Is it possible to take creative thinking and apply it to the way we live our lives? Ayse Birsel certainly thinks so, and her popular book Design the Life You Love explores how to do just that.
When in the economy crashed in 2008, Ayse Birsel struggled to keep her design studio going. But the toughest challenge of her career led the New York-based creative to not only rethink her approach to design, it also changed her entire way of looking at the world.
Based on this new way of thinking, in 2015 she published Design The Life You Love, a book helping people to change their own lives and she’s done multiple workshops and developed an online course around the topic. Now she is launching a podcast series around the same theme, and its first guest is the revered designer Stefan Sagmeister (whose own work has often revolved around happiness).
“Design The Life You Love started out of necessity,” says Ayse. With fewer clients knocking at her door, she found herself at a crossroads, unable to do the work she loved. “I felt really frustrated, because design is who I am – it’s how I relate to myself, it’s my identity. It was almost like an identity crisis,” she says.
That she’s a designer at heart becomes clear when we sit down in her favorite New York cafe. When I ask her about the surrounding area, she grabs my notebook and starts drawing 5th Avenue, a great Japanese place on 41st St, Bryant Park with its fountain, the New York Public Library and so on.
For such a natural designer, that enforced downtime must have been particularly tough. But it allowed her to take a step back and look at her design thinking. She had never really thought about the way she approaches design – she didn’t follow a clear process. “I tried to understand how I was working intuitively. It was almost like a journey into my mind,” she says.
“I tried to remember how I started different projects, finding the moment you shift from your first ideas to being able to choose one idea over another. I started sketching, writing and mapping it out, and from that I developed the theory of ‘deconstruction, reconstruction’.”
Simply put, deconstruction helps you to disassemble the current service, product or situation, allowing you to move the parts around and so look at a design problem from a different point of view. Reconstruction then takes these parts and looks at them with a new perspective, recombining the different elements to solve the matter at hand.
This concept became the way she looked at all of her design projects, but Ayse didn’t leave it at that. “I feel like my life is my biggest project, so when I had figured out my design process, I wondered, what if I apply this to my life? And from that, Design The Life You Love was born.”
Ayse argues that design is not necessarily about the products you are building, or the service you are providing, it is more about “designing people’s lives. Even when I’m designing a product or a service I’m trying to positively change somebody’s life.”
So the book is about transforming your own life, using Ayse’s principles as its basis.
“In design you never ask something directly. You always have to go through imagination and creativity,” Ayse says. “If I tell somebody to go, figure it out and be creative, that doesn’t help.”
Instead of telling you what to do, her playful illustrations and handwritten instructions take you on a journey, exercise by exercise, and help you understand what you value, where you want to go and what your next step in life could be.
For example, at one point she asks the reader to draw and describe their superheroes. What qualities do you admire in them?
“With the heroes exercise you get very personal, it truly defines the values of who you are, but it is easy to think about it because you don’t realise it is about you. Then it becomes super rich,” she explains.
For Ayse it was important to offer this guidance. “I wanted people to feel like I was in the room with them, talking to them through the book,” she says.
“It’s like doing math – someone gives you a formula. Without the formula you can’t do math, and without the process you can’t design.”
Interestingly, developing her own formula has changed as she has used it more. “What I love about Design The Life You Love, is that it evolved over time,” Ayse says.
“The first time I tried to write the book, I wrote it in words. It was all text. It was super boring, but I thought that that’s what writing a book was.”
Ayse shows that design trickles into every aspect of our world. She deconstructed the idea of a traditional book, and reconstructed it into something new – instead of using words, she speaks through her visuals. She teaches us that you can basically rethink anything, even when it is as big as your life. You only need the right tools to do so.