In this UX Leadership by Design podcast episode, UX design leader Maria Giudice joins host Mark Baldino to discuss the core qualities that UX leaders need to become effective change agents. Drawing from three decades of experience, Maria underscores the significance of integrating design principles into leadership roles, enabling anyone to champion change. Maria’s approach, outlined in her book Changemakers: How Leaders can Design Change in an Insanely Complex World focuses on empathy, shared goals, and effective communication, making it accessible for both designers and non-designers alike.
- Changemaker Approach in UX Leadership
- Change Management
- Building Trust and Vision
- Empathy and Collaboration
- Strategies for UX Leaders
- Art of being a Changemaker
About Our Guest
For three decades, creative teams and business leaders have sought the provocative vision and mentorship of Maria Giudice. After founding the pioneering experience design firm Hot Studio and leading global teams at Facebook and Autodesk, Maria’s mission today is to build the next generation of creative leaders. Through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and team-building workshops, Maria unlocks the potential hidden in executives and the people they lead. A popular speaker at design and business conferences, Maria is the author of four design books, including “Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design”, and “Changemakers: How Leaders Can Design Change in an Insanely Complex World.”
Resources & Links
Mark Baldino: Hi folks, welcome to the next episode of UX Leadership by Design. I'm your host, Mark Baldino. The podcast is and always will be brought to you by Fuzzy Math. At Fuzzy Math, we deliver award-winning digital product design and we frequently partner with internal design teams of all shapes and sizes to help them augment, to help them grow, and really to help them sort of scale their impact within their organization. And today, I am thrilled to announce we are talking with Maria Giudice. who is an executive leadership coach and the co-author of this book, which is Changemakers, How Leaders Can Design Change in an Insanely Complex World. I read this book about a month ago. I was really fortunate to have a conversation with Maria about the book. And the concept is simple, which is that all leaders can use the design process to implement... systemic change, large-scale change within their organization. So the book isn't really targeted at design leaders. It's actually targeted at anybody that is a leader or wants to be a leader and really lays out in a very accessible format what you need to do, the steps you need to take, the people you need to talk, how you can communicate, the process you need to set up. It is a lovely book. This is a lovely conversation with Maria. I'm so appreciative of her for joining us. I think you folks are going to enjoy this conversation, and I would highly encourage you to go out and find the book, grab a copy, and share it with folks in your network. So thanks very much, and let's go. Mark Baldino: Maria, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today. Maria Giudice: I am so excited to be here, Mark, and it's a beautiful day right now. So Mark Baldino: Where are you located? Maria Giudice: I'm located in Oakland, California. Mark Baldino: Okay. I was going to say, I feel like the East coast and Chicago are mirrored in smoke right now, so I feel like it must be west of all of it. Maria Giudice: Mm-hmm. Maria Giudice: I am, but you know, we've experienced that too. So where are you from? Mark Baldino: I'm in Chicago, based in Chicago. Actually born and raised in Chicago and have a design studio here. So yeah. Maria Giudice: Love Chicago. Mark Baldino: It's a good place as long as you come in the right months, as I like to tell people. Maria Giudice: Mm-hmm. Mark Baldino: As I'm getting a little bit older, I'm getting less patient with the weather. So I'll need to find a warmer location at some point, but I'm not there yet. Maria Giudice: Okay, I will hold that space for you today. Mark Baldino: Well, thank you, thank you, thank you. Well, I really do want to thank you for coming on the podcast. I won't maybe in the first, not the first or last time, I'll hold up the book here. You're an executive leadership coach, you're the co-author of Changemakers, which is a new book that came out. I've read it. I've sent it to some of my clients and doggie or some pages that I thought that they would appreciate. I found the book really invaluable and so I'm thrilled. frankly, to have you on the podcast. I'd love for you to give the listeners a bit of your background, which just reading your bio is three decades long. It's really, really impressive. But give us a quick hit. What were some sort of bigger points in your journey to get where you are now that would be helpful for the listeners to hear? Maria Giudice: Okay, well, yeah, I know it's like over three decades, which is old and wise. Mark Baldino: Yes, yes nothing more than that. Maria Giudice: But I love to talk about sort of these pivot points in your life because we all have them and I think they're really important. And because when you, there are these moments in your life where if you catch it, it can put you in a whole nother trajectory. And so I grew up in New York. Even though I live in California, totally still a New Yorker. And, you know, much to my husband's chagrin, I'm like, I'm still a New Yorker. And grew up as a painter and an artist. I went to art school. I went to the school called Cooper Union in New York City. And I like to say came in as a painter, came out as a graphic designer. And the reason why I came out as a graphic designer was the first pivot point in my life. was when I was in art school, I was really disillusioned about graphic design. I was like, this is like formulaic. You pick some nice fonts, you flush everything