What will you design?
This is the question posed on Canva, a platform for designing your own fliers, invitations, banners and other materials. It’s right there on the home page.
Canva gives me a lot of options I can use to make great fliers, cards, and banners. It encourages me to play around with these elements.
But what about this as an existential question?
I feel challenged to address it. I feel like it’s the question of the age.
Who are we? What do we want? What is within us?
So many people have left their jobs. Others are contemplating an exit. People are reprioritizing and changing their lives.
(In the years since I turned 50, I have watched a parade of friends leave their long marriages.)
My clients, who come to me for help getting a new job, are at various crossroads:
- High-pressure travel demands vs. family time
- Same role vs. new assignment in a newly developed skill area
- Creating something original vs. following someone else’s dream
- Retiring or starting a business
It all seems more intense in these pandemic-era days.
The subject of discovering, creating, transforming…It seems to have taken on a new relevance. As a culture (at least here in the U.S.), we seem to be redefining what life really means; what is really important to us.
We definitely are asking what “work” means. We are demanding that corporations do better to meet employee needs. We are trying to create better environments and better conditions.
But how much easier would all this decision making be if we had a system for creating that thing that made us feel more involved in life, more in tune with our passions, or that solved the problem that’s bugging us?
Is there a system?
It is in part about being open to possibility.
We can learn a lot from the people who work in creative and technical fields. They create stuff every day. I’ve been exploring some of these concepts. Here’s one:
Back in the 1950s, John E. Arnold, a Stanford University mechanical engineering professor, described the process that engineers use to come up with solutions. He called it “Creative Engineering.” He wrote a book about it. The idea is that effective problems are approached from the user’s perspective. Solutions go through an ideation phase and a testing phase, then a prototyping phase.
In the 1980s the term Human-Centered Design grew out of these ideas. Then in the ‘90s a new concept emerged:
Design Thinking. A design firm called IDEO created a curriculum to teach resilience, adaptability and innovation methodologies. By the early 2000s, these were becoming business concepts.
In 2005, the concepts had spread even further, and they became the core of Stanford’s technical and social innovation curriculum. And then they migrated to life planning: Two program directors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, developed a course in Design Thinking to help students plan their paths after graduation.
Their ideas, detailed in their book, Designing Your Life (2016), center on exploration and observation, discovery, and prototyping to uncover life views, reveal unproductive and interruptive thought patterns, discover flow states, and discover ideas.
But that’s not all that’s available to us. We can also use the power of creativity.
This is another thread of ideas that has developed since the 1970s, and we now have a whole industry built around creativity cultivation. But we can thank artist Julia Cameron for pushing it into the mainstream. Cameron wanted to help people develop their artistic talents. She filled her handbook, The Artists Way (1992), with techniques and exercises, including journaling, to help people grow their self-confidence while harnessing their creative talents and skills.
The idea is to uncover blocks and reveal true desires and intentions through permission to express and explore them. (And I find writing indeed can do that if you stick to it.) These techniques have become widespread and are used by life coaches and therapists to help their clients change thought patters and uncover buried goals and dreams.
And earlier this year, I discovered more suggestions by Maria Brito, a former corporate attorney-turned-consultant for art collectors. She asked creatives how they develop their ideas and came up with a compendium of exercises that can help business owners identify and executive their ideas. She describes these and more activities in more detail in her book, How Creativity Rules the World (2022):
- Carve out time to learn and to think.
- Reflect on what really makes you happy.
- Map your goals.
- Change your perspective by exploring, watching, or reading something outside your comfort zone.
- Talk to people about what they do.
As someone with a master’s degree in American Studies who has explored aspects of culture in early 20th-century America, I have no doubt that in 75 to 100 years historians will be writing about this period and producing a slew of books about it.
I wish I could be there for that!
Of course, barring some breakthrough in life expectancy, it’s not likely. But no matter. I, and you, can live it right now. We’ve got so many great tools at our disposal; so many new things to create.
What will you design?