risk based on their intuition.

That's five. What's the sixth characteristic?

The very last one is what I call GSD: get sh*t done. DEOs are very much driven toward results. It's not just about having a hypothesis, making an idea in a PowerPoint deck. It's testing and trying and putting it out there and getting something done.

Look for Giudice's book, Rise of the DEO, Leadership By Design, co-authored with Christopher Ireland, this fall. Or join the Facebook page for updates on the book and movement.