left, you give it some white space, you know, you use thegolden mean, you know. There was like all of these things that you do in order to get good design. And I was sitting in class and the... There was a guest instructor in my class and his name was Richard Saul Werman. And Richard Saul Werman came into this class full of young designers and he basically berated us. And he basically said, I always paraphrase, but this is how I remember it, you are all full of shit. He looked at us all and he's like, design isn't about you know, decoration or, you know, it's not about the aesthetic. Design is about helping people make sense of the world. And that was that like lightning bolt in the chest moment where I really got it. I really got it that using design to help people make sense of the world. And so this, this idea of design has been a platform for me my whole life. You know, so I started out as a book designer. So it's not hard for me to make books, by the way. Mark Baldino: Thanks. Maria Giudice: Started out as a book designer. I came out here in the, what was it, late 80s, accidentally to work on redesigning the Yellow Pages. And that's where another pivot point happened, which was this intersection of design and technology and the promise of technology. And so I was in that early, pioneering stage where designers were figuring out how to make technology work and how to use it as a new tool and then I was also an early adopter of designing the internet and the website, you know, my first website was 1993 like a client of mine was said hey, we want to Design website for our you know for peach pit press. That was my first website. I'm like Oh, I could do that. I'm like, I don't know. I had no idea what a website was. Mark Baldino: Am I done? Yes. Ha ha ha. Maria Giudice: As a matter of fact, I told Nathan Shedroff at the time, this will never take off. Mark Baldino: It's okay. Maria Giudice: And then, I was freelancing at the time, I kept getting busier, I started hiring people to help me with just the workload. The next thing you know, I had a company. I'm, yeah, I went to art school, I got a degree in art, but I used design as a, I always say, treat everything in life like a design problem. And if you treat everything in life like a design problem, It creates this framework for you to experiment, understand, makes things. So I designed a design company through the lens of being a designer and learned good business practices along the way. And then that eventually led to the acquisition of Hot Studio to Facebook in 2013. And then I had a stint in corporate America for five years you know, to, you know, really damage my ego and torture myself. Mark Baldino: It's sort of a little bit of self-check, yeah? Okay. Maria Giudice: Yes. But then that was what I learned in corporate America was this idea that it's not just about design process. It's about people processes to help people believe in a mission at scale. And that was really. the inspiration behind Changemakers. When I was a VP of Design at Autodesk, I felt like I was learning a lot of these skills on the job. And I felt like I was crushing it, but I also made a lot of mistakes. And so the book to me was, wow, I see leaders, creative business leaders, starting with the first book, DEO in 2011, they're stepping up to be, They're using design qualities to become great leaders. And now we have these creative leaders at the top of organizations and new skills are needed. And that's the role of the change maker. And so I really believe in this book. And then of course I convinced Christopher Ireland to invest a couple of years worth of her time to help me put this book together. And I'm really passionate about it. And I'm so happy it's so well received because I feel like it's the book of the time right now. Mark Baldino: Yeah, it's interesting because I know with your previous book, The Rise of the DEO, that seemed like a point in time, right? In 2011, 2012 of there are these design leaders and now, I mean, you actually use the DEO, you're talking about executives, and now it's changemakers, which is more accessible in terms of who can be changemakers and who can be transformational within an organization. But... You're nodding your head. So do you do you agree with that? Is it is that the shift that's happened over the past, you know, 10, Mark Baldino: 12 years? Maria Giudice: Yeah, that was exactly it. In 2011, I gave a TED talk about the idea of the DEO, which is a made up term, the Design Executive Officer. And it was the hypothesis that future leaders are they're going to be great leaders if they embody qualities of designers. And so that those qualities are change agents, risk takers, using intuition, being a systems thinker. being people-centered and getting shit done. These are all inherent qualities that we as designers already have as part of our training. So if you apply those qualities to business and leadership, you're gonna, you know, this is sort of the new model for leadership. And then if you think of the change maker, it's sort of like taking that change agent quality and going much deeper into it. And I did, I feel like DEO was... was sort of a provocative idea of the future that came true 10 years later. And now this changemaker role is, you know, changemakers have been around for, you know, said, you know, since the beginning of, you know, the dawn of the age, right, but, but there are definitely this particular time point in time, I feel like really requires people who are resilient, adaptable, courageous and optimistic to lead change because our problems have just frankly gotten bigger and more complicated. Mark Baldino: Do you think that those qualities you just mentioned need to be inherent in a leader in order to embrace becoming a change maker? I like to say that there's parts of the design process that I do think anyone can learn with certain capabilities. Let's