Ayse Birsel on designing a meaningful future for yourself

The award-winning designer talks about applying design processes to our daily lives.

Ayse Birsel grew up in Turkey in a family full of lawyers. While she loved to draw, she often felt destined to follow in her parents’ footsteps. One day, a friend of the family visited for tea and demonstrated the elements of industrial design to her using a teacup.

“See how the cup has curves?” the friend pointed out. “It’s so that we can drink easier. And look at the handle; it’s so we don’t burn ourselves when holding hot liquid.” The young Birsel had never heard of industrial design before but immediately fell in love with the human scale of it and has been working in this arena ever since.

But Birsel is more than a designer; she’s a teacher, and the co-founder and creative director of Birsel + Seck. She’s also the author of Design the Life You Love, a strikingly illustrated and practical guide to building the life you've always dreamed of. Our lives are the ultimate design project, asserts Birsel, and what if we could apply processes of design to our daily lives?

It was from this thinking that the singular workbook emerged. Cognisant of the numerous constraints that hold humans back from pursuing their dreams, Birsel considered the qualities that made a good designer. She decided it was their optimism, empathy and inclination toward collaboration that helped them transform limitations into opportunities and set about designing a process that could be easily shared and taught to others.

“Are you ready to experiment with me?” Birsel asked as she stepped out onto the Design Indaba 2017 conference stage. She then guided the audience through the books’ four steps: deconstruction, forming a new point of view, putting it back together, and giving it form. This is done through doodling, drawing, visualisation, introspective journaling – activities meant to stimulate the right side of the brain, as well as the intuition and imagination.

Developed with non-designers in mind, the Design the Life You Love process is intended to be playful. “Because when we play,” says Birsel, “we’re like kids. We’re not afraid of making mistakes. And that’s exactly the spirit that’s needed to design the life you love.”

Birsel’s process provides an inspired yet simple way for anyone to navigate the challