female student speaking at in Center For Design Thinking discussion

Life Design

Life Design applies the principles of design thinking to address the question of how to design a career and life that is meaningful, coherent, and fulfilling. It provides a set of mindsets, tools, and activities to assist people in clarifying their needs, identifying career and professional opportunities and, most importantly, taking action to test them out through hands-on experiences such as internships, volunteer/service learning, work-based learning projects, and more.

The life design approach is structured to be a fun, creative, and empowering process that helps you assess what is important to you, imagine several future possible career and life pathways, and then clarify those that will be a great fit for you through experiential learning activities (“Trying stuff out”), conversation (“talking to people about their careers”), and coaching.

How Can This Process Help?



Discover your true interests and strength
Exercises and assessments provide self-knowledge to uncover what sparks joy and your abilities.

Explore a wide range of possibilities
Researching options exposes you to careers and lifestyles you may not have considered or known before.

Clarify your values and priorities
What matters most to you? Life design reflection helps you define your core values and determine your driving factors.


Develop critical life skills
The iterative process builds problem-solving, creativity, empathy, resilience, and other transferable skills.

Gain real-world experience
Internships, volunteering and other experiential learning opportunities allow you to validate your interests through direct exposure.

Build connections and networks
Interacting with professionals gives you insider knowledge and grows your relationships in fields of interest.

Implement an evolving life plan
Life design provides a roadmap to take action towards a dynamic vision for your life moving forward.



Life Design Mindset

The life design process accelerates your career success by adopting several beneficial strategies and mindsets such as: 
Looking at internal or external barriers from new perspectives in ways that enable you to overcome mistaken or dysfunctional beliefs, enabling you to take constructive action and move forward.
Adopting an open and questioning mindset that helps you explore interests, possibilities, and connect with pathways and people that energize you.
Adopting a mindset to always take steps towards moving things forward, exploring possibilities, “testing out” options repeatedly until strong and rewarding options are identified.

Life designers recognize that when building something, the insights, perspectives, and guidance of others can greatly improve the quality of the design.  Life designers recognize that you should never “go it alone” if you want to build something great, especially if that thing is your future life! They seek mentors, advisors, and insights from their community.

Life designers continuously assess which stage they are at in their exploration and design process and recognize that steps can take time and be broken down into multiple steps. They recognize that to craft something, they may need to “try out” or “prototype” several options in order to arrive at a good design solution.




Life Design Steps

The Life Design approach guides the “designer” through a robust set of steps that enable one to move towards clarity and confidence in choosing career and life pathways. 

The goal of this step is to engage in "Self-empathy" - deeply assessing and articulating one's core needs, values, and perspectives about work, life, and the connection between these. Exploring questions such as "Where are you coming from? Where are you now? What are key elements of your worldview? What are your thoughts and beliefs about the role of work in your life?"  At Manhattanville we use the FOCUS2 assessment platform as one tool to assist students in their self-assessment, examining their skills, values, interests, and personality.

  • Complete Focus2 Career Self-Assessments and evaluate Self-Assessment results
  • Journal thoughts in a self-reflective mindset
  • Have conversations with peers about career thinking
  • Talk to counseling services about unknowns
  • Read alumni profiles in Newsletters
  • Attend diversity events through Clark Center & CFI to gain cultural awareness

The goal of this state is using the results of the self-assessment / self-empathy to define one’s point of view, so that some themes and priorities can emerge for exploration and possible development. For example: “What kind of life do I hope to build for myself?”  “What sorts of career pathways would be congruent with my core needs, skills, and values?” 

  • Meet with academic advisor to discuss options
  • Meet with career counselors to explore fit
  • Identify key skills gained from campus involvement
  • Extract themes from extracurriculars

During this step, the goal is to generate a large number of possible ideas about pathways which could align with the question defined in the prior step, ultimately narrowing down to several which can be further explored. Using strategies like brainstorming and mind-mapping, the designer develops a wide range of possible solutions.

  • Take a career planning or life design course
  • Search online job boards to find openings
  • Research trends using campus career resources
  • Brainstorm ideas on whiteboards with advisors
  • Attend career guest speaker panels

In this stage the designer identifies specific activities or experiences which enable them to “Try out” possible solutions developed in the “Ideate/Brainstorming” stage. Life Designers identify and seek out low risk, short term experiences or activities which enable them "try out" different career experiences, enabling them to get a hands-on experience to help them evaluate the "fit" of a possible career or life activity. This is where the Life Design framework excels at connecting the student journey with Experiential Learning – it is a fundamentally action oriented, engaged, hands-on, and participatory approach. 

  • Complete an Experiential Learning opportunity (Internship, Study Abroad, etc)
  • Conduct informational interviews with professionals
  • Join student organization or club related to interest area
  • Join/Start a research project related to potential interest
  • Take on leadership roles in activities
  • On-campus Employment

As The Life Designer “tries out” different career activities and experiences, they assess whether these provide a good fit in terms of matching their skills, interests, values, and goals. The Test phase is about engaging in their “prototyping” activities making meaning from real-world experiments. This enables students to prototype, test, and iterate possible pathways until one or more viable paths are identified.  Some key questions in the Test phase include: "Was this experience enjoyable and interesting? Why or why not?" "Did the experience allow one's strengths and skills to be utilized?" "Could this be a long-term path?" "What insights were gained about needs and preferences through the experience?"

This stage helps determine if the potential path is a good fit to explore further or not.

  • Practice interview skills through career center
  • Present ideas to faculty/advisors for feedback
  • Discuss future plans with mentors for input
  • Debrief experiences with supervisors or counselor
  • Reflect on lessons learned


(Act, Reflect, Revise)

Life Design: an "Iterative" process

Life Designers understand that their very first idea or “solution” they think of may not ultimately be the “best fit” option;  as designers “try things out”, they learn what works for them (and perhaps what *doesn’t* work for them as well) and remain open to trying new and different things until they have found strong possibilities that work for them.  Therefore, Life Designers may go through several rounds or iterations of ‘Prototyping/Testing” – trying out multiple experiences or engaging in multiple exploratory activities to help them build clarity and confidence in their options and choices. 

Life Design in Action

Getting Started

  • Meet with a counselor / hub staff person to map out your current situation and next steps in your life design journey.
  • Take the FOCUS 2 free Career Assessment to shine light on your interests, values, and skills, and how these connect to possible careers.
  • Read: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (Knopff, 2018) – written by the co-founders of the Life Design Approach, which provides a practical guide for moving through the steps of the Life Design process.
  • Take the “Designing Your Life” course offered at Manhattanville and put the principles of life design into action with your classmates.