take the visual arts component out of it, which I think sometimes is a natural talent, and people have to work at that very, very hard. But there's a lot of the design thinking and… problem-solving process that I do think is translatable. And so I work with lots of people, different backgrounds that can embrace it. Do you think that's the same with change-making or is it something that's inherent in certain people that as long as they capitalize on it? Okay, okay, great. Maria Giudice: Yeah.: Maria Giudice: Yeah, this book isn't a book for designers. Mark Baldino: That's what, Maria Giudice: This book, right, this book is about recognizing that we all have creativity in us. Right. And a design is more intentional creativity to achieve a goal. Right. But if we can unlock the qualities inherent qualities in all of us that creativity to actually problem solving. Anybody can design, right? So yes, there are certain things that, design is a very broad term, designers are broad, and there's the making part, which requires skill and craft, right? But if you apply design as an overarching strategy, anybody can embrace these ideas. So the invitation is, is we're opening this notion of being a designer to everybody. And we're identifying tools and skill sets that anybody can employ if they really step into those qualities that I said. And when I talk about design as a strategy, I'm talking about, again, being focused on people, being experimental. embracing failure as a way of learning. These are just a few things that if people embrace and look at the world differently, they can solve problems from the place of being open-minded and a point in possibility. And when we're open and creative, we have access to more ideas. When we're closed and scared, we then can't see we have a very narrow lens on solving a problem. Mark Baldino: Yeah, right. It's like fragility and antifragility, right? When you're able to operate in a world where there is near constant change, if you're able to operate and accept that as this is a given and you're able to execute within that environment, it's your more effective leader. Maria Giudice: Yeah, and it's not linear, right? So it's nonlinear. And that's the other thing about being a changemaker is not just trying to go from point A to point B. You are really looking at cause and effect on an entire system and being cognizant that the thing that you're solving is part of the whole system and that we have a responsibility to make decisions that will have a... positive effect on a system. And if we are too narrow in our thinking, we can do a lot of damage. Mark Baldino: Yeah, I feel like the qualities that you're describing in order to be a changemaker, they don't sound... That to me doesn't sound revolutionary, but I do feel like people struggle either to recognize it in themselves, embrace it in themselves, capitalize on it. I just feel like the actual implementation, like people put a lot of barriers in front of them to like... be a changemaker or drive change or be very narrow in their thinking. So I could read the book and then be like, I don't know if I can do this or this. Yeah, this sounds nice. What's your advice to people that are kind of getting in their own way, but maybe are in, really, as you say, have a responsibility to drive change that's not at the tactical level, it's at the systemic level? What's your advice to folks who maybe get, I don't know, I'll just use myself. They might get in their own way of being a changemaker. Maria Giudice: Yeah, and you bring up such a good point, like, you know, this isn't like this. It isn't rocket science, right. And, and the concepts in the book are familiar concepts. Yet we all tend to fall victim to making the same mistakes over and over again. So even though it's like, yeah, I know we need to be system thinkers and we need to embrace failure as a way of learning, but why do we still fail to like adhere to the very things that we think we know? Right? So I often say change starts with you first. And how you show up and the intentions that you set have to be true. Otherwise, you know, otherwise, if you don't show up as a leader, if you don't show up with the right intentions, if you don't show up open-minded and creative, people will then pick up the energy that you bring and then you're not gonna get anything done, right? So change making really, there's a lot of skills around working with people and then there's processes. And we tend to like wanna focus on the process without really paying attention to the people dynamics that have to happen. And you have to get people to believe in a vision, in a mission. You have to get them feeling like they're seen in the solution. So a lot of the first things is really identifying how you show up. Make sure that you are not showing up in a threatened state, that you're showing up in a state of positivity, possibility, and creativity, and then making, paying attention to the state that the other people are in, what are they afraid of? What is their shared goals? How do you achieve shared goals? So a lot of the work starts with, is working with people and getting a group of people to trust one another so that they can be on this journey together. So that's sort of step one. And the book really goes into understanding people better in order to follow a process that can lead to change. Mark Baldino: No, I think you lay out in the book, I think the qualities of change makers are... Alright, not revolutionary, but I just want to credit you for laying out a process that doesn't feel rigid and straightforward, actually feels, as you said, iterative and you're kind of growing, but it does talk about what are the foundational elements, how are we gaining support, what does visioning and communicating vision mean, and I think that you do it in a way that is very, very accessible, and I... I very much appreciate that. It's not filled with