In Silicon Valley, designers emerge as rock stars

Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:36pm EDT
 
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By Gerry Shih

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Five years ago, Justin Edmund arrived at Carnegie Mellon University, a floppy-haired freshman, with artistic talent and dreams of joining a venerable design firm like IDEO or Frog. But during his sophomore year, a recruiting pitch from a Facebook employee turned his head, and prompted a detour of his ambitions.

"It didn't even occur to me that working at a tech company was something I could do," Edmund said. "I switched my trajectory completely."

So, in 2010, Edmund interned on Facebook's burgeoning design team, and, after graduation, landed a job at Pinterest. There, at just 21, he has played a central role in building the virtual scrap-booking site into one of the hottest startups on the Internet.

Edmund isn't alone. Inspired by the legacy of Steve Jobs and lured by the promise of the current tech boom, young designers are flocking to Silicon Valley, where they're shaking up a scene long dominated by engineers and programmers.

The new breed of "user experience" designers - part sketch artist, part programmer, with a dash of behavioral scientist thrown in - are some of the most sought-after employees in technology. Entry-level interactive designers at startups are commanding salaries easily topping $80,000, almost twice the median pay for primarily print designers of about $45,000, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

IN-HOUSE TALENT

Top venture capital firms, from Google Ventures to Andreessen Horowitz, are hiring in-house designers to help the young startups in their portfolios. One angel investor has even established a Designer Fund to identify startups driven by design talent.

To feed demand, new digital design programs have sprouted over the past two years, at both elite engineering universities such as Stanford, and art schools like the California College of the Arts. The School of Visual Arts in New York has seen applications for its digital design program soar by 43 percent since its inception in 2009.   Continued...

 
Facebook design chief Kate Aronowitz poses for a photograph at her desk at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith