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Applying Design Thinking to Your Life

Source | | Carlye Lauff, PhD

When I came across this quote, it dawned on me — each and every one of our lives are complex, messy problems ready to be solved. Why not use design thinking principles to help us figure out our passions and our careers? I’d rather rapidly prototype, test, and iterate outcomes for my life now instead of wishing I had tried to be a yoga instructor, book author, or toy designer in fifty years.

If design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation, then surely it can help us mere humans create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling. And this philosophy and approach is for everyone — regardless of age, occupation, or current situation — design thinking can help you to uncover what you should try next. And the best part is that if you fail or absolutely hate the experience, then you failed now and failed forward — you have one less option to worry about and you’ve moved towards uncovering what will make you happy long-term.

I am at a unique cross-road in my life right now, which has forced me to come back to this “designing your life” mindset. I am about to graduate with my PhD in Design Theory and Methodology, and I have to decide what to do next…academic? design consultant? circus performer? barista? So many of us have moments like this, whether we are about to graduate or are just unhappy or unmotivated in our current careers. If you are thinking to yourself right now, “I wonder what it would be like to be an artist” or “My childhood dream was to be a musician” or “I hate my job but I’m afraid I wasted my college degree”, then I challenge you to join me in this journey of applying design thinking to our lives in the pursuit of creating a joyful and well-lived life.*

Design thinking is an innovation management philosophy that has five core tenants to solving complex problem: 1) empathize, 2) define, 3) ideate, 4) prototype, and 5) test.

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Design thinking process from Stanford
  1. Empathy: The first step to designing your life is by taking a critical look at yourself. You need to understand where you are right now — professionally, mentally, physically, relationship-wise — to then see where you’re going next. You need to ask yourself some hard questions, like when was the last time you felt truly happy? What makes you smile and laugh? What do you wish you’d never have to do again? You need to dig deep into yourself and assess your experiences, jobs, relationships, and extracurricular activities up until this point. Beware of dysfunctional thinking — do not get stuck in the idiosyncrasies of age old career advice like “what is your passion?”. Often you can’t be passionate about something until you’ve had a lifetime of experience!

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