Yes, this is a post about Mozilla, but you can generalize to any open-source software project. At every conference I hear the same refrain, "Why is design so hard in open source?" It's so hard because drumroll please it's not made a priority. None of the top decision-makers are designers. Period. The End. You can stop reading.
Without someone in the c-level or steering committee with a design background to speak on users' behalf, Mozilla is missing out. Engineers and business people see entirely different challenges. Without all sides (technical needs, business needs, user needs), we have a giant blind spot.
If everyone jumped off the bridge, would you do it too? It's true, there aren't many tech companies, especially open-source ones that have a design representative at the executive level. Google, Microsoft, Opera, Facebook, Intel, Amazon and even Adobe lack it. There are some surprising companies that do. Oracle has a Chief Evangelist of User Experience. Flipboard has a Head of Design. Nokia and Yahoo have a Senior VP of Design. You might've heard of the most notable SVP of Design, Johnny Ive of Apple. You'll note titles of this position haven't settled down, not surprising given the short time the discipline has been around.
There's an opportunity for Mozilla to be the first big open-source tech company to deeply bake design DNA into the process. Gary (CEO) has been exalting us to to produce a kick-ass product. UX and UR are a source of innovation. Further, prioritizing around user needs is essential to making an excellent product.
One bit I didn't expect in my survey was that the Chief of Design is a well-established role in car companies. Tesla, BMW, Volvo... they all have one. It's curious to me because car manufacturers are entrenched in technical, mechanical requirements as well. Seems as though they've figured out that it takes more than the feature list and specifications to sell cars to people.
===== UPDATE 12/6/2012 =====
It's the end of the year. Time for a progress report. Just a few months after I wrote this we reorganized user experience designers and researchers into their own functional team. I was immensely happy for one of our own, Jinghua Zhang, to be promoted as Director of User Experience. In our org chart, that makes her a level 5. VP and C-levels are as high as it goes at level 6. I'm very proud to see Mozilla's progress this year. Onward!