Review: “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

It’s never too late to design a life you love. 

That’s one of the many reframes Stanford University lecturers Bill Burnett and Dave Evans offer in their newly released book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (2016, Alfred A. Knopf).

Review: "Designing Your Life" by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

The book, based on their highly popular Stanford elective and public workshop, applies product design principles taught at Stanford University to life design. And while the genesis of the material may have been developed to help college graduates find their way, the design principles—and the examples in the book—are relevant for any age.

And that’s important. Because, as I pointed out in my very first podcast, the question we should never stop asking is what we should do with our life. Life design is an ongoing process. Maybe it should really be called life redesign since we’re all a work-in-progress.

Good life design is both mindset and process. This book addresses both. Burnett and Evans outline five mindsets that great designers possess. Each of these are critical to develop a great life design as well:

  1. Curiosity. Product designers are curious. As they put it, “Curiosity makes everything new. It invites explanation.” Life designers are curious too because they know that opportunities often arise from the pursuit of answers to good questions.
  2. Experimentation. Designers possess a bias to action. They test the quality of their ideas by formulating small experiments. Product designers test their ideas by creating prototypes. Life designers can do the same, creating prototype experiments of different paths they may want to explore.
  3. Reframing. Both product designers and life designers can get stuck. When they do, a new perspective is needed. Reframing is the ability to disengage from a bias and adopt a new perspective. This book offers a lot of reframes to common life design misbeliefs.
  4. Awareness. Designers understand that design is a process. Few great designs emerge from the first idea. Mistakes will be made. Two steps will be taken forward—perhaps, more than several backward. Awareness of the messiness of the process is key to perseverance.
  5. Collaboration. The authors describe this as radical collaboration because great designers don’t act alone. They know the best work will emerge from a team. “A painter can create an artistic masterpiece alone on a windswept coast,” they write, “but a designer cannot create the iPhone alone, windswept beach or not. And your life is more like a great design than a work of art…”

As important as it is to possess these mindset traits, a good design process is equally essential. Designing Your Life offers a number of simple exercises to assess your situation and aspirations. Many of the chapters conclude with a handful of “Try Stuff” suggestions. I worked through each of these as I read the book. While they didn’t offer me any new insights (most of my life design work has emerged from my regular habit of journaling), I found the exercises straightforward and easy to understand.

This book offers a helpful roadmap for those just emerging in the marketplace or those who are in transition and looking for a life design process. For those who have not given much thought to their life design, it’s a great place to start. Intentional practitioners of life design may also enjoy its anecdotes and find some nuggets to shift their thinking and speed them along their way.

Comment below: Would you consider yourself a intentional life designer?

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