This piece by Mills Baker, Designer Duds: Losing Our Seats at the Table, hits a few nails on the head when it comes to the rise of design in the tech industry. He critiques 3 apps developed in settings that are notionally “obsessed” with design – Dropbox’s Carousel, Facebook’s Paper and Biz Stone’s Jelly – that are performing poorly in the App Store. Path, too, gets a repeated pebble-dashing for wilfully ignoring actual user problems in favour of imagined ones: “the problems with Facebook do not actually have to do with how pretty it is.”
Most of what he says is spot on. The pernicious, tedious rise of design that is decorative and shallow above all other considerations, that doesn’t bother with the heavy lifting of solving problems for people: this is stuff that needs robust criticism.
On the other hand, to lay all responsibility for business failures at the feet of the designers involved is kinda nuts. There are so many other areas where things can go wrong in projects of this scale, and when it comes to App Store success, you ignore the role of dumb luck at your peril.
If the project is ill-conceived in the first place (as certainly seems to be the case with Carousel) then the primary role of the designer should be to say “that’s a really stupid idea” at a very early stage. Watch Mike Monteiro’s brilliant polemic, How Designers Destroyed The World, for more on this.
Update: Goran Peuc questions Baker’s central premise in The Real Problem Behind ‘Designer Duds’