Sorts of design knowledge

In a rapidly changing world, an organisation has to innovate, create value, and adapt. To this end, design is indispensable. And design is all about knowledge. In this post, I distinguish seven sorts of design knowledge.

Seven sorts

Designers continually create, share, and use knowledge. They do this together with customers, commissioners, users, fellow designers, partners, and other stakeholders. The following figure shows different sorts of design knowledge:

Seven organisational competences
  • Strategy. What is the plan of designers to accomplish design goals?
  • Structure. How is design managed and what are the responsibilities of designers?
  • Systems. What are the processes and procedures of design? (These form the basis of daily activities that designers execute and indicate how they make design decisions.)
  • Style. What is the example that leaders give and how do they approach design?
  • Specialisms. What are the specialisms of designers and their management?
  • Skills. What are the talents and capabilities of designers and their management?
  • Shared values. What are the accepted values, norms, and standards for designers and their management?

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 of design knowledge form a framework. It provides a structure for analysing a design practice and advising how to streamline the production of design knowledge. Using this framework leads to better decisions and a larger chance of achieving the desired result.

On the basis of this framework, I draw three conclusions:

  • For designing, multiple sorts of knowledge are of interest.
  • These sorts of knowledge are mutually related and interdependent.
  • It may be necessary to streamline the production of multiple sorts of knowledge simultaneously.

Posted by Pieter van Langen