Are Designers Taking Over the Tech World?

Design thinking. It’s a term that has taken a while to gain recognition in its viability in the corporate world but we might be seeing a shift in that concept. A recent TechCrunch article sheds light on this shift showing an increase in the amount of design hires versus the amount of developer hires for six major tech companies.

The team at TechCrunch gathered statistics to show this trend and their results are worth noting. Atlassian, an enterprise software company that develops products for software developers, project managers, and content management, has gone from hiring 1 designer per every 25 engineers in 2012 to 1 designer per every 9 developers in 2017. IBM, one of the largest tech companies in the world, has gone from hiring 1 designer per 72 engineers and are now showing a tremendous increase of 1 designer per 8 engineers. Uber is also targeting 1 designer per 8 engineers.

What does this tell us? Design thinking is not just some buzzword that is being thrown around. There are companies that are willing to invest in people who are designed oriented. IBM for example is revamping its culture and people to become the world’s largest and most sophisticated design company as a Quartz article notes. “In 2012, IBM, the 105-year old information technology company, set out a bold vision: to flood its ranks with hundreds of designers and train its entire workforce – some 377,000 employees worldwide – to think, work, and feel like designers,” says Anne Quito, writer for Quartz.

Why are designers becoming ideal candidates for the tech industry? As Phil Gilbert, general manager of design for IBM software, says, “Designers bring this intuitive sense for what it [the assignment] means. They understand the power of delivering a great experience and how to treat a user as if they were guests in their own home.”

“Design is everyone’s job. Not everyone is a designer, but everybody has to have the user as their north star,” Phil Gilbert

With the focus shifted away from the “features-first” to “user first” mentality, IBM is targeting their efforts to create a team that can make emotional connections. In other words, IBM is making empathy the basis of their products and services. They highlight the Loop, a symbol of infinity, in which their methods are grounded in understanding the present in order to envision a possible future.

Image courtesy of IBM

Among this new initiative and embracing of those deemed the “creatives” are those in the design researcher field. Design researchers are individuals who are formally trained ethnographers that study how solutions and initiatives are working in the real world. “The design researcher has been the most disruptive of all the design disciplines we’ve brought in – and by far the most transformative,” Gilbert says.

While TechCrunch’s data is only from a small source, we can’t rule out that many of the consumer startups are known for their focus on design. And we know design thinking, with its core in empathy, cannot be automated. Is this why big tech companies are diving head first into design, finding new light in building human focused technology and systems?


Originally written for The New School TechTalk

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