I’ve heard this notion from both business people and the technically inclined. Hell, the term “starving artist” exists for a reason. But let’s face it, the web would be a very dull place if it weren’t for designers. Graphic and web designers are the ones who decided the web shouldn’t look like this anymore. And thank god for them. Your engineers can build the product. Your business people can sell the product. But you need the artistic ones to design the product.
You can’t do it by yourself
Seriously, you can’t. Sure, you’ve got someone on the finances, and you’ve established a team of people with the technical know-how. But remember: your customers won’t be willing to work in a terminal window or on a website built with <table> tags. You need designers on your team too. If your product doesn’t look beautiful, your users will bail in under ten seconds. They say not to judge a book by its cover. I’m telling you that everyone will judge your product at first glance.
You won’t be able to learn these skills on your own. Yes, you can take some time to do research to find out what people like. And you’ll probably be right about a lot of the decisions you make from your research. But cookie-cutter templates won’t pass. It takes a special skill to brand a product and to build that brand into an attractive aesthetic. Graphic designers posses that skill.
Never go into a grocery store with a group of graphic designers
Ok, do it once, just so you can see what I’m talking about. You’ll go into the store expecting to pick up just three items. The trip should take all of ten minutes. Instead, it’s going to take 45 minutes and you will leave the store with 15 items. The thing about people with an art background, specifically in graphic design, is that they notice things that most people don’t. If you accidentally wander down the home/laundry aisle, you won’t make it out without hearing about the kerning on Tide’s new logo or the barely noticeable starburst behind the emblem.
But none of this is a bad thing. Just because you don’t notice these things, doesn’t mean they don’t impact you. You probably purchase many products based on how they look–event the little details–without realizing it. That’s ok, it’s not your job to realize it. It’s the designers’ job to realize it. And they are very good at it. Graphic designers know what people like, even when people don’t know what they like. And this will apply to your piece of technology as well. No one is going to use, let alone buy, something that looks like crap. Craig got lucky; you won’t.
Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave
Whether you’re building something new yourself or you are employed by others, you’ve got a lot of work to do. You might as well make it look good. Get to know some designers. I know a few. Talk to them. You’ll learn a lot.