TL;DR - John Maeda said design wasn't that important in business after spending years advocating for design-led outcomes. I've added a response by Mike Monteiro , another prominent voice in the design community and the co-founder of Mule Design.
The Original References
I've included Mike's response because it's fairly close to my own. In recent years he's had some promising discourse on elevating the state of design instead of shrinking responsibilities back toward the traditional origins in graphic design.
To me, Maeda has been a contributor to developing aesthetic foundations into design and he's now realizing that a narrow view through that lens isn't a great way to run companies.
While design still gets a bad reputation from the uninitiated to just make things pretty, that's more a failure to set the expectations of a fully realized designer, which I believe is to solve complex problems and improve society. We need to continue becoming the Rams of tomorrow, rather than the Rands of yesterday.
Generalist designers with engineering competencies is what the model should be for the real problems we're tackling today and in the future with regard to technology.
We've failed to create that industry in education and it's one of the main reasons I left formal schooling to pursue my own path - it's difficult trying to cobble together a computer science, business, and studio art degree without being in school a thousand years, spending a fortune, and losing career development for the privilege.
Ultimately, design should be at the helm, balancing concerns between business, engineering, and user advocacy. This is where the role of Product Manager is evolving and design should pay attention or be left with scraps.
I'm not interested in the narrative around "Lol, I guess we're just pretty-makers, let's step back" - it both denies the world of the curators and arbiters designers should become and ultimately the outcomes we need to achieve in business and society.
Cover image: John Maeda speaking at DesignInTech 2019. [Photo: Hutton Supancic/Getty Images/SXSW] via Fast Company