Innovator, artist, protagonist, and positive provocateur, Maria has pursued a vision of intelligent, elegant, people-centered design throughout her professional life. Her grasp of the pragmatic, the authentic, and the essential have kept her at the forefront of design and business for over 30 years.
Under Maria’s leadership, Hot Studio, the experience design firm she founded in 1997, grew into a full-service creative agency with an impressive list of Fortune 500 clients. In March 2013, Facebook acquired the talent behind Hot Studio. In 2015, she joined Autodesk as VP, Experience Design.
Maria holds a BFA from Cooper Union and is co-author and designer of several award-winning books, including Elements of Web Design and Web Design Essentials. In 2012, Maria was named an AIGA Fellow in recognition for her impact in raising the standards of excellence and conduct within the design community.
Christopher IrelandEthnographer, strategist, idea generator and alliance builder—Christopher Ireland started her career with the notion that businesses could benefit from a better understanding of people and culture. Her ability to create simple explanations of complex human behavior and to translate those insights into effective design and development strategies attracted clients from both technology and consumer goods companies including Microsoft, HP, Pepsi, Levis, Gap and more.
As a founder and CEO of Cheskin, a firm that pioneered design research in Silicon Valley, Christopher and her partners had ringside seats to unrivaled feats of creation, innovation and reinvention. Beginning in the 1990s, she led teams exploring notions like how trends move through the teen population, how music relates to mood, the history of residential architectural styles, the power of play, the cultural and behavioral differences between girls and boys, the emerging culture of “cool” in China, the development of trust online, and the meaning of color around the globe—to name just a few. She and her partners sold Cheskin in 2007, and walked away with their sanity mostly intact.
At heart, Christopher is an entrepreneur. She continues to satisfy that drive to create new ventures by teaching entrepreneurship at California College of the Arts (CCA) and mentoring startups as the co-founder of Mix & Stir Studio, an incubator for design-driven technology companies. She has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and has written numerous magazine articles on strategy and design.