Why do we have a shortage of designers?

@theory143 pointed out an interesting post on Quora titled “Why is there such a stunningly short supply of designers in Silicon Valley right now? The article summary is below.

  1. Design talent is valued more now than it was 5-10 years ago, especially the interaction and user experience design specializations.
  2. Engineering has increased in agility, creating an upturn in the quantity of products requiring design talent.
  3. Design is hard, and the expectations of designers now are much higher than they were in years past.
  4. Design education is lacking in its ability to put out designers of quality that can meet the demands of our current industry.
  5. Downturns in the 2000s left a shortage of mid-career designers.

I don’t disagree with the points above, but I think there are some more forces at work that aren’t mentioned.

Design talent is valued more now
Engineering has increased in agility

I believe that the availability of Web frameworks (e.g. Rails) and lightweight development practices (e.g. Scrum) have made application development easier, and brought interface design into the forefront of product creation. When a developer sits down to make a product now, more of the effort, earlier in the process, is focused on the user experience. The development of mobile products is very UI intensive also. This has increased both the awareness of the need for design, as well as the desire for more people on the team to have competency in design.

Design is hard
Design education is lacking

The creation of digital products is a cross-disciplinary activity that involves groups of people. A successful interaction designer has deep skills in some areas and a general understanding of the entire process. Interaction design is a profession that requires good people skills and facilitation experience. It’s difficult to gain this sort of breadth without the experience that comes over time, working on a variety of projects.

People who focus on the craft of interaction design as a career require time and practice to develop mastery of the techniques. This process can be improved by regular exposure to more experienced practitioners who can provide advice and support.

Downturns in the 2000s left a shortage of mid-career designers.

This may be true, but there’s also an over-emphasis on having the right job titles to be considered appropriate for the job. Many potential interaction designers are currently working as product managers and front end Web developers.

I’ve also observed that the way we hire and place designers isn’t a good fit for the work we want done. It’s a complex skill set, and not all designers have the same strengths. Many hiring managers and HR departments don’t have the first-hand experience with these roles to recruit, screen, place and manage the right people.

Sometimes, the way design jobs are structured aren’t attractive to senior designers. When interaction design work is broken into research, construction and usability, it’s more difficult to have an impact on the product because each individuals’ work is structured as a series of handoffs, rather than as an overall objective for a collaborative team.

Some of my most skilled IxD colleagues have accepted positions as product managers, to have more of impact on the whole product, having felt marginalized by the design related roles available on the team.