Nike, Apple, Target, Herman Miller–top companies in large part because of their emphasis on design. Quoted in a recent FastCompany article, Fahrenheit 212’s Mark Payne offers, “Design is differentiation made visible, visceral, and experiential. Creativity and innovation are emerging as disciplines because we have no other choice.” This comes as no surprise to those who’ve read Dan Pink’s fantastic little book A Whole New Mind. Pink suggests that while the past belonged to left-brained engineers, doctors, and scientists, the future will belong to those who marry technical ability with qualities generally attributed to artists: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Sounds very much like a Steve Jobs. Even the folks at Harvard Business Review are advocating muses to inspire creativity and innovation.

The trend is clear: design can be one factor that separates you from your competitor (or, conversely, that will separate your competitor from you.)