Designing Your Life: Key Considerations

May 24, 2020

Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, the Director of Stanford’s Design Program, has come to the conclusion that we can improve our lives by applying the principles of design. True, “designing your life” isn’t quite like designing a consumer project, or a webpage.

However, design is all about solving problems and foreseeing problems that may come up and finding ways around them.

Whether you think that designing your life sounds inspiring, too difficult, or too ridiculous, read about these key considerations and see how you feel then.

Your Core Values

Your values should always be a key consideration in designing your greatest life, let them guide you to where you want to be


You may think, especially if you are an older reader, that it is too late for you to design your life. After all, things are supposed to be designed before they’re made and you’re already here, right?

Design is actually a little more complicated than that. Sure, things are designed before they’re made, but try to think of a tool that looks exactly the same now as when it was first invented. Everything that we use goes through constant design and re-design. Why should your life be any different?

Design and life are both about experimentation, so if you’ve got more experience than other people, that only puts you further along in the design process.

On the other hand, if you’re a younger reader, it only means that you have the opportunity to learn now from those who have gone before you to avoid some of the complications that you see in the “designs” of the lives of those around you.

Life Strategy

Your life strategy is shaped by your beliefs, goals, and purposes, and all the decisions you make in how you spend your time and energy. Set your strategy and monitor the direction your life is going accordingly.

Solving “Wicked Problems”

As we’ve discussed, the point of the design is to solve problems. But what if a problem can’t be “solved”? Problems that can’t be solved because they are the result of a complex network of systems because they are poorly defined, or for a number of other reasons, have been called “wicked problems.” Wicked problems cannot be solved, they can only be improved. We all live in a world of wicked problems, even if we are not directly touched by them.

Wicked problems are not problems that classical design deals with, because classical design usually starts with a single, small, well-defined problem to address in a specific way. Cans are difficult to open. Designers make a can-opener. Problem solved. Poverty, on the other hand, is an example of a wicked problem. Designers in various capacities can work on solving the problem, but they aren’t going to do it with a single design. Further, because wicked problems are social in nature, humans can be part of the solution rather than just devices or things.

If “problems” are seen as challenges or systems of challenges rather than issues or things to fix, life could be seen as a wicked problem. The “problem” at hand is always changing, and each problem is the result of any dozen connected circumstances or situations.

Looking at your life as a wicked problem can help you design your life, not to solve your life, but to improve it. Well-designed lives can also be part of the solution for larger societal problems.

Keeping The User In Mind

A final thing to consider is that the best designs are “user-centered.” This means that they are designed in a way that makes them easy and pleasant for the user to use rather than prioritizing things like cost or speed of production.

You are the user of your life and applying principles of design to your life means that it should work for you, not to make your life efficient for those around you.

User-centered design requires checking in with the users to see how the product is working for them, so be sure to stop every now and then to check in with yourself and make sure that your life is working for you.

Hopefully, this article has gotten you a little more interested in applying design principles to your life. You don’t have to have formal education or experience in design to do this. Just think about how you would go about building something to solve any problem and apply that thought process to the problems that you see in your own life, with yourself as the only tool you need to solve or improve them.

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