I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "of course this guy thinks design is important; it's central to his job". Yeah, well... you have a point, but hear me out for a minute.
Investing in design for your brand or product is the most important thing you can do. No one likes to judge a book by it's cover, but let's not ignore the fact that we are human. The moment you lay eyes upon a product, you are instantly evaluating. It's how our brains are wired. We are judgemental creatures whether we like it or not, even if society has taught us to think otherwise.
The first impression is the strongest impression you can make. If you've botched the first impression, then you have some serious work to do to catch up. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. Ruining the first impression with a user is like showing up to a blind date, but forgetting to put on pants. Good luck recovering from that one.
However, the biggest reason design is so critical is because of the importance of brand and identity. In the broadest sense, every single company on this planet is striving for the exact same thing. It doesn't matter if you are a soda manufacturer, an online service that delivers food, or a social network. You need brand recognition. Without it, your company has no future. There's a reason that Pepsi spent a fat million and Accenture an even fatter $100 million on brand identity. Determine your niche market and attack it with unparalleled ferocity.
My previous job was with Twitpic, and it's actually quite an interesting case study. The idea behind the site is incredibly simple. It was created to share photos on Twitter. It was the first site to ever offer such a thing, and it exploded with popularity. I've now lost track of the number of competitiors it has. The biggest strength it had as a serivce, however, was brand identity. In fact, Twitpic reached the holy grail of identity, which I am going to call "genericism". You can also call it "verbism", if you'd like. The Twitpic brand had become so strong that people were saying such preposterous things as, "I'm going to Twitpic this ham sandwich". Even after numberous competitors had launched, first time users were still visiting Twitpic to post photos because it was a name they recognized, and recognition often equates to trust. Other notable brands to follow this trend are Kleenex and Coke.
The bottom line is, while you're working hard at building your Awesome New Product™, don't forget to put your pants on before heading out the door. You'll thank yourself later.
Posted February 19, 2013