The past, present, and future of design in Silicon Valley

The past, present, and future of design in Silicon Valley

The following is an excerpt from The Way to Design, a guide to becoming a designer founder and to building design-centric businesses. Adapted and reprinted with the author’s permission.

Until very recently, success in Silicon Valley required focusing almost single-mindedly on an organization’s technical prowess. It meant having an unimpeachable technical founder, 10X engineers, a relentless devotion to computing dominance. Expending valuable time on anything else — particularly design — was evidence of distraction from the real work of the company.

But things have changed dramatically in just a few short years, and increasingly, design has become as indispensable as technology. Three things are responsible for this remarkable shift. First, whether you’re working on hardware or hosted software, the underlying technology to prototype, produce, and launch products has only become better, cheaper, and faster over the last 25 years. Free and easy-to-use CAD software, 3D printing, and crowdfunding have made it easier and faster than ever to design, sell, and ship.

Where once engineers used to rely on raw programming languages to create software; today, they build from open-source libraries and preexisting technology platforms. In the consumer internet world in particular, the marginal cost of software is zero—and design is now the differentiator.