There's only one solution to a dearth of designers: It's time to make more.
Silicon Valley used to fight over the best coders, since early startups innovated through engineering. But as user experience becomes an obsession, recruitment priorities have shifted: "Demand for strong designers is rapidly emerging," says Michael Abbott, a partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "It's such a small pool, so it feels like a more difficult hire than engineers." That's why Kleiner Perkins is digging deep, recruiting designers before they're even out of school. Its three-month fellowship (whose first installment wrapped in August) pairs students with Valley startups. The angel firm Designer Fund has also begun a residency, Bridge, which matches experienced designers with startups.
It's not that headhunters want young creatives in particular; it's just that the high-profile ones are already snatched up. Facebook kicked off the talent war in 2011 when Mark Zuckerberg personally wooed Nicholas Felton, a design-world celebrity known for his annual infographics about his personal life. Felton went on to create Facebook's Timeline. Soon Square snagged data visualization guru Mike Bostock. Etsy recruited Khoi Vinh. Google brought in Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas. Consulting firms such as Accenture began straight-up acquiring design firms like Fjord.
"My perception was the reverse [back in 2011], in that I thought designers left Silicon Valley with a halo on them," says Felton. But the Valley is the one chasing the halo—a big incentive for design-minded youth.
Every year the world is imagined anew as studios and students show off concept designs—prototypes of solutions to complex problems. With its myriad challenges, transportation is a favorite target. Here, three of the latest.
by Frog Design
What it is: An all-in-one subway-guide bracelet that directs you to nearby stations, acts as your pass, and tracks train status.
What it means: "Wearables are emerging as a powerful type of mobile computing. Relay closes all the small gaps in user experience that are left open by the subway system's complexity."
—Mark Rolston, chief creative officer, Frog Design
by Skyrill and Marin Myftiu
What it is: A collapsible electric bike with convenient features built in.
What it means: "The idea is not to make the nCycle look less like a bike; it's about making the bicycle look different, smoother, less complicated, and easier to use."
—Hussain Almossawi, cofounder, Skyrill
3. VOLVO POP-OUT SOLAR CHARGER
by Fabric Images, Synthesis Design + Architecture, and Buro Happold
What it is: A solar panel that unfolds from the trunk and charges a parked electric car.
What it means: "This charger is a new version of freedom. It's the idea that you can set off and don't have to think about how much it will cost or even where you're going."
—Jason Gillette, industrial strategist and designer, Fabric Images
COLOR OF THE YEAR*:
*According to expert color forecasters at Pantone.
Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos spice up fast-food collaborations.
The HTC First phone comes preinstalled with Facebook Home—to almost nobody’s delight.
CAR OF THE YEAR:
BMW i3: Lightweight carbon-fiber body for a mass-market vehicle
BOOK COVER OF THE YEAR:
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli; Design: Peter Mendelsund
- 2004: "Ambitions Rise in the East, Project Runway vs. The Industry"
- 2005: "Rethink Dinner, A Better Drug Bottle, Inside a Designers Mind"
- 2006: "PG&G Best-Kept Secret, Man with the Golden Touch"
- 2007: "Know your Type, The iPhone... Stinks?," "The iTunes Effect, Can Design Change the World?"
- 2008: "All Politics is Visual," "Nature as a Teacher," "The Rise of Designer Founders"
- 2009: "Track and Fields," "The Crowd Takes Over," "Don Draper Hits the Mall"
- 2010: "Hands Off that Logo!," "Innovation's Perfect Storm," "Close your Eyes, See Everything"
- 2011: "Why People Love an Infographic," "A Long-Awaited Vision, Reviewed by All," "When Design is Also Art"
- 2012: "London Plays for Keeps," "Instagram, Pinterest, and the Next Big Thing"
- 2013: "Talent War, Young Guns," "The Future of Transit?"
[Photos by Michael Greenberg; illustration by James Taylor]
A version of this article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.