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There's arguably never been a better time to be a developer.

Looking for a full-time job? If you have the chops, they are plentiful, and if you're in a hot market, salaries are high. Not interested in the nine-to-five routine? Freelance opportunities abound and investors are still pouring big bucks into startups, with many focusing on backing entrepreneurial engineers who can turn their ideas into code.

But if all success on the web and mobile internet required was a few hundred thousand lines of awesome Ruby code, a few NoSQL databases here and there and a clever Amazon AWS-based architecture, there would be a lot more Facebooks out there.

What's missing for many companies? One word: design.

Despite the fact that the importance of user experience is widely recognized, designers typically aren't given the rockstar treatment that developers have become accustomed to. But that might be changing.

There's a Designer Fund, which was created to help designer-led startups "through funding, mentorship, and connections." It's led in part by a former Facebook designer.

The idea of investing in founders with designer backgrounds makes sense on paper, but the number of successful companies started by designers would still seem to be much smaller than the number started by hardcore techies. But the number is growing, and includes big names like YouTube, AirBnB and Pinterest.

But where's the big money? It may be on its way.

Yesterday, mobile payments company Square announced that it was acquiring New York design firm 80/20. As detailed by the New York Times' Claire Cain Miller, the firm had a focus on interface design and before the acquisition, counted companies like Warner Bros., Motorola, Fidelity and Comcast as clients. Now, its staff, which consists of 12 designers, will be focusing their energies on Square.

Terms of the deal were not revealed, but Square's desire to snap up a team of highly-skilled designers resembles the acquihire strategy popularized by Silicon Valley giants looking for talented developers, suggesting that designers and design shops may soon see a gold rush of their own if they have the goods and are well-positioned in the right geographic markets.

Will that gold rush produce the six-figure junior-level engineering salaries that are not uncommon in Silicon Valley, or the seven-figure acquihire deals that have become available to top engineers with startups not on the right trajectory? Time will tell, but one thing is certain: design is an increasingly valuable commodity and there's no reason to believe it's going to get any less valuable any time soon.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 October, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2401 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Ben Goodwin, Email marketing manager at Personal

I don't think designers are going to be reaching pay-parity with designers. I'm sure that you can argue there aren't a surplus of really good designers, but there are 100s of graphic/web design graduates out of work that companies can snap-up for a pittance.

Becoming a developer is a lot harder, so the skill is a lot rarer. I don't see that changing for quite some time so web developers can enjoy the gravy-train for a fair bit longer. In my experience it is a lot harder to recruit talented web-developers than talented designers.

almost 4 years ago

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Ben Goodwin, Email marketing manager at Personal

Oops, first sentence should reader with developers, obviously!

almost 4 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

The problem with design is that it is largely subjective, input from the website owner and the designer is valuable - but if the website owner had a clear vision in mind, could any designer do this?

I do think that lots of companies are in need of great design and I believe that great design can go far.

I think if the value of design on a business level improves, then you may see the change you mention above. I think we are getting there slowly, especially with the recent Startup craze.

almost 4 years ago

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Terry Douglas, Art Director at Genworth Financial

Keep in mind there's a HUGE difference between a designer and a GOOD, or GREAT designer. There's plenty of folks who know how to use the tools, but truly good designers can be hard to find. I'm at a corporation who's had to hire several in the last few years and it's been a real task- even with an entire team whose job it is to find candidates.

And even if a website owner has a clear vision- trust me, the site will look and function better if a good designer does the work. Design has become about so much more than layout, color and photo choices with the added needs of web and mobile platforms.

almost 4 years ago

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