Is Design Going To Rival Development?

Since the beginning of the Social Matchbox event series I have heard a lot of stories from founders and hiring teams. Finding funding is always a good bet, but that is a problem that is usually self inflicted (e.g. founders looking to raise money with little more than a company concept as opposed to anything that resembles a scalable business).  Hiring developers has been the issue that dominated pain point discussions as a constant as long as I can remember.  With Ruby on Rails and framework based development utilizing Rails, JQuery, Django, Symfony, Zend, Spring, etc. the problem became much less severe and people have learned to be lean and agile in a way that allows them to get out of the weeds.

I’m talking as much from personal experience here as I am from conversational threads with founders and I want to point this out.  So much of the conversation about how and why things are the way they are is because people go out with a problem looking for victims. I’m more of the kind of person who just sits back and listens, then starts asking questions as the patterns start to emerge.  This is why today’s post is bubbling up to the top of the Social Matchbox.

Over the last six months or so I have been recruiting and interviewing designers for mobile and web teams.  This task used to be pretty easy, but that took a big change with the introduction of Apple Retina Displays.  I’ll point out that while there is a lot of conversation about responsive design, the real meat on the bones of this discussion centers around resolution.  Designing for Retina displays is something that mainstream computer manufacturers and cell phone makers would probably rather not have us think to much about.  Take a trip to a local geek supply store like Micro Center or Best Buy and you will see what I mean.  Most laptops are stuck at sub 1080p resolution.  Monitors usually max out at 1080p.  As someone who uses and prefers WUXGA resolution, at least until now, I’m a bit frustrated every time I want to go buy something and I am forced to do my shopping nearly 100% online.  Don’t even get me started about how bad the computers are.  Ok, let me just point out that in 2012 a shopper should not have to do an online search while in a store to determine if the computer they are looking at has a dual core processor and a 4 cell battery that may not last two hours. A better analogy might be trying to find a copy of the New York times at the diner on the town square.

So how does this relate to design? Simple: most designers are chasing the median, not the edges where innovation is taking place.  This is partly due to the fact that the jobs in most places like DC are concerned with the median.  The Washington area plays host to a ton of organizations that are pushing content to their users using websites.  It is completely acceptable to simply port websites over to mobile devices using responsive design techniques.  Responsive design is great. I am a fan and as soon as I get the time to do it or the extra revenue to hire someone to do it I will make all of my websites including this one responsive.  The problem is when you are not simply looking to port web content over to mobile.

The future of consumer application development isn’t web x.0 and it isn’t mobile x.0, it is simply xyz x.0 when you get right down to it.  This isn’t rocket science, it is just the way things are headed. You could be building an app for the web and mobile and the next generation of wrist watch or glasses within a few months.  My geek friends are already working on apps for all of the above.  Get ready.

With the stage set this way founders are going to have to spend extra time and energy seeking out designers who are thinking beyond the browser and the mobile device, not just about how to route content from one to the other.  There is a real shortage of these people in the Washington area.  There are a lot more of them in the bay area and in LA, but that doesn’t mean they are not here.  People will start working on projects that include cross-platform design gradually and as they do I predict that these designers are going to be on par with developers as the hot commodity in the startup and software community.

This is a great opportunity for designers looking to get ahead and to differentiate themselves.