February 2, 2024

Think Like a Designer

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Posted by Sharmarke Hujale

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7 min read

Your time is finite, and with each passing day, you age.

Have you ever paused and wondered if you're moving towards a meaningful direction, or just going with the flow?

The alarm rings, and you hit snooze, rising half-asleep from bed.

You check your phone, then enter the bathroom to brush your teeth and shower, moving through the motion without much thought.

Breakfast is made and eaten somewhat automatically, with frequent phone checks.

You get dressed, and check your phone one last time. Grab what you need, and step out for the day ahead.

You see, when routines become familiar, they increase your sense of comfort. Which isn't inherently bad. We need routines to preserve mental energy and help us manage the repetitive aspects of life.

But the problem begins when this comfort starts to cloud our thoughts, habits, and actions, preventing us from questioning them.

Life on autopilot isn't what I want, and I believe it's not what you want either. Stagnation is the killer of joy and progress. Just because something works doesn't mean it can't be improved upon.

Life is an infinite game of continuous improvement, and the path to remarkable achievements isn't a comfortable one.

So, instead of living each day as a series of random events, why not choose to live it by design—with intention?

And a way to do that is to think like a designer.

Understanding Design Thinking

“Design is the application of intent - the opposite of happenstance, and an antidote to accident.”

- Robert L. Peters.

When you think of what a designer is, what do you envision in your head?

Are you imagining someone working with visuals, maybe?

If the answer is yes. That's okay. It's a common perception, and it's not wrong.

Many non-designers (by profession) often imagine designers as creators of aesthetically pleasing and functional spaces or products.

It's true, but it's one side of the coin. I like to call the visual aspect that catches the eye the "front end" of design.

What's equally important is the underlying mindset shared by all designers, regardless of their specific field. This is the "back end" of design, also known as design thinking.

The origin of design—its core—is about intentionally planning something. It involves envisioning and thinking about the end purpose and then working out the steps needed to achieve it.

Adopting a design thinking mindset doesn't require a design degree or job for you to embrace.

So, when you hear this definition of design, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

This was done intentionally to put you in the right mindset to make you see that design by definition can apply to everyday life.

The Attributes of a Designer

"To design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones."

- Herbert A. Simon

Before diving into how to design the good life, let's get a high-level overview of what characterizes a designer across various fields.

There are graphic designers, product designers, industrial designers, user experience designers, interior designers, and web designers, to name just a few.

Although their outcome is different, they share common ways of operating. Here are four traits they have in common.

1 ) Problem-solving

Every designer is driven by a deep intrinsic motivation to solve tomorrow's problems. They see challenges as opportunities waiting to be solved, no matter how difficult they might seem. This problem-solving mindset breeds optimism, as designers believe there's always a solution to be found.

2) Empathy

Great designers know that understanding the people they are designing for is key to good design. They achieve this through keen observation and interaction, ensuring their designs resonate with the people.

3) Big-picture thinking

Designers often instinctively look at the larger context of their projects. This habit of seeing the bigger picture allows for inspiration to happen and new dots to connect in different ways.

4) Collaboration

While designers are eager to solve complex problems, they don't have all the answers and often need the help of others. Collaboration brings a diversity of perspectives and strengthens the outcome of a design project.

Designers might work with visuals, spaces, or experiences. But the core of their approach is deeply relevant to how you can approach your life.

Just as designers shape products and environments, we can shape our own life experiences by thinking like a designer.

How to Design Your Life

“… before you can figure out where you are going, you need to know where you are, and once you know and accept where you are, you can design your way to where you want to be.”

— Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

With this understanding of a designer's mindset, let's explore how these traits can be applied to designing a fulfilling life.

Just as a design project navigates through budget constraints, scope limitations, tight deadlines, and resource allocations.

Our lives, the biggest of all, are bound by constraints of finances, physical capabilities, time, and social connections.

By embracing intentionality, we're zeroing in on what truly matters to us.

Author and designer Ayse Birsel's four-step process of deconstruction, point of view, reconstruction, and expression offers a blueprint for how you can design your life.

In the following sections, I'll walk you through each of these steps with examples to give you a clear picture of how to apply it to your life.

1) Deconstructing

Begin by breaking your life down into basic components: people, places, projects, and time.

This step is about understanding what makes up your life so you can identify both the positive elements and areas for improvement.

Example: Imagine you're dissecting a week in your life. You notice you spend a lot of time at unfulfilling social gatherings, leaving less time for personal projects or self-care.

Like a designer who uses problem-solving to tackle design challenges, you can identify and analyze the 'problem areas' of your life during deconstruction.

Think of each component you wish to change as a design problem waiting for a creative solution.

2) Point of View

Reflect on who influences you and why. Identify your heroes and the qualities they embody.

This helps in shaping your personal point of view and guides your decisions and actions.

Example: If one of your heroes is known for their charitable work, you might value generosity and community service.

Just as designers use empathy to understand and design for others. Apply empathy towards yourself to understand your own needs and desires. This will help you in shaping a life that resonates with you.


3) Reconstruction

Here, you decide what you want to keep, change, or introduce once you gain clarity of your life's components and influences.

It's key to focus on a few areas to avoid being overwhelmed.

Example: You decide to dedicate more time to creative hobbies and less to obligatory social events because you're aiming for a more fulfilling balance.

Designers often step back to see the whole project, and you can do the same by viewing your life from a distance to ensure that your decisions contribute to the overall picture you aim for.


4) Expression

This final step is about bringing your redesigned life into reality. And you express those changes through your actions.

Example: To spend more time on creative hobbies, you join a creative writing class and invite a friend who shares the same interest.

Embrace collaboration by involving friends or family in your new activities or goals.

Designers know the strength of feedback and collective effort. By sharing your journey with others, it will hold you accountable, make the experience better, and you'll get the support you need.

Final Thoughts

Your journey towards a fulfilling life is one design, not default.

It's about engaging with life mindfully and intentionally—in thoughts, decisions, and actions.

We might not control the outcome. But we still have the choice to shape the process, strategy, and intent, instead of leaving it to chance.

View your life as a prototype—what adjustments can you make today to guide your life in the direction you want?

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