How Design Thinking Can Shape Your Life

Bill Burnett is an award-winning Silicon Valley designer, executive director of Stanford’s design program and co-author of “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life.” “Designing Your Life” gives readers tools to build—design—a life you can thrive in. Bill is an atheist who isn’t a big fan of self-help; nevertheless, his self-help book that has a lot of Buddhist principles in it has become a New York Times bestseller.

Here are some of the principles of design thinking you can apply to your life:

Curiosity Ask questions, interview people who are doing something you are interested in doing. Explore, try and see opportunities everywhere.

Reframing This is a tool a designer uses to get unstuck. “Designing Your Life” gives you tools to make sure you are working on the right problem.

Prototypes Try small steps that give you the opportunity to test something before you pivot in the wrong direction.

Collaboration People can help you see yourself more clearly. They can help you generate ideas and identify any blind spots.

Throughout the book, there are activities that mirror the types of things you’d do as a part of a design process. You ask a lot of questions, interview people with relevant perspectives, brainstorm a lot of ideas and come up with prototypes or little steps you can take to see if something sticks. In short, these activities help you be innovative, curious and resilient as you consider your life’s purpose and ways to derive fulfillment. 

Last week, I interviewed Bill as a part of a COCAbiz event in St. Louis. Both in his TEDx-style talk and in our interview afterward, Bill shared some things that really stuck with me. One thing he said is that “it’s not about fixing ourselves—it’s about pushing to be more human.”

As a self-help junkie, I’m always looking for the next book or workshop that will make me better. But one of the first chapters of the book is called “Start Where You Are.” It’s not about changing yourself, it’s about equipping yourself with new tools that help you see more options and nurturing behaviors that lead to more fulfillment. Designers are often tasked with designing something that doesn’t yet exist; they have processes that lead them to create something valuable. Bill and his co-author Dave Evans have used design thinking tools and applied them to determine the direction of your life. But as they point out again and again: it isn’t about where you are going; it’s about how you are traveling.



Elizabeth Tucker