Documentation:Design Your Life and Career/Framework

From UBC Wiki


Why do this?

"Agency is an important construct because it is more durable and relevant than career decidedness, given the many life and work transitions that emerging adults will eventually face." (Oishi, 2012)[1]

"human beings can actively and effectively work to make changes in their thoughts, goals, careers and lives." (Oishi, 2012)[1]

We all have the potential to get stuck and face problems as we move forward in our lives and careers. Working through a design thinking process can support students in designing their own way forward toward meaningful work and a good life. When students activate their own agency and autonomy in this process, they build confidence to use it again and again as they face ongoing life and career changes.


The process of design thinking was brought to public attention by David Kelly, the founder of the at Stanford and the product design firm IDEO. There are 5 components to the typical design process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test). The life design process adds a sixth component: accept. The process flow goes something like this:

  • accept: Burnette and Evans suggest that you cannot solve a problem you are not willing to have. So the first step in designing your life is identifying the problem or challenge you are facing and that you want to explore.
  • empathize: in human centered design - the process begins with developing a deep understanding of your "user" in order to find a need. Designs evolve from the needs people have. In life design we are the users - so the process involves developing an understanding of ourselves - through guided self assessment and reflection and supporting others by listening and ideating together.
  • define: this is about finding the problem - the real problem is often not the one that is first introduced. It is through the process of iterating, refining and reframing that real problems are found and can be used as jumping off points for ideating and prototyping.
  • ideate: the #1 enemy of creativity is judgement (Burnett and Evans). Ideation strategies like brainstorming and mindmapping ,etc. help us get past our tendency to be critical. The idea is to go for volume in ideation, because you choose better if you have many good ideas to choose from.
  • prototype: after narrowing down to a few good ideas, pick one to prototype. This is where we build our way forward - quickly working through ideas, failing and iterating to get the data we need for the next prototype. Prototypes are designed around questions so you can get some data about something you are interested in. Prototypes in life design can help us experience alternatives without committing to a decision.
  • test: a life design prototype may be an experience of shadowing someone for a day; taking an internship, interviewing people in the field, etc. It's an iterative process, trying something, gathering feedback and refining, iterating or trying something new.
design thinking and mindsets combine to support each other


Mindsets show up as people work through the design process above. They are helpful ways of thinking. The image on the right articulates something about how the mindsets support the design thinking process.

  • Curiosity - invites exploration and keeps us open to possibilities.
  • Bias to action. Try stuff, test it out, learn from failure and focus on what happens next not the final result.
  • Reframing. Step back to examine assumptions that have you stuck and unable to move forward. Reframe beliefs to get unstuck.
  • Process focus. An important part of process is to let go of the end goal and get messy - experimenting with new ideas for your life.
  • Radical collaboration. You are not alone.

What's in it for students?

  • learn strategies for reframing problems and identifying questions to use as a basis for exploration
  • prototype plans for action (based on the questions they seek answers to).
  • provide feedback and support to each other in the process.


What is necessary in order to support students in developing competencies at designing their way through a problem?

  • Sequencing of components and scaffolding into and across activities.
  • Activities to develop competencies: curiosity, reframing, communication, networking, activation (?)
  • Variations and adaption of each activity to fit context and pedagogy (?)

Key ingredients


Learning: experimentation and risk taking requires a safe space.

Question for facilitators: how might you create a safe space in the context you have?

workshop (one off)



Process for students (their container)

  • situate themselves: "You are here" (what experiences transformed you, gave you your life view/perspective; what "superpowers" do you possess now that you'll want to take forward to a career?)
  • identify their problem/reframe as necessary
  • develop some questions (to guide their exploration)
  • prototype some ways to explore options in depth (using questions as a guide)
  • reflect on what they learned after they worked with the prototypes (re-frames/changes, etc)
  • listen, observe, feedback and support peers.(?)
  • go forward with something to act on.


Learning: foundational constructs are effective when they are simple, accessible and imply a sequence of events.

Question for facilitators: what is a helpful framework to support students in "building" their own stories, prototypes, compasses?

Design Thinking Framework (and variations)

  • empathy and acceptance (yourself and others)
  • Start from where you are - "you are here"
    • Taking stock (what are you starting with: strengths and challenges?)
    • Flow and Energy (?)
  • Workview/Lifeview/ (building a compass)
  • Define (what do you want to pursue, what questions will guide your exploration?)
  • Prototyping a Plan (what can you try)
  • Reframe (where are you stuck and how can you reframe to move forward)?

Metaphors (ie. life/career as a journey/quest)

Precarious nature of work (?)


Learning: Sharing, listening and observing helps to sharpen insights - yours and others'.

Question for facilitators: what do people need in order to bring empathy, offer useful insights and listen for meaning? Think scaffolds/ bridging activities/ agreements/group climate.

Telling your story

Reframe beliefs

Odyssey Planning (prototyping)

Making choices/Ways of knowing/Using your compass

Talk to people

Asking for directions


Learning: Asking for/giving help builds your network and opens the possibility for opportunities to present themselves.

Question for facilitators:

Curiosity conversation?

Wild ideation

Workplace attractors

Activity Map

  • note to group: I added columns to link to process and mindsets as above - to give us some support for wayfinding. I suggest that a useful (and sustainable) approach might be to link activities with their own wiki pages in this section and have links to materials, facilitator's instruction etc. together on those pages. If Kimberley agrees, we could use her prototype as an example of what a prototype could look like in the wiki. I suggest we add both a prototype template and an activity template for others to use as they do this work. They can add to it from our main portal page.
Process Mindset Goal Activity
Empathize Curiosity, Process focus Situating yourself: You are Here Work/Life View: Bring and share
Empathize Curiosity, Developing your compass StoryTelling: What's your journey?

LEGO: What does work mean to you?

Free-write: What does your work/life view look like?

Accept Curiosity, Process focus Finding your problem Share story and problem (pairs or triads)
Accept Reframe Assessing balance in your life/ adding to your compass Good time journal/energy dashboard
Define Radical Collaboration Getting unstuck Reframing beliefs: group
Define/Ideate Radical Collaboration Identify gravity problems and refocus on actionable aspect. Brainstorming reframes commonly held beliefs about career. Notice/reframe gravity problems (1)
Define Curiosity, Reframe Reframing problems: individual
Define/Ideate Reframe Identify anchor problems and refocus on actionable aspect Reflect on the problem you found/identified for yourself. Reframe to make it actionable. Notice/reframe anchor problems (2)
Ideate Bias to action, Curiosity Find connections Mindmapping: one thing you like to do and everything you might associate with this.
Ideate Bias to Action, Process focus, Curiosity Explore multiple versions of you Odyssey Plans: 1. Thing that you do (likely); 2. thing that you would do if #1 wasn't an option; 3. Thing you would do if money/time/weren't barriers.
Prototype/ Empathize Bias to Action, Radical Collaboration Prototyping/Ideation Develop your questions. What do you want to know? How might I...?
Prototype/Test Radical Collaboration, Curiosity Gather feedback/ information curiosity converstaions. Take someone to coffee (who has a job like the one you want), prototype an experience, silent brainstorming on a question: how might I...
  • note for group: didn't add meaning making as I thought this applied to all activities. What do you think?
  1. gravity problems are those that are much bigger than you. You can't solve these on your own.
  2. anchor problems are those that you have decided have only one (usually big) solution and it is preventing you from seeing other options.

Worksheets and Discussion Questions


  1. 1.0 1.1 Oishi, L. N., Schwartz, D., Krumboltz, J., Roth, B., & Stanford University. (2012). Enhancing career development agency in emerging adulthood: An intervention using design thinking.