What a Product Designer Can Teach You About Life Design

DTLYL-Think-like-designerMost of us live our lives ping-ponging between the things we want and the things we need.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s plenty challenging, endlessly educational, often deeply moving and frequently very funny to allow luck, chance and a mad circus of fellow human beings into our control booth. On the other hand, it can also drive you nuts.

But what if you could design your own life, top to bottom? Would you attempt it?

Ayse Birsel did. The veteran New York-based product designer for a slew of Fortune 500 companies, including GE, Herman Miller, Hewlett Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Target and Toyota, decided to apply her design skills to a project she knew inside out: her own life.

The result, Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future, is part chapbook, part doodle pad and part Obi-Wan Kenobi inspirational guide to tapping the world’s foremost expert on the mechanics of your life: you.

LifeDesignsmallerTo help keep this design project playful, Birsel peppers the book with cartoon animals, super heroes and pen-and-ink portraits of such unlikely kindred self-designers as Rene Descartes, William Shakespeare, Alice Walker, John Waters and the Dalai Lama. She also leaves plenty of space for you to join in, including clever fill-in-the-blank exercises designed to reacquaint you with your life’s passion and purpose.

Birsel’s four-step life redesign process is easy as soup:

  1. Deconstruct your life: Think of your life thus far as chicken soup. Now deconstruct it into its ingredients. With chicken soup, it’s easy: chicken, onion, carrots, celery, water, herbs, s&p. With your life, you know those ingredients by heart, too.
  1. Form a point of view about your life: How do you feel about chicken soup? Is it too traditional? More of a flu remedy? Not vegetarian? Impractical to eat on the run? Now throw out what bugs you about it and add what you think it needs: say, tofu instead of chicken, and frozen instead of hot.
  1. Reconstruct your life: Thanks to your new POV on chicken soup, you can now reconstruct it into a new kind of soup. Since tofu made it vegetarian and freezing made it mobile, how about veggie chicken soup pops for meeting planners on the go? Why not? It’s your life.
  1. Express your life as a new design: You know where chicken pops would absolutely rock? In space! Soup you can eat in a space station. It stores easily for long periods of time, no drips, no bowls, nutritious – delicious! Now reinvent your own soup. Or your life.

Like life itself, there are no wrong or right answers in Birsel’s design guide; just dozens and dozens of metaphors designed to reacquaint us with our own personal playlist, with emphasis on the play.

Alice Walker, quoted within, beautifully expresses the ultimate goal of life redesign:

“Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming.”

Now who wants a chicken pop?

Photo credits: image of tools, Shutterstock. Others reprinted from DESIGN THE LIFE YOU LOVE Copyright © 2015 by Ayse Birsel. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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