Here’s a prediction for 2013: just as software is eating the world, I believe designers are eating (some) engineers. Here’s why:
Web design is maturing
Engineering is getting easier
You no longer need a CS degree to build reasonably scalable web-applications. This wasn’t possible a few years ago, but B2D companies like Heroku, MongoHQ, Stripe, and Firebase have made it possible to outsource big chunks of your infrastructure. In the meantime, fierce competition in the open-source community has led to an explosion of reusable components and guides for beginners that make it easier than ever to learn to build industrial-strength products.
This has given designers the ability to build products that only a traditional programmer could have made in the past.
Delighting users is getting harder
If anyone can build a product, then anyone will. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of web applications built each year is exponentially increasing. This leads users to expect a higher level of polish, which makes it harder than ever to build something that stands out. This is the designer’s specialty - crafting delightful experiences. Being able to do this requires more than just visual design, and designers who understand the native capabilities of the tools they work in (web browsers) have an advantage over those who don’t.
The maturation of web design, simplification of engineering, and sophistication of users’ tastes has created an environment where designers are strongly incentivized to not just learn the basics of HTML and CSS but become full-fledged front-end engineers. It’s not hard to go from there to coding entire apps on your own and moving into the back-end.
It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out. I don’t think designers are going to replace most engineers, but I do think the distinction between designer and front-end developer may increasingly become a thing of the past.
Only time will tell.