The Designing Your Life Story

It all started with lunch.

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Dave Evans had been teaching a unique class at University of California at Berkeley called Finding Your Vocation: Is Your Calling Calling?, since 2000, when he heard that Bill Burnett had become the new Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford University. One day, Dave called Bill up to have lunch and see what he was up to – and just maybe see if Bill wanted to collaborate on a life course at Stanford.

As Dave puts it:

“I had no idea if Bill would be interested in bringing what I was doing at Cal to Stanford. Certainly the design program would be the right place to do it and Bill was a creative guy – but it was a pretty avant garde idea at the time. I figured this was the first meeting of what would be a months-long recruitment discussion. Within 15 minutes, Bill said, “Let’s do it! We’ll prototype it this summer and launch this Fall. Get me a proposal by Monday!”

Bill thought is was pretty simple,

“Dave hit on a need that I’d been working on for 15 years in office hours, one student at a time. Given Dave’s experience teaching a class on vocation at Berkeley and his success as a business guy and an executive coach, when he suggested teaching a class together, I jumped at the chance to work with him.”

Practicing what they preach, Dave and Bill decided to run a quick, low resolution prototype of the design thinking material they were considering using. Bill invited eight current and former advisees to a 2 hour, two night session over the summer. The Wednesday session went great; the Thursday session just wouldn’t stop. After the two hours of planned exercises, the students took over the discussion. Around eleven, when Bill and Dave insisted that they were done, one of the students turned to them and said, “No, we are not done yet. This is important stuff and you don’t understand. We have no place to have this conversation!!”

Dave and Bill started a class to have this conversation with their design students in 2007 and by 2010, launched “Designing Your Life” as an open enrollment class at Stanford which went on to become one of the most popular electives on campus. During that time, they refined the design exercises again and again to make them more efficient and actionable. The method they developed is centered on the principles taught in the Product Design Program and the at Stanford. Called “design thinking”, it is a process and a way of thinking about “wicked” problems. The Designing Your Life method became the subject of two PhD theses and demonstrated significant results in helping people design the life they want.

After teaching their class at Stanford for almost a decade and impacting thousands of students, Dave and Bill wrote and published Designing Your Life, to give everyone the chance to learn what it means to “design their lives.” The book went on to become a global phenomenon, rising to #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers list, selling over a million copies and translating into 24 languages.

More classes were developed and a team was built that became the Life Design Lab at Stanford, which teaches courses, delivers programs and tools, and conducts research applying the innovation principles of Design Thinking to the problems of life, education, and vocation. The Life Design Studio is an arm of the Lab, with the mission of training academic and career educators working in higher education to create Life Design programs in their institutions. The Studio has now trained 350+ universities worldwide and is estimated to have impacted over 1 million students.

Following the original DYL book’s publication, Dave and Bill also wrote Designing Your Work Life, about how design thinking can transform our present job and our experience of work by utilizing the designer mindsets. Dave and Bill then expanded on Designing Your Work Life with Designing Your NEW Work Life, offering updated tools, tips, and design ideas showing how to navigate disruption (global, regional, or personal) and create new possibilities for our post-COVID, post-AI work world and beyond.

Starting as soon as the first Designing Your Life book came out, Dave and Bill began to hear an unbroken request from life and career coaches who wanted to receive certification and get input on how to best use the DYL ideas and tools in their practice. So, they developed the Designing Your Life Coach Certification Program and have since trained hundreds of coaches from 36 countries.

Designing Your Life has also expanded its impact through DYL Master Instructors Susan Burnett and Kathy Davies, who developed Designing Your Life for Women (a highly interactive workshop for women, using the DYL tools for life and work design), as well as Designing Your Life Consulting (offering workshops for companies and organizations who want to increase employees’ engagement). Susan and Kathy also started the Designing Your Work and Life Workshop Provider Certification (for talent management consulting and workshop providing organizations).

The global reach of DYL continues to expand through developing DYL focused training schools and institutes in China with D.T. School and in Singapore with the DYL Institute. We have also trained DYL workshop providers through the DYL Facilitator program in Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Italy, Taiwan, Thailand and throughout the United States.

What began with a lunch and a simple prototype class with 8 students has made a truly global impact in empowering people to design a better life. We hope it will for you, too.

Our Books

At more than 1 million copies in 24 languages, the Designing Your Life series has made a truly global impact in empowering people to design a better life. We hope it will for you, too.

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