How Design Thinking Can Help You Choose a Better Career

Using design thinking to help you find your niche

I listened to a podcast about getting a job after college and heard about the book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, two Stanford University professors. The book discusses how to use design thinking to create a meaningful life and career, and is based on Stanford’s most popular class. In it, I discovered a surprising statistic about college grads:

“…in the United States, only 27 percent of college grads end up in a career related to their major.’“

After learning this, I realized that I’m a part of that 27 percent. My intentions after graduating were to find a UX/graphic design job but instead I got a job in web editing. I primarily read this book to help me figure out where I want my career to take me. I recently decided to pursue copywriting, but I needed to make sure that I was choosing the right path for myself.

Activities to Help You Find Your Way

Burnett and Evans argue that the 27 percent statistic could be because some college students don’t thoroughly think through what they want to do after graduation. Their book puts together steps you can take to find a career that is fulfilling and related to your interests and goals. Here are some of the activities from the book:

  1. Failure Log
  2. Love, Play, Work, Health Dashboard
  3. Mindmapping
  4. Odyssey Plans

Failure Log

Pay attention to your failures and write down specifically what you did wrong, how that relates to a weakness, and how to turn that weakness into a growing opportunity. Then reflect on that mistake.

Love, Play, Work, Health Dashboard

By creating this dashboard you can identify areas of your life that need improvement. For example, maybe you’re putting in extra hours at work so you haven’t had time to focus on your health or go to the gym as often as you’d like. Evaluate your dashboard to see where you can make improvements for yourself.


This was my favorite activity as it was one I was familiar with from college. You take an idea and write it in the center of a piece of paper. Then, you stem off other words related to that center word. The idea here is to take things you like to do and related actions and turn them into possible career paths. For example, I might put down writing at the center of my mind map and then think about books, reading, teaching, and publishing. This could lead to careers as an editor, journalist, teacher, or publisher.

Odyssey Plans

The purpose of this activity is to help you identify 3 different career possibilities. The first path could be something you already enjoy. The second path could be what you would do if the first thing didn’t exist anymore, and the third thing is something you would do if money didn’t matter. You don’t have to follow these prompts, each path can be anything you want if you already have ideas. The mind mapping activity should help you with this.

My first Odyssey plan was being a graphic designer or UX designer since that was what I studied in school. My second plan, the one I’ve chosen to pursue, is copywriting, and my third would be teaching English at a college. When thinking about each path it helps to identify what kind of life you picture for yourself. If one of my Odyssey plans was to become a lawyer, I’d have to take into account going to graduate school and the pros and cons of that expense. In the long run, would the expense outweigh the knowledge I would gain and money I would make upon finding a job? If I wanted to be a freelance designer, would I be okay with a potentially unsteady paycheck? These are all things to consider when evaluating each plan.

Don’t Let Multiple Career Paths Scare You

Since graduating from college, all I was focused on was one career path. I always thought, how do I find a job related to design? But after reading this book, I feel better prepared to pursue copywriting. This book helped me narrow down the millions of options I saw for myself.

“A common mistake that people make, they said, is to assume that there’s only one right solution or optimal version of your life, and that if you choose wrong, you’ve blown it.” — The New York Times

I’m still afraid that what I choose won’t make me happy, but I feel like the activities in the book helped me figure out what was important to me and what my values are when looking for the type of life and career I want for myself.

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