Dec 23, 2011

Getting Bigger, Staying Hot

Maria Giudice's picture
Maria Giudice
CEO & Founder
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When Hot Studio opened its doors in 1997, the first employees were housed in a one-room office on Folsom Street in San Francisco. Today, Hot occupies two floors of a Howard Street loft building in S.F., and has a shiny new SoHo office in NYC. At the same time, Hot has morphed from a small shop focused on information design (hello, Yellow Pages!) to a full-service experience design consultancy. There are nearly 75 “Hotties” now, and the San Francisco office is gearing up to accommodate as many as one hundred desks.

Hot’s culture is at the heart of our transformation. Respect for different kinds of people, a work-hard-play-hard mentality, and a touch of entrepreneurial spirit have kept our employees happy and clients coming back with ever-tougher problems to solve. Today, especially during this period of significant growth, preserving Hot’s culture is a primary concern. As offices on both coasts expand, as we move from local and regional projects to work for major international clients on a deeply strategic level, how can we maintain the culture that helped us get to this point? How can Hot get bigger—and stay Hot?

In San Francisco, Hot’s culture is being reflected in the office itself, which is currently under major renovation. During planning phases, Hot held open forums in which employees provided input on what the new space should be and have. The top request? Yoga. Beyond this, says Peter Jacques, San Francisco’s office manager, employees gave input on everything from the location of breakout areas and quiet spaces to ways of encouraging mixing among Hotties on the different floors. Mixing is a major consideration: how can you maintain the intimacy and camaraderie that a much smaller office affords when employees are now spread across an entire building?

There’s also been a lot of thought given to clients’ experience of the new Hot office. “Our clients are our partners. We want them to feel at home,” says Peter. Thus, they will have dedicated work spaces too.

When Hot’s New York office opened, the culture was carried east by Hot Studio veterans. Eric Grant, Director of Brand Experience, and Vinicio Vazquez, a user experience engineer and Hot’s fourteenth employee, are both transplants from San Francisco. Alison Rand, once our lone East Coast producer, now oversees a small team of people dedicated to getting creative things done. What they’ve helped build in New York is an office that in some ways feels like the old Hot—a smaller space where everyone knows and sees each other. The experience design field in New York, the former San Franciscan-ites say, is a little bit scrappier. It has more of a startup feel. “We all feel like we’re helping Hot, and our clients here, tackle a new frontier.”

Being in New York means several things for Hot. For the first time in its history, the company’s hiring lots of people from outside the Bay Area. Folks like Phil Lam, Hot NY Principal and General Manager; Jennifer Kilian, Principal and Creative Director; and producer Ashley Day were based out of New York before joining the company. They’ve each visited Hot SF to get a feel for things out there, and we frequently share team members between offices. There’s an overriding belief right now that New York and San Francisco can learn a lot from each other.

Being in New York also means new kinds of work for Hot. With its San Francisco roots, Hot has traditionally worked with clients native to the Bay Area—tech companies, startups and non-profits. The New York office has exposed Hot to many of New York’s big industries: publishing, finance and fashion, and has also opened the door to international clients.

And yet, despite all the changes Hot has faced over the past few years, Hotties throughout the company say that Hot is still, by and large, the same place they’ve come to know and love. Folks still bring their dogs to the office, and still grab drinks after work. And there are still parties—a Hot Studio hallmark. It’s just that when there’s a party now, it’s a little bigger, a little louder, and there’s a bit more reason to celebrate.