We are all told to never judge a book by its cover, but let's face it, when we find ourselves at an ugly website, we automatically make assumptions about the quality of the services that site provides. A topic we have begun to cover more often, and one that we strongly believe in, is the importance of design for startups. In the last several weeks we've provided tips and best practices for sign-up buttons and registration processes, as well as an inside look into at Boxee's user experience overhaul.

According to Silicon Valley angel investor Dave McClure, design needs to be one of the top priorities for Internet startups, not an afterthought. These days, as McClure explains in a recent BusinessWeek.com article, the technical expertise it takes to engineer a basic back-end framework is at a much more accessible level than it was in years past, which means payroll dollars can be better spent on masterful designers.

"It's actually pretty easy to write a Web-friendly app or Web site these days," writes McClure. "But it's still incredibly difficult to create visually appealing interfaces and, beyond that, to design them in ways that are compelling and engaging, drive calls to action, and are measurably adept at getting more customers to use your products."

While coding languages can be learned through study and practice, having an eye for design is more of an innate talent. This isn't to say that there aren't people out there who are code masters and were probably born to practice their craft, or that solid engineering isn't critical to the success of a startup, but design is a more artistic and creative talent that you either have or you don't.

More importantly, the design of your product is what your users will interact with directly on a day-to-day basis. Opinions will be formed, rightly or wrongly, within seconds of laying eyes on your site and before they even have a chance to put your code to use. So before you go hiring a crack team of code monkeys, make sure to reserve some roster slots for design all-stars.

Photo by Flickr user zaphodsotherhead.