Few problems fall solely into one design discipline’s skillset. The lines between them are blurry. For example, even a basic user interface problem has elements of communication design and experience design. Most designers are comfortable in more than just one area. Just like medical doctors, designers tend to go through some common training (like visual thinking for example), then they hone their skills further and specialize in certain areas over others.

Since you have selected Systems here is some further information on the design skillsets that may be needed in this category.

System Design or System Innovation is an approach to understand how innovations at different levels of a system, from the macro to the micro, come together to drive transition. It focuses on the role of purpose, power, relationships and resources in unlocking systemic change, and the cast of actors involved in making deliberate system change happen.

Strategic design is the application of future-oriented design principles in order to increase an organization’s innovative and competitive qualities. This design discipline is about applying some of the principles of traditional design to “big picture” systemic challenges. It redefines how problems are approached, identifies opportunities for action, and helps deliver more complete and resilient solutions.

Participatory design is an approach that invites stakeholders such as clients, users, and community members into the design process to ensure that a design meets the needs of those it is serving. It is a type of social research in which the people being studied have significant control over participation, collaboration, and agency. Design work is inherently participatory in nature, and the notion of participatory design is often used to call out the need to increase buy-in and ownership when developing health solutions for users and providers who may lack a sense of control and agency within the broader health system.

Common outputs or deliverables

Tips and tricks

  • Most designers can be flexible and adapt their skills, however, it is still worth asking for examples where they have done this before.
  • When designing your investment you will want to ensure that your design partner has capabilities in these areas. However, perhaps not all these designers need to be fully present for the whole project, and you can work with your partner to ensure greater fluidity in the team.
  • The investment can benefit from thinking about your problem from the view point of the system in which it is embedded. That will help you think about who all are the key stakeholders who need to be involved, and the types of exchanges that happen between those stakeholders to support the current system.


  • Beware of proposals that are overly repetitive in the use of buzzwords and lack specific examples that demonstrate the relevant skillsets from what you need.

Questions for potential partners

  • Can you talk me through the project steps and explain how you will make decisions around bringing in the right expertise at the appropriate times?
  • Do you have all these design capabilities in house, or will you need to in some specific types of expertise?
  • Thinking on a system's level is a complex process and clearly takes some time. How do you bring your clients along in this process? Are you able to provide learnings along the way to keep them engaged?
  • I have always thought more about the role design plays aesthetically - with products, digital experiences and services. Thinking about systems or strategic design is new to me, can you talk me through your processes a bit more so that I can understand the full value of the approach?
  • I have heard designers talk about a system being a series of exchanges? Do you take that perspective in the work that you do and can you help me understand how that will play out in this project?

Resources and links