The role of design in technology-driven companies

The majority of today's hottest start-ups are led by developers. They all create great solutions that we all love. But I'm amazed of how many of them barely use any designers. How designers are still seen as those that embellish the final product. Then you have the old software companies. With a massive workforce of developers creating software, their waterfall processes and roadmaps to future success. A success that some struggle to find as cash flow problems arise, more investment is required and those who lend the money only look for for instant gratification in the shape of great financial numbers quarter after quarter. A fiscal period goes wrong and a number of developers are quickly fired to make the numbers work again.

The issue

Those companies normally base their business purely on technical achievements. They put together a list of requirements that clients ask for, or competitors are offering, and throw them to a bunch of developers leaded by project managers and technical architects. More often than not, developers have to rush to deliver in time, which leads to bad written software, reduced scopes (decided on the fly) and products that are many things but exciting. Yes, these companies are short-sighted. And they are not alone in the market. Other companies are doing the same. Maybe with more developers, more skilled workforce, better processes, etc. Sooner or later financial problems will arise, as your product will be indistinguishable from the competition.

You need to find a competitive advantage

Some think that what's needed at that time is more investment. More and better developers. I think that's the last thing you should do, as you are only doing your problem worse. What you really need is to build something better. Something that makes you truly different, pushes ahead of your competition. And how do you normally do this? Designing your products. One of my colleagues at KIT digital used this metaphor one day:
If we were building cars, one purely created by engineers would have a great engine and all the imaginable extras, but it will unpleasant to drive and probably quite ugly. A car created by designers will be beautiful and a joy to drive, at least if it existed, because it will never go pass the prototype phase. But a combination of engineers and designers working together could create the smoothest, more comfortable and desirable car ever built.
Same happens with software products. Developers create the real product, but the designers' role is key to create products and services people want to buy and use. Design (and UX) can't be only responsibility of the design department. Can't be lead by marketing (one of the biggest mistakes companies do, but that will need another post). Needs to be core to a organisation, as everybody from executives to customer services shape the experience your customers receive.