Are you looking for how to strengthen the power of design? This handbook for design leaders explains our approach. We regularly update the content of this handbook.

E-mail us if you have any questions, remarks, or suggestions.

Handbook: Design Impulse.

Phases and steps

With our approach, you go through three sequential phases:

  1. Preparation
  2. Execution
  3. Completion


In the preparation phase, you focus on your ambition:

  1. Analyse the current situation of your design activity.
  2. State your ambition to strengthen the power of design.
  3. Estimate whether your ambition can be fulfilled.


Analyse the current situation of your design activity:

  1. Describe the organization of your design activity.
    • Design (the extent to which there is a plan)
    • Existence (the extent to which the plan is in execution)
    • Operation (the extent to which execution is according to the plan)
  2. Analyse environmental factors for your design activity.
    • Macro-environmental factors (according to a PESTEL analysis)
      • Political factors
      • Economic factors
      • Social factors
      • Technological factors
      • Environmental factors
      • Legal factors
    • Meso-environmental factors (according to a five-forces analysis)
      • The threat of new entrants
      • The threat of substitutes
      • The bargaining power of customers
      • The bargaining power of suppliers
      • Competitive rivalry
    • Micro-environmental factors (according to a SWOT analysis)
      • Strengths (i.e., characteristics that entail an advantage)
      • Weaknesses (i.e., characteristics that entail a disadvantage)
      • Opportunities (i.e., elements in the environment that could entail an advantage)
      • Threats (i.e., elements in the environment that could entail a disadvantage)
  3. Indicate your motivation to strengthen the power of design.
    • Intent to increase organizational success
      • Turnover
      • Return
      • Growth
    • Intent to increase creativity
      • Innovation
      • Adaptation
      • Transformation
    • Intent to develop your design activity
      • Build
      • Differentiate
      • Scale


State your ambition to strengthen the power of design:

  1. Define indicators for the power of design that measure the fulfilment of your ambition.
    • Value
      • Worth for society
      • Worth for the natural environment
      • Economic worth
    • Impact
      • Leads
      • Customers
      • Ambassadors
    • Performance
      • Scope
      • Quality
      • Benefit (for your client, business, or organization)
        • Revenues
        • Return
        • Performance
      • Time
      • Cost
      • Risk
  2. Determine a target value range for each indicator.
    • Minimum
    • Optimum
    • Maximum
  3. Measure or estimate the current value for each indicator.


Estimate whether your ambition can be fulfilled:

  1. Assess any earlier initiatives to fulfil your ambition.
  2. Check the availability of required resources for your new initiative.
    • Personnel
    • Documentation
    • Data points
  3. Analyse whether your ambition is worth pursuing.
    • Desirable
    • Feasible
    • Viable


In the execution phase, you focus on critical capabilities:

  1. Vision:
    • Identify critical capabilities
    • Compare critical capabilities
  2. Valuation:
    • Appraise critical capabilities
  3. Transition:
    • Build critical capabilities
    • Differentiate critical capabilities
    • Scale critical capabilities


Using the service quality gap model, identify critical capabilities valuable for your design activity to fulfil your ambition.

Handbook 1
  • Capabilities to communicate with involved parties
    • Commissioners
    • Customers
    • Users
    • Subject matter experts
    • Contractors
    • Managers
    • Etc.
  • Capabilities to coordinate goals
    • Objectives to achieve
    • Policies to follow
    • Values to fulfil
  • Capabilities to co-produce products
    • Immovable goods
    • Movable goods
    • Services
  • Capabilities to create things
    • Market research results
      • Questions
      • Plans
      • Outcomes
        • Data
        • Findings
        • Conclusions
    • Value propositions
      • Customer profiles
        • Customer jobs
        • Customer gains
        • Customer pains
      • Value promises
        • Products
        • Gain creators
        • Pain relievers
      • Matches
        • Values
        • Interests
        • Desires
      • Designs
        • Problems
          • Frames
          • Expectations
          • Requirements
        • Concepts
          • Structures
          • Behaviours
          • Functional specifications
        • Solutions
          • Structures
          • Behaviours
          • Realization specifications

If necessary, you can further analyse capabilities using a model of purposeful action developed by Donald Norman (2002); see the figure below.

Handbook 2

Characterize each critical capability as follows:

  • Knowledge (if explicit)
    • Research (if self-generated)
    • Education (if generated by others)
  • Experience (if implicit)
    • Practice (if self-generated)
    • Observation (if generated by others)
  • Intuition (if tacit)
    • Instinct (if self-generated)
    • Habituation (if generated by others)


Rank critical capabilities on their value for each of the following organizational aspects.

  • Reputation
  • Organization strategy
  • Stakeholder needs
  • Technology
  • Ethical conduct
  • Regulatory


Assess each critical capability on the presence of competency in your design capacity.

  • No presence
  • Single presence
  • Multiple presence
  • Full presence


Introduce critical capabilities that are not present in your design capacity.

  • Theorize (in case of research)
  • Study (in case of education)
  • Experiment [with] (in case of practice)
  • Watch (in case of observation)
  • Recruit (in case of instinct)
  • Feel (in case of habituation)

Anchor these capabilities in your organization design (in line with the McKinsey 7S framework).

  • Strategy
  • Structure
  • System
  • Specialisms
  • Skills
  • Shared values


Using SCAMPER, refine and/or integrate critical capabilities that are present in your design capacity but not rare or not inimitable in your design market.

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adjust
  • Modify
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse


Multiply each critical capability that is rare and inimitable in your design market but not fully present in your design capacity.

  • Formulate and share rules (if explicit)
  • Parametrise and share cases (if implicit)
  • Demonstrate and share behaviours (if tacit)

Consult Shadbolt & Smart (2015) for knowledge capture methods, techniques, and tools.


In the completion phase, you evaluate advances in fulfilling your ambition:

  1. Conclude the outcomes.
  2. Prepare recommendations on the next steps.
  3. Report the main results of fulfilling your ambition.

Concept solutions

Below, you will find a few concept solutions for fulfilling your ambition. They originate from scientific and professional literature and practical experience. From time to time, we will update this non-exhaustive overview.

More value


Define a portfolio strategy, identify gaps and unmet or latent needs, and define segments for customers and users. — McKinsey Design

Combine scale with agility. — David Butler & Linda Tischler


Represent design at the top level of the organization, improve employee experience with design, and spread design practices. — McKinsey Design

Describe design work in terms of business goals, collect evidence of design results, and communicate the business value of design. — BoagWorld


Explore user experiences, discover user motives, and define user requirements. — Interaction Design Foundation

Larger impact


Build up your reputation, spot talent through your network, and establish a flexible talent pipeline. — Workable


Form a cross-disciplinary team, further knowledge integration, and implement decision-making through consensus. — Purdue University

Translate the corporate vision into tangible goals, center the customer, foster collaboration, and uphold operational excellence—all while expanding creative limits. — Aquent

Better performance


Define quantified metrics, build a holistic metrics system, and define supporting operational metrics. — McKinsey Design

Set goals, determine ground rules, and provide facilities to acquire, create, and share knowledge. — UNStudio

Turbocharge processes, speed up internal feedback loops, and improve handoffs. — Invision Inside Design


Demonstrate desired behaviours, provide motivators, and recognize and acknowledge displayed behaviours. — PositivePsychology

Recognize and remove overly complex content, organize knowledge, and filter content. — UX Collective

Background information

ICA/RUS loosely follows McKinsey’s capabilities strategy for successful product development (2017). See definitions for an explanation of the terms used in this handbook. Below are links to publications of supporting expertise and background knowledge.