How to live like a designer

What exactly is a Well-Designed Life?

Designing Your Life authors Bill Burnet and Dave Evans describe it as “a rich portfolio of experiences, adventures, and failures that teach us important lessons, that result in hardships and make us stronger, that help us know ourselves better, it’s a life of achievement and satisfaction.”

These two professors teach a course at Stanford that they have now turned into a book. The central premise is looking at our lives and careers through the lens of design thinking. Designers love problems and building their way forward until they come up with something that works. Bill and Dave present a design process for helping readers figure out what they want, who they want to grow into and how to create a life they love. This book reminds me that the product is just as important as the process. Here are a few other things things I learned:

Think Like a Designer

Bill and Dave encourage readers to let go of dysfunctional thinking that keeps them stuck. Instead, reframing is an important mindset of a designer. Reframing is basically pivoting your perspective. You make a conscious effort to look at the problem you are facing in a new light, change your point of view and then act with a new outlook.

Each chapter has a central reframe. Here is my favorite:

Dysfunctional belief: I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan and then execute it.

Reframe: There are multiple great lives (and plans) within me. I get to choose which to build my way forward next.

Other mindsets that are important to designers are:

  • Curiosity – explore and ask questions
  • Try stuff – don’t just think, act, test things out and let go of a particular outcome
  • It’s a process – designing is a journey, let go of your first good idea, let go of the end goal and pay attention to the experience
  • Ask for help – embrace radical collaboration, build a team, get input and ask for what you need

Know where you are

You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are.  Bill and Dave present some life assessment exercises that are help you locate yourself.

The first is “How’s it going?” as it relates to your work, health, play and relationships on a scale of 0 to full. You can identify areas you would like to tackle as a design problem.

Next you develop a Work View and Life View. Here you answer some existential questions about the meaning of work and life in your own words. These manifestos will help you design a life that is congruent to your core beliefs and values.

Then you continue on this exploration to “Good Time” Journal. This requires paying attention to your daily life over a few weeks and recording when you are engaged, in the flow, have energy and when you don’t. You will learn what brings you joy and what depletes you. It will prompt you to rearrange your day or elements of you life to minimize the soul sucking tasks.

Think Outside the Box

My absolute favorite exercise was developing Odyssey plans. This requires identifying three life paths the could lead to happiness and meaning and creating a five year plan for each of them. They don’t even have to be practical, but are a creative way to show you what is possible, what could make you happy. Then you name them in six words. One of mine was: The writing life – travel, memoir, and race. It made me realize what I truly love and how I might incorporate elements of all three paths in some way.

Act by Prototyping

Designers do not think their way forward they build their way forward, they act. They do not go with their first product, but they try out lots of prototypes, experiment, and learn from failures until they have something that works.

Prototypes are small experiments to explore questions about your alternatives. They help you to get data about something you are interested in. You can do this by trying something related to one of your alternatives for a day or week or months or interviewing people who are doing what you want to do to gain their perspective (this also works as a networking tool to explore job opportunities). Prototyping gives you real time data that you can then apply to your design or use to eliminate options. Instead of taking an uninformed leap, you take a small step, gain information and move forward. This way, you get a better design.

Become Failure Immune

This doesn’t mean that you never fail, but that you are able to bounce back from failure so that if something doesn’t go the way you planned, (which usually happens) you can see it as a failed prototype and not view yourself as a failure. The key according to Bill and Dave is to see failure as part of learning what works and what doesn’t. It’s the raw material of success, the supplies and knowledge and growth opportunities you use to build your way forward.

“When you remember that you are always playing the infinite game of becoming more and more yourself and designing how to express that amazingness of you into the world, you can’t fail.”

Build a Team

Last but not least, they recommend that you bring other like-minded people around you to help support you in your journey, a life design team. This may or may not work for you, but the major take away is: you do not have to journey alone. To join a community of other life designers go to

This book is a great read if you are trying to figure out next steps and want to begin to journey like a designer. It will get your creative juices flowing and move you to action.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s