Life Design

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans | Book Review

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This post reviews the book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans.

This book review includes:

Disclosure: Some of the book links on this page are affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase a book using one of the links below, I earn a commission at no cost to you. [Full Affiliate Disclosure]

What The Book Is About

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.

How I Learned About the Book

I received a free copy of the book when I attended the 2018 JHU Professional Development Day as a postdoctoral fellow. I fully read the book in 2019 when I was exploring the possibility of becoming a life design educator and preparing for my interviews.

Design Thinking Framed Review: I Like, I Wish, I Wonder

My review of this book is based on the design thinking activity ‘I Like, I Wish, I Wonder (What If)’.

I Like

Aspects that stood out to me, were executed well, and that I just liked


I feel this book was written in an accessible manner. I appreciate that any possible new term or concept is defined. The mixture of stories, graphics, and activities is also quite helpful.

As an archaeologist, I appreciated the first story in the book: Ellen, the geology major who realized upon graduation she didn’t want to do geology. Ellen’s story resonated from the get-go because she represents the population that I work with on a daily basis – college students who are trying to figure things out.

The readability of this book definitely helps when assigning it to college students across majors, years, interests, etc.

The idea that what you major in is what you will do for the rest of your life, and college represents the best years of your life (before a life of hard work and boredom), are two of what we call dysfunctional beliefs – the myths that present so many people from designing the life they want.
Design Thinking

I appreciated how the authors applied design thinking to designing one’s life. It was interesting to see how the authors framed and employed certain design thinking tools and activities, while creating new ones. My students appreciated the structured approach that the framework presented to help anchor both their reflection and action.

The Workview and Lifeview exercises are two of my favorite activities in the book. My colleagues and I have even adapted this activity for other topics (e.g., sports, graduate school, sustainability, etc.). I appreciate the importance place on taking intentional time to articulate your views on work and life, which is a key foundation for subsequent activities and gets participants in a generative mindset.

Our goal for your life is rather simple: coherency. A coherent life is one lived in such a way that you can clearly connect the dots between three things:
– Who you are
– What you believe
– What you are doing
How the Designing Your Life framework matches up against the typical design thinking process.
Photo Credit: Distributed by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans under the Creative Commons License

I Wish

Aspects that I would change/adjust and what I wish was there

Define Stage

I appreciated the activities on collecting data/information about yourself (e.g., good times journal); however, I wish there was more guidance on defining good questions for yourself. I feel people who have no clue about what they want to do might find the jump from self data collection to sketching out 3 lives (i.e., Odyssey planning) a bit jarring.

I do understand you need to start somewhere; however, bridging empathizing with oneself to ideating might be helpful for those who feel really lost or who are early on in their careers (e.g., college students).

We want you to have lots of ideas and lots of options.
When you have lots of ideas, you can build prototypes of your life and test them out. That’s what life designers do.

I wish the were more intersectional perspectives and acknowledgment of privilege. Given the book’s career focus, there is a good deal of privilege in having the ability to design aspects of your (potential) career.

For example, when discussing gravity problems with some groups, they wanted more tools in figuring out how to deal with them. I appreciate the authors calling out and naming this type of problem; however, gravity problems were a major part of some of my students’ current life.

The authors recommend accepting and redirecting; however, I feel more guidance in this area would make the overall Designing Your Life approach more inclusive.

Gravity problems aren’t actually problems. They are circumstances you can do nothing to change. There is no solution to a gravity problem – only acceptance and redirection.

I Wonder

New ideas, thoughts, and suggestions

More Life, Less Career

I wonder what this book would have looked like if there less of a focus on one’s career and a bit more on other aspects of one’s life.

We often emphasize to our students the importance of engaging in activities outside of school/work. In college, there is more time and energy devoted to exploring such extra-curricular interests.

Our work/career is important and likely plays a central role in many of our lives. However, I wonder what this book would have looked like if work didn’t play such a central role.

What does a well-designed and balanced life look like? Imagine a day cut into perfectly equal pieces of pie – one slice for career, one slice for play and fun, one slice for family and friends, one slice for health. What is your perfect pie?

Life Design Application

This book is foundational for our life design work at Johns Hopkins University. We use many of the frameworks, mindsets, and activities. Moreover, we adapt them to suit our target populations and the work that we do (e.g., Personalizing the Love-Play-Work-Health Dashboard for University Students).

My life design approach continues to grow and, in many ways, diverges from the approach in Designing Your Life. Nonetheless, Designing Your Life was my introduction to life design and remains a core text for me.

Who Should Check Out This Book

If you’re interested in learning about life design, you should definitely check out Designing Your Life. If you’re thinking about what to do for a career or thinking about changing an aspect of your career, the framework presented in Designing Your Life could be helpful. Burnett and Evans do not offer quick-fix solutions. The framework presented takes time, reflection, and community; however, they do offer a structure and many ideas on how to do so.

*Special thanks to Christian Staudt for his feedback on initial drafts of this review.


  1. This review outlines much of what I liked and what I thought could be better in this book. Design thinking can be a useful framework to apply to many aspects of life. I’m excited that practitioners like Smiti are asking great questions and pushing the framework to make it more inclusive.

    • Smiti Nathan Reply

      Thanks so much for your kind comment Jodi! I appreciate it.

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