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Do designers rule Silicon Valley? Ask Yahoo's Marissa Mayer

July 08, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer
Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer (Mario Tama / Getty Images…)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Yahoo's Marissa Mayer just landed some plum talent from Silicon Valley's design guru: Apple.

"I'm happy to join Yahoo! today as Principal Designer. Marissa Ann Louie + Marissa Ann Mayer = Yahoo! — at Yahoo! HQ,” former Apple designer Marissa Louie wrote in a Facebook post.

Louie has an impressive track record as a designer at Apple, Ness and elsewhere. Her jump to Yahoo signals the dramatic rise of the designer in Silicon Valley. (Think Jony Ive.)

Inspired by Apple, designers -- not engineers -- are the ones with the all-important job of making technology smart, simple to use and elegant. And as such, they are a very valuable commodity these days. They are constantly headhunted by giant companies and start-ups alike, with high salaries and stock options dangled like Roman Empire-era grapes.

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Steve Jobs famously said: "Design isn't just what it looks and feels like, it's how it works."

The idea, say Mike Abbott and Megan Quinn, is to create products that are "magical" and "just work."

"If you've ever seen a 2-year-old swipe through an iPad on first meeting, you're seeing the product of truly great design," Abbott, a general partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Quinn, a partner at KPCB and a former director of product at Square, wrote recently in USA Today.

You don't have to look far in Silicon Valley to find ample evidence that it has become a designer's Mecca.

Gentry Underwood, who hailed from design firm IDEO, sold his company Mailbox to Dropbox for $100 million just months after launching the product to the public.

Square co-founder and Chief Executive Jack Dorsey takes his staffers on walks to admire the Golden Gate Bridge and other architectural landmarks that fuse form and function.

The two co-founders of AirBNB met at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Facebook has shelled out millions of dollars to buy up design talent such as New York’s Hot Studio.

Under Larry Page, design is going through a renaissance at Google. Google executives talk up design the way they used to talk up algorithms.

Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger, Twitter and now Medium, an online publishing platform, says design has risen to the top of everyone's lists in Silicon Valley.

"We're trying to solve design problems. You have to compete for designers that are now a necessity rather than a nice-to-have," Williams said at a GigaOm conference on design.

No one is known as more of a perfectionist when it comes to design than Mayer, who is pushing Yahoo to dazzle consumers and win them back in the smartphone era. With limited screen space, designers are in great demand to create the kinds of experiences that keep consumers coming back.

"There is an old tech-industry adage that more engineers solve all problems. This is because historically engineers have been the Sherpas of innovation in Silicon Valley, carrying the weight of code, servers and ultimately Moore's Law on their backs to deliver new products to customers at a rapid pace. But over the past three years, there has been a fundamental shift in the tech industry's approach to product development," Abbott and Quinn wrote.

"The focus for creating great products has moved from engineering to design -- from code to pixels. The disciplines of design -- customer experience, interaction and visual design -- have emerged as competitive differentiators, fueling a new wave of design-focused startups and leaving incumbents scrambling to bring design DNA in-house."

ALSO:

Apple designer Jonathan Ive enters new era

Dropbox buys maker of popular email improvement app Mailbox

How I made it: Marissa Mayer, Google's champion of innovation and design

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