Designing Your Life

By Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

It’s never too late to design a life that you love.
— Bill Burnett & Dave Evans


A book that shows you how to build—design—a well-lived and joyful life at any age or stage.

Designers create worlds and solve problems using design thinking. Look around your office or home, at the tablet or smartphone you may be holding or the chair you are sitting in. Everything in our lives was designed by someone. And every design starts with a problem that a designer or team of designers seeks to solve.

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are.

The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.


  1.  Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Actually, do any of us really want to grow up?! Probably not. So, let’s reframe this question (September’s BOTM authors love a reframe) and instead ask: what do you want to grow into next? I think this is a brilliant question for this back-to-school time of year and I love that authors (and one grandfather) Bill Burnett and Dave Evans assume that most grown-ups don’t actually know the answer, whether they are 20, 40 or 60-yrs-old. And so, they created this book - based on their world-famous Stanford University course by the same name – to demonstrate how to use the concepts of design thinking to help us answer the question and, in the process, create a wonderful and enriching life.


    2.     Readers aren’t expected to already have a major passion or know their purpose. “What if I don’t know my passion?” is one of the most common questions we get asked at Shelf Help, and this book shows us that we don’t need to have that part figured out to start designing a better life. It might be reassuring to know that 7 out of 10 people don’t have an identified passion. Instead, Burnett and Evans explain that it is only through the process of testing and trying out different things that we usually end up finding out what’s really important to us, and what brings us most alive. Designers love to work backwards from a problem, coming up with lots of different ways to find a solution, and we can use the same techniques, like prototyping and mind mapping, to think out of the box (and/or the rut we have grooved ourselves into) and try different things until we come up with the answer as to what we really want, and then how to get there. 


    3.     This is a brilliant book to read and action as part of a group or team (which is what Shelf Help is really all about). Burnett and Evans call this Radical Collaboration, and I would call this a reminder that you are not alone. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the idea of SELF-help is really a misnomer, because this kind of work is always more powerful with the support of other people. This month I would particularly encourage anyone reading along with us to follow the suggested Reading Schedule (see below) and check in with the Facebook community and I each Monday evening (8pm GMT) to connect and share progress and ideas as well as support their fellow life designers. “You do not have to come up with a brilliant life design by yourself," say the authors. "Design is a collaborative process, and many of the best ideas are going to come from other people. You just need to ask.” 


  • Mon 9th September - end chapter 3

  • Mon 16th September - end chapter 6

  • Mon 23rd September - end chapter 9

  • Mon 30th September - end of book



Bill Burnett is the Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford. He got his BS and MS in Product Design at Stanford and has worked professionally on a wide variety of projects ranging from award-winning Apple PowerBooks to the original Star Wars action figures. He holds a number of mechanical and design patents, and design awards for a variety of products including the first ‘slate’ computer.


Dave Evans is the Co-Director of the Stanford Life Design Lab and holds a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford. Early in his career he worked for Apple, where he led the mouse-design team and introduced laser printing to the masses. He then helped found the pioneering video games developer Electronic Arts.

get the book


  • The Designing Your Life website is a place to get more information on the book, as well as the course at Stanford and its curriculum, and information about upcoming talks and workshops.


  • We’ll be sharing quotes and questions for discussion throughout the month on Instagram and Facebook.


  • Come along to a real-life meetup to share your thoughts and hear some different perspectives on the book. This month’s meetups will be happening on Monday 30th September 2019. You can find out information on all locations HERE. (And if there’s no Shelf Help book club in your area yet and you want one, then let us know so we can try and include in our plans).