Review of Designing Your Life

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  • Innovative
  • Applicable
  • Engaging


Stanford Design Program executive director Bill Burnett and Electronic Arts co-founder Dave Evans offer a well-written, accessible, practical, witty and entertaining approach to improving your life: Design it. The authors, co-founders of Stanford’s Life Design Lab, disguise their self-help book as a guide to a designer’s approach to creating, problem solving, dealing with failure, and seeking mental and emotional clarity. Their infectious, commonsense tone belies their lofty professional standing and simple genius of their ideas. Burnett and Evans’ compassionate understanding of the ordinary issues that face almost everyone trying to make the right career and life choices is best described as wisdom – a wonderful gift offered without pretension. The authors deliver their lessons – or, for the cynical, pad their page count – with fictional examples of people who face various problems or issues. The authors’ original, free-thinking solutions follow. The examples humanize the advice and continually remind the reader that everyone – including the authors – suffers their fictional characters’ confusion, paralysis, regret, embarrassment and blockheadedness. These stories don’t slow the reading or detract from the power of the advice, but they will make you want to race ahead to the next section of instruction. The entries on brainstorming, applying for jobs and figuring out how to network may seem familiar to frequent readers of career self-help books, but those are insignificant detours from the authors’ innovative, inspired and singular guidance. getAbstract recommends their insights and approaches to anyone in a creative field, anyone trying a career change, anyone feeling stuck, anyone seeking self-insight, and anyone trying to get out of his or her own way.

About the Authors

Stanford Design Program executive director Bill Burnett formerly led Apple’s Powerbook product line. Dave Evans co-founded Electronic Arts at Stanford and lectures in the Design Program. They co-founded the Life Design Lab.


“Dysfunctional Beliefs”

Text inserts accented with blue lines appear throughout the book, like blueberries in a muffin. Each pull quote shows a Dysfunctional Belief and its antidote, called a “Reframe.” Most people fall prey to such misguided beliefs. Once you attach yourself to the wrong belief, avoiding living it out – to your detriment – is difficult. By placing these inserts throughout – sometimes to support a point in a specific section and sometimes not – the authors create a running theme: Don’t assume that how you regard yourself manifests your best interests. You may be clinging to a false belief about yourself that restricts your options and undermines your contentment.

Among the commonsense blessings of this approach is how powerfully you can banish long-held, unhelpful ideas by using the authors’ Reframes. Examples abound. One pervasive Dysfunctional Belief is that success brings happiness. The Reframe holds that “designing a life that works for you” is what brings true, lasting joy. You may dysfunctionally believe something is wrong with you if you can’t map out your ambitions and life’s path. Reframe that idea by realizing that you can’t conceive of a destination until you understand your present location. A Dysfunctional Belief may lead you to think you should pursue your ideal, perfect life, strategize how to achieve it and act on that strategy. A sensible Reframe suggests that your life might hold the possibility of “multiple great designs,” and you can pick one for now and let it be a bridge to the next. When job searching, your Dysfunctional Belief might be that you must find a job. Reframe that, instead, to focus on fulfilling a “hiring manager’s need” to find a perfect person for a vacant position.

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