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How do we build a life that we genuinely enjoy living? How do we look into the opaque and immense future — with its seemingly limitless options — and decide where we should go next, especially in the middle of a pandemic?
According to Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, two design theory experts from Stanford, these are questions that everyone asks at every age and stage of life. And they don’t go away.
Accepting that we never stop building the road while we’re driving on it is one of the main takeaways from the duo’s bestselling CreativeLive online course, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (based on their popular book of the same name). As Evans explains in the course, we make a life decision — be it around kids, career, relationships — and we live in that “chunk” of our life for a bit, before moving on to another.
But how do we decide where to go? How do we make sure that, after all this, we feel happy with our choices? And how do we transfer what we know about ourselves into worthwhile career trajectories, opportunities, and values?
Burnett, Executive Director of Stanford’s Design Program, and Dave Evans, co-founder of both Electric Arts and the Stanford Life Design Lab, propose that we use design theory to figure our lives out. Design theory, a methodology that takes a human-centered, psychology-focused approach to designing products and services, can help us build a life that works for us individually. We just need the tools (and to ditch our unhelpful assumptions about ourselves).
Taught by two Stanford design theory experts, this four-hour course addresses how a person can build an enjoyable, meaningful life using design theory. Students listen to a recorded live lecture, participate in thoughtful prompts, and gain scientifically backed tools to address their future.
Designing Your Life asks students thought-provoking questions (“What defines good or worthwhile work [to you]?”) and guides them through related action items using design theory. It prompts us to think about the huge, abstract categories of our lives — love, play, work, and health — with the aid of neuroscientific guardrails.
As designers, Evans and Burnett often remark on their own biases towards action-oriented approaches, which is reflected in how they teach — the course is engaging and interactive with an on-screen audience; while you’re not in the room, you can watch short snippets of group interactions among the participants.
By the end of the course, you’ll design multiple plans for the next five years, and learn to reframe unsolvable “Gravity Problems” — like an overseas job offer when you don’t want to live far from your parents — without undue anxiety or dread.
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life doesn’t feel like a self-help pep-talk, nor is it overly abstract nor sentimental. It’s fast and concrete, feeling as real-world applicable as a coding or personal finance class.
The class is broken up into 21 bite-sized videos (the longest being around 30 minutes) of a live lecture given by Burnett and Evans to a small crowd.
Some videos have exercises built-in to keep the course active, like creating your own quick “love, play, work, health” balance sheet to reframe how you view your life. Since it was filmed live, you also get to passively experience an in-person classroom by listening to participants share their learnings with one another and the instructors answer questions from the audience.
There are also three bonus materials, including workview and lifeview reflection exercises that help you define what you think a good version of work and life actually looks like. Those sheets have guiding questions like “Why Work?”/ What’s Work for?” and “Why are we here?/What is the meaning/purpose of life? Of death?” In the lecture, you’re invited to ask yourself whether those views sound like they all came from the same person (and what to do if they clash).
Each video has a transcript for added accessibility. There are English subtitles available, and you can also adjust the video speed or download for offline viewing.
According to the course, you can expect to end this class with:
- An introduction to design thinking from leading experts in the field
- A new approach to work-life balance
- Three different plans for the next five years
- Actionable ways to get started now
- Secrets to cracking the hidden job market
- Neuroscientific insights on how to make good decisions
The videos are short, ranging from 4-30 minutes and amounting to a fast four hours and 39 minutes.
The course was originally listed at $199, but lately, it’s discounted to $29. Once you buy it, you get lifetime, on-demand access to the course and its materials.
This feels much less like a full-fledged course and more like a small-scale TED talk. The way the class is structured into short videos make the concepts more memorable and the pace feels effortless; I always wanted to keep watching.
It also does a good job of combining introducing new concepts and giving you actionable ways to apply them to your life ASAP.
It reminded me of other useful, life-building courses I’ve taken. “Designing Your Life ” utilizes positive psychology, so a lot of the concepts show up in Professor Laurie Santos’ bestselling course on happiness, The Science of Well-Being — like naming and deconstructing “dysfunctional beliefs” about our happiness and replacing them with science-backed habits.
Design thinking is action-biased, which is why this recorded class is interactive. But, you won’t be able to participate as actively or pose your own questions as the live audience did.
However, that can also be a boon; there’s a lower barrier of entry to a course that you get to be a fly-on-the-wall for. You can get the experience of learning from a community without being put on the spot yourself.
You can also work on it with others — roommates, friends, family — by streaming it together or via Zoom.
Evans and Burnett are, unsurprisingly, engaging speakers. The class feels fast-paced, and there were rarely moments where I wished they’d trimmed more fat for the sake of time.
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life helped me build some direction for the next “chunk” of my life — but, more importantly, it gave me tools that I can use to address the next time I find myself feeling stuck in life. Plus, it challenged and entertained me, and was shorter than other courses I’ve enjoyed in the past.
All in all, it was a highly impactful use of four hours of my life. It’s hard to contemplate something like the future if you believe it to be an insurmountable problem that you have no clue where to begin in solving. This course allowed me to face the next five years without the shame or existential dread that can impede upon the process, simply because I respected and thereby trusted the methodology.
I’d recommend it to anyone looking for tools to answer the daunting, neverending question of: What next?