Sorts of design knowledge

Sorts of design knowledge

Design is indispensable in a rapidly changing world where clients need to catch up, keep up, and move up. 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. One may distinguish seven sorts of knowledge for design and their interrelationships (see figure):

  • Strategy: the plan to accomplish design goals.
  • Structure: the way that design is organized.
  • Systems: processes and procedures of design.
  • Style: the way designers approach design.
  • Specialisms: fields of specialization of designers.
  • Skills: talents and abilities of designers.
  • Shared values: accepted values, norms, and standards for designing.
Sorts of design knowledge
Framework for sorts of design knowledge

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.

In practice, the sorts Systems and Style may be hard to distinguish. For instance, a design team is likely to define style in terms of the processes and procedures the team members have agreed to follow. In such cases, you may conveniently combine the sorts Systems and Style into one sort, System.


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

  • Multiple sorts of knowledge are of interest for design.
  • These sorts of knowledge are mutually related and interdependent.
  • For design, it may be necessary to develop different sorts of knowledge at the same time.