Determinants of design performance

Sorts of design knowledge

Design is indispensable in a rapidly changing world where an organisation needs to innovate, create value, and adapt. This post describes seven sorts of design knowledge that determine design performance.

Seven sorts of design knowledge

Designers continually develop knowledge, together with customers, commissioners, users, fellow designers, partners, and other stakeholders. They acquire, generate, and transform knowledge of different sorts. The following figure shows seven sorts of knowledge for design and their interrelationships:

Sorts of design performance

Strategy. The plan to accomplish design goals.
Structure. Tasks, responsibilities, and powers of designers.
Systems. Processes and procedures of design.
Style. The way designers approach design.
Specialisms. Specializations of designers.
Skills. Talents and abilities of designers.
Shared values. Accepted values, norms, and standards for designing.

These seven sorts almost fully correspond with the seven internal factors in the McKinsey 7S Model. Other points of departure are conceivable. But the McKinsey 7S Model turns out to be well applicable in practice. Furthermore, it is known among many managers. For a brief introduction to this model, see for instance Strategic Management Insight or Investopedia.


Together, the seven sorts form a framework. It provides a structure for analysing a design practice and advising on the development of knowledge for design. On the basis of this framework, the following conclusions can be drawn:

For designing, multiple sorts of knowledge are of interest.

These sorts of knowledge are mutually related and interdependent.

To drive design, it may be necessary to develop different sorts of knowledge at the same time.