Design thinking isn’t only a tool for solving social problems or inventing better products. Sparked by the New York Times best-selling book, Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, nearly 30 Denison students gathered to apply the process of design thinking to designing their lives. A partnership between the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration and Denison’s Red Frame Lab, the Designing Your Life workshop provided students with an opportunity to reflect on what it is they truly want in life. Do they want to live somewhere icy cold or super hot? Do they like working on teams or on solo tasks? Do they like the city or the country? Diving deeper than these personal tastes, we asked them to think about their multiple passions and to reflect on one simple, yet pretty important question: “When you think of a well-lived, joyful life, what are things that are important to you?” After spending some time on personal reflection, students engaged in “Odyssey Planning,” which simply means designing three different pathways for their lives. So often humans tend to see their development as linear—I’ll do this which will lead me to that, which will advance me to that next thing. Odyssey Planning forces students to think of three wildly different lives, incorporating their passions, skills, and interests.
Then students shared their multiple plans with their peers in small groups. Doing so allowed students to hear lots of different career paths and interests. Director of Operations in the Knowlton Center, Melanie Murphy shared that one of the Knowlton Center’s goals is to help expose students to multiple career possibilities. Sharing different pathways with one another allowed all students to hear different possibilities and to help them think creatively about their own career development.
First-year student and Chicago-native Dana Randall who’s currently undecided about her major reflected, “The Designing a Life workshop aided my discovery of different careers exploring broad and varied interests of mine that I might not have considered as thoughtfully otherwise. Through the mind maps and life templates we filled out, I was able to outline several potential future career paths and receive valuable input from other students about how I can work toward achieving my goals. It was a great way to start thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead in the future, even if I don't know what I want to do career-wise yet.”
Students then consulted one another about the resources they might access or the opportunities they might take advantage of in order to prepare them for the lives they’re hoping to lead. How might I start a business after graduation? How might I gain the skills and knowledge about different cultures? Students’ suggestions to one another ranged from studying off-campus to immerse themselves in another culture, to taking a Knowlton Center OnBoard module to develop skills in professional communication, to taking a particular course offered next semester, to pursuing an internship within a particular industry. Students leveraged the knowledge of their peers to expand their horizons and broaden their networks in order to lead these well-lived, joyful lives. Communication major and Theatre minor Cierra King ’20 from Columbus, Ohio reflected “My experience at the Red Frame lab was life changing already. I never knew that it could be this impactful in my life and career here at Denison. What I like about the workshop is how my lifelong achievements or action plan was broken down into sections. This allowed me to rethink and be reminded of small steps I can take to reach those goals that I set for myself to complete my out of the box achievement.”
This workshop is one example of how Denison is using its Red Frame Lab to provide students with opportunities to explore and create. Red Frame Coordinator Steve Krak shares, “The Designing Your Life workshop gives students a chance to not only imagine different futures, but to see where those futures might inform each other or even intersect. It’s very energizing, and ideas that spring from collaborative brainstorming leave students empowered to bring those futures into reality.”