corporate speak. It's also not filled with, I don't think I recall you using the term like design thinking. It's not like you're not taking other terms of like, hey, of how people have utilized design thinking in the past. It seems like a very kind of human centered approach to how you would write a book to help people guide themselves on their career. And that's a real credit to you and Christopher. Maria Giudice: Well, it's treating everything like a design problem, but you touch on something in that we get so stuck on processes and terminology. We treat processes like they're religion, right? They're just frameworks. And so our hypothesis, so oftentimes people are like, well, have you looked at Six Sigma or blah, or the latest change management kind of process to apply? And it's like, Yeah, we did the research and we looked at all of these things. And some of them, you know, there's bits and pieces of things that work. But we often say, what is the process that your team or company or institution is following? Right. And and integrate these ideas into that process so that it's not this thing that people have to like adopt or treat as a religion. So, you know, We end the same as true with terminology. We get so stuck in the words and design in and of itself and change is, these are words that are contextual and everybody's got their own story around design thinking, around agile, around double diamond like this. There's all these stories around these terms and it's like, You know, sometimes you just have to like, wipe the slate clean of the terms. And oftentimes, if the word design gets in the way in organizations, I say, don't use it. What is the term that is being used that is going to get people to be creative and collaborative and co-creative to work together? And it could be whatever word that makes sense to you. But don't let the word get in the way of progress. Mark Baldino: I think that's insanely helpful advice, I think, to designers and non-designers as well, because we hold our process really tightly and all will spend three months just describing process and trying to get people to… I'm speaking as somebody who's done this many times with our clients, and it's like process, words, we're using the wrong words, we're not following the right steps. I think the idea that we, A, need to use an… empathetic lens with the people around us, our people in our organization, and kind of understand challenges that they're having and identify what we really want to do is drive change and help people drive change. And in that case, it's finding, as you said, what's the right language or lack of language that's going to attempt to get this implemented or to start to drive change within an organization. But I think you're 100% right. And I'm going to go back to another point you mentioned, which was, I think because it helps us avoid the real people problems and talking to people as kind of humans and really being empathetic, right? If we focus on process, you feel like we're doing a job. And part of leadership, and this is a lesson that has been painful for me personally to learn because I am a really process-oriented type of person, like that it is the... conversations that I have with people. It's the time I spend listening and understanding, coming with kind of an open heart to conversations where I probably, if you ask people on my team, when have I led the most? It's not, it's those conversations. It's not, here's the plan for Fuzzy Math, here's what we're doing over the next two years. And I think the same thing can be said for applying the design process, is we focus so much on the process and not on helping people move forward and drive change. Maria Giudice: Yeah. Maria Giudice: And, you know, I often say, you know, as designers, yeah, we get in our own way. Sometimes we're so religious when it comes to serving people's needs, the end user, the customer. Right. And I mean, that's like the customer. Everything is about the customer. True. But if we can apply that same fervor and empathy and compassion towards our coworkers, then you're going to get. you're going to get results because nothing is done in a vacuum anymore. And another thing I like to say, to remind my fellow designers, none of us, nobody wants to create a shitty product, right? Like we can get in our way where we think that we are, we are sort of the last, like people on the battlefields to make sure that the product is going to be great. We all want to create something good. We all want to do something right by the business. We might have different ways or different points of view to get there. Can we kind of unpack those ideas with remembering that we all want to get to a place where we're creating something we could all be proud of that's actually going to improve people's lives? Ultimately, that's why we're in it. We're all in it for that. Let's hear the ideas to get there and let's like, let's like, you know, divorce, try to divorce ourselves from our own sort of ethos, our own egos, and get to a place that's shared. And then let's figure out how we can get there together. Um, and you can do it through the design process, but you don't have to like, call it out as step one must listen to users, you know? Mark Baldino: Yeah, yeah, 100%. Maria Giudice: Make it accessible to everybody and get them and make sure that people are seen and heard. You know, it's all about building that trust. And when people trust each other, you can make mistakes openly and you can learn from them. So you have to create that, you know, psychologically safe environment, right? That's a term that's being used. But, but you know, this is part of the change process. Mark Baldino: Can we talk about like envisioning, which is kind of a core step here or vision work? Because Maria Giudice: Mm-hmm. Mark Baldino: That is also one where we can get tripped up on all of the language. And like as