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  • Writer's pictureHanna Dobbels

Design: it's all personal...

One of my dear friends once told me that I operate my life as a designer, no matter where I go and what I do. It's how I'm wired to make sense of the world. And yet, my least favorite part of being a designer is describing what I do as a designer.

Sometimes I like to describe what a designer is this way: I was the kid who'd ask my parents over and over again (to the point of mental fatigue, bless them): why? And that's what I do day-to-day.

I live for the why.

In more detail, designers seek to to make sense of things by beginning with the person, the user. Designers dive into their needs, pain-points, celebrations, and behaviors to understand the day-in-the life and look for ways to improve it. Using insights gained in various ways, designers can brainstorm and create meaningful solutions that help to little-by-little or dramatically improve an experience.

But at it's core, we are all designers. Hear me out.

When you asked yourself, "Wouldn't it be nice if this was this way?" You're imagining a different way.

When you ask yourself, "How might I make this process better?" You're imagining a different way.

When you ask yourself, "I wonder if this would solve for this? What would that change? How would it feel?" You're imagining a different way.

All of these questions are personal to you, personal to your experience. All of those questions are rooted in curiosity - one of the building blocks of design. Empathy therefore has to be the start of it all. If I was designing something to improve your life/work in some way, those quick thoughts, those observations, those AHA moments - they would all funnel into a design process to eventually create a better way.

The design process helps getting "unstuck" in 3 different ways. 1) It shows what can be taken way, 2) what can be improved upon, and 3) what can be added.

Design. Make. Break. Repeat.

Design works best when repeated.

Design works best when you build onto it.

Design works best when you try it out.

Design works best because it doesn't ask for perfect.

Design works best because it starts and ends with empathy.

And. You don't have to be a designer to improve your life or work's experience.

*repeat for those in the back

To me, the most crucial part of being a designer (professionally and personally) is being willing to practice resilience and reflect. It's one thing to create something, but its another thing to understand the WHY and create something that ultimately improves the experience rather than change it. Wouldn't it be cool to do that with your own life?

You can, with intention. I've found the process helpful in so many areas of my personal life - from decision making to finding a new hobby! So, how can you practically practice design in your own life? I have ideas, friends!

Apply the design process in your own life.

Step 1: Grab a notebook and start asking yourself questions.

Go light, go deep. It's up to you!

How can I make my commute more enjoyable?

How can I improve "this sticky area" in my day to day life?

How might I "make this area of my life better"?

How might I meet new friends or find a hobby I enjoy?

How might I..............INSERT PROBLEM HERE.

WHEW. While those all may feel like big questions, writing them down will help give you a starting point and MAY help you understand what motions to do in order to solve them. You can't climb mountains with 1 step.

PRO-TIP: You don't have to solution right away, you don't have to solve your problems instantly. Be curious with yourself. Be patience with yourself.

The design process clicks when you start to really notice, recognize, and understand yourself in your own life. Design clicks when you identify patterns, name emotions around why you do what you do.

Step 2: Time for assumptions. No, they won't make an ass out of you. They can actually teach you some things.

After asking questions -> write down assumptions. What would be a good fix? A patch? A shortcut? A long-term solution? What are you assuming to be true? What haven't you tried? What hesitations do you have?

Are you assuming you've tried everything to bring joy to that commute? Do you need to find new podcasts or find a new job entirely without a commute? What are you assuming to be true? What are you assuming about yourself? What are you assuming about other people?

Step 3: Your ideas are allowed to be bad ones.

Start writing down ideas.





All of them.

Your ideas will help provide insights into how to adapt changes that will help you thrive. Keep you ideas flowing! Give your permission to fail. Maybe a lot.

Trust me, the larger amount of ideas, the greater chance of finding the thing that clicks. You weren't born for 1 thing, why would you think there is 1 solution?

Step 4: You are now a test machine.

The last step in your personal design journey is simple: try on your ideas. Your ideas are low-stakes, they don't have to be lifelong decisions! Keep your personal "testing" light and easy. Make note of how you feel.

What is working? What felt good? What part clicked or didn't click? Do you need to go back to the start? Do you need to practice something a few times (advice: it's all practice)?

You get to decide what works and what doesn't for you. And chances are, through this type of curiosity design process, you may even discover a whole new part of you that you didn't know before. The more you learn about yourself, the more confident you may become - isn't that the point?


-> Design. Make. Break. Repeat.
-> Assume. Idea. Try. Decide.

My hope is that you find the design process helpful in any situation of your life - work, personal, friendships, family, etc. There is so much to share of this topic, way too much. So I'll leave you with this:

Design lets you try on the many versions of what's true for you. Why? It's all personal.

-Hanna McCarthy, life-long learner.

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