Do you know about Linux? From its inception, it’s been pretty great code-wise. But it took forever to get much of a market share as a desktop OS, despite being free and awfully stable. Why? It’s not the “first mover advantage” Microsoft had, which more often than not isn’t important–we know this because Apple, with its fabulous design, got a pretty decent market share.
The problem was that Linux was very much a nerd OS for ages. And what made it a nerd OS was the fact that you had to know what you were doing, because the UI wasn’t very good even if the command line was. More people are using Linux as a desktop OS these days, because the UI design has gotten better. Unfortunately, making it better took long enough that Windows has a huge lead in what applications it can run, so Linux still has to catch up with that.
That’s how important design is. You can have a superior product, but if it isn’t easy to use and doesn’t look nice, no one will want it anyway. Design is only a “luxury role” in companies that don’t recognize this. And if they fire the designer because they’re making less money, that’s another nail in their coffin–you want to get into a different job ASAP anyway.