3 mindsets for designing the life you want

designing the life you wantThis post comes from
IDEO U, an online school where anyone can learn to solve anything creatively.

What if you approached your own life challenges with a sense of curiosity and creativity? What if there were tools and mindsets that could help you design and build the life you want?

Applying the design process to your life can help you determine what you want and how to create it. It provides a way to test out (or prototype) small immediate changes in your life rather than make drastic changes, get stuck at the starting line, or get paralyzed by the enormity of it all.

After years of seeing college students struggle to determine which direction to take their lives and hearing an outcry for open dialogue about this challenge, professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans crafted a course at Stanford d.school on Designing Your Life. The course continues to be hugely successful. And genuine interest in the topic has expanded well beyond campus leading Bill and Dave to adapt their course into an eponymous book.

Designing Your Life teaches people to apply the skills designers use every day to examine and experiment with their own lives and to design and build the life they want. This practice, known as design thinking, is traditionally used by businesses as a methodology for solving complex and often ambiguous problems. And, as it turns out, these methods are equally effective at helping us navigate uncertainties within our own lives.

So, what are some ways you can get started today in designing and building the life you want?

  1. Get Curious

One of the mindsets of design is curiosity. If you want to come up with something new, you can’t start by being skeptical or rational, you have to go out into the world and talk to people. Start from a place of curiosity, not a place of judgment. As the expert on your own life, it’s easy to let self-criticism and fear stop you before you’ve gotten started. But curiosity invites exploration and allows you to approach things with a fresh perspective. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting from, just start from where you are.

  1. Talk to People

Many of the best ideas come from others (even when designing your life). Design is a team sport and it’s all about collaboration. If you want to make changes in your life, you can’t do it alone. Have conversations with people doing something you’re interested in doing. Go out and network. Networking has a bad rap, it’s almost become a dirty word. But what if we reframe networking as asking for help? You’re just asking directions and people love helping others when they can.

  1. Try Stuff

Designers are all about prototyping as a way to learn quickly and gather feedback. Bill and Dave refer to prototyping in your life as “sneaking up on the future.” It’s a way to try out changes you may want to make in your life in small ways before committing to a massive shift. The core principles around prototyping are about having a bias toward action and building your way forward. Just talking about what you want to do isn’t enough, you need to test things out, learn, and iterate.

To learn more about designing your life watch the recent Inforum chat with authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans and Dean of IDEO U Suzanne Gibbs Howard.


Suzanne Gibbs Howard is a Partner at IDEO and the founder of IDEO U. She’s big into experiential learning and how it can transform individuals and organizations, and imagines a world where anyone can build the creative confidence to solve real world challenges. When not at one of our IDEO offices, you might find her sailing with her family, traveling around the globe, or singing in her garage band. Connect with Suz on Twitter @suzhoward.


Unstuck Tip Cards complete setTips to help you keep it real
Bust through obstacles on your way to greatness with Unstuck Tip Cards — four reusable decks that help you fight procrastination, stop negative thinking, boost productivity, and get more creative.
Learn more>

More Unstuck Advice

Excitement is the antidote to feeling nervous Whether it's public speaking or a date or even just a vacation, there are plenty of moments that make us nervous. We plot out everything that could ...
Why you should embrace your inner weirdo There was a specific moment in elementary school when I knew beyond a doubt that I was...let’s call it “quirky.” I was really into the '90s cartoon se...
How to inject more joy into your day Question: What’s your intention for today? The quick answer might sound something like: Go to work, or keep the kids clean and fed, or just get thr...