changemakers, can you talk about the importance of vision? It doesn't have to be quick tips. I mean, you have a whole, I think there's a few chapters just on that. But it always to me in reading the book and in thinking about my journey as a leader, changemakers I've worked with, that seems like... It seems really hard to define and maybe that's okay, but like what's your take on it? What do you think is most, not maybe the most important step, but a really important step. Maria Giudice: Well, yeah, you know, I do talk about the importance of a process, right? I also think you don't skip any, you don't skip the points in the process. You might, you might jump into a process at different points, but we, we define the process as a loop, right? For a reason, because it's not going from point A to point B. It's like, you need to follow all these processes, points in the process. The first is the discovery, right? The input. you need input in order to have an outcome and an output for vision. So you still have to really talk to people, you still have to listen. First stage is really about getting environmental context and understanding people and trying to understand the problem you're trying to solve, right? So that's first step one. Then it moves into envisioning, which is really synthesizing all of that content and context that you've learned into and bringing people into that process, making sure that they're part of the journey so that we can get to a sense of shared goals. And so the vision is sort of the why. Why are we doing this and why should people care about it? Right? Again, I think we focus on what too much when if you really want people to believe in something, they have to believe in the why. And so how do you get all of the... So again, these are common tools that designers use of gathering and synthesizing information. But the important thing is it's done not as a design activity, it is done as a team organizational level activity so that we can get to the why. And it has to be aspirational. but it has to be realistic, right? So people can believe in it. And then, you know, and it could be a statement, it could be a series of principles, it could be whatever is relevant to what is needed in order to communicate what the why is for the problem you're trying to solve. And then you need to communicate the hell out of it. Another big part that underlies all of this is the importance of really good communication. And people really underplay that, but it's critical to success. Mark Baldino: I'm excited. Maria Giudice: So when you're in a point in the process, what is your strategy to communicate where you are in the process and how people can understand it, but also how they can see themselves in it? So it's really getting to shared goals. And the big one is to pay attention to the people you don't agree with. the most, right? Because they can be the blockers along the way and they'll either be vocal or they'll be silent. And so a big part of that discovery phase is speaking and listening to stakeholders that agree with you and don't agree with you. And to try to get to a place to understand where's our commonality so that you can accept where we're at and believe in the piece of the vision that you see yourself in. Mark Baldino: Fantastic. I think that those potential roadblocks are, we can either put our blinders on or we can listen to them and embrace them. And part of that is, as you said, in order to get to the why, it is that listening that sort of empathetic approach and then communicating it. So I… I don't want to say you make it sound simple, but it's understandable as a process. It comes through really, really well in the book. And I know you are wise and you're using that wisdom to share with a broader group. I think just a really, like I said, accessible, friendly way to extract the design process and apply it towards broader change. And I… really just want to applaud the effort and the book. And it's one that I've had for a few weeks now and referenced multiple times. And so I just want to say thank you again for writing the book with Christopher, for coming on the podcast and sort of sharing a bit of your wisdom with us. And I know the folks in my network and the listeners of the podcast are gonna have a tremendous to learn from you and the book. If people do want to find you, Where should they find you? And the book I'm pretty sure is available anywhere you certainly sell books, Maria Giudice: I mean, I think the best way to find me these days is on LinkedIn. So, you know, I post a lot of things on LinkedIn. So you can follow me there. You can reach out to me. I, you know, I also am an executive coach. So some people who are interested in coaching could reach out to me. You just don't send me a solicitation. That's the only bummer about LinkedIn. It's become so popular. But man oh man, it's like, oh no, please don't sell me another website, IT service solution. Mark Baldino: I want to accept this request or not. Are they going to pitch me or is this like a solid a solid connection? It is a challenge. It's a great platform, but it is a current challenge in how people are utilizing it.. Maria Giudice: Yeah, But I'm always responding to people who have questions. I'm very accessible that way. Mark Baldino: Awesome. Well, thank you. Thanks for being accessible today. Thank you for writing the book. Really appreciate your time and energy that went into that and the time and energy put in the podcast today. So I'm sure people will be reaching out and following you and just want to say thanks again. Maria Giudice: It's such a pleasure to be here Mark and if you know again I'm so happy that this book is well received because it's really important to be out in the world right now. Mark Baldino: You bet, it should be well received. So happy to hear it. All right, Maria Giudice: Thanks. Mark Baldino: Thanks Maria, appreciate it.