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Designing Your Life

How to build a well-lived joyful life

By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans


“Only 27% of college grads end up in a career related to their majors. The idea that what you major in is what you will do for the rest of your life, and that college represents the best years of your life, are two of what we call dysfunctional beliefs - the myths that prevent so many people from designing the life they want.”

Dysfunctional belief: Your degree determines your career.
Reframe: 3/4 of all college grads don’t end up working in a carreer related to their majors.

Dysfunctional belief: If you are successful, you will be happy.
Reframe: True happiness comes from designing a life that works for you.

Dysfunctional belief: It’s too late.
Reframe: It’s never too late to design a life you love.

Designers love problems

“There’s a difference between design problems and engineering problems.”

Engineering problems: A good approach to solving a problem where you can get a great deal of data and you’re sure there is one best solution.
Designing problems: Problems where there is no precedent to design toward, no fixed or predetermined outcome.

“Aesthetics is the ultimate design problem. Aesthetics involves human emotion - and we’ve discovered that when emotions are involved, design thinking has proved to be the best problem-solving tool.”

“Designing your life doesn’t involve a clear goal, like creating hinges, that last five years, or building a giant bridge that will safely connect to landmasses; those are engineering problems, in which you can get hard data on your options and engineer the one best solution.”

“A great design comes together in a way that can’t be solved with equations and spreadsheets and data analysis. It has a look and feel all of its own - a beautiful aesthetic that speaks to you.”

“A well-designed life is a life that is generative - it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.”

Designers love asking questions

“In design thinking we always say, ‘Don’t start with the problem, start with the people, start with empathy.‘”

“You start out thinking you are designing a product (a new coffee blend and new kind of coffee machine) and reframe when you realize you are actually redesigning the coffee experience (Starbucks).”

Think like a designer

The five mind-sets you are going to learn in order to design your life:


Curiosity makes everything new. It invites exploration. It makes everything play.

“Being good at being lucky. It’s the reason some people see opportunities everywhere.”

Bias to action

“Designers try things. They test things out. They create prototype after prototype, failing often, until they find what works and what solves the problem.”


“Reframing is how designers get unstuck. Reframing also makes sure that we are working on the right problem.”


“We know that life gets messy.”

“Learn to be aware of the process. Life design is a journey.”

Radical collaboration

“Ask for help.”

“You are not alone. The best designers know that great design requires radical collaboration. It takes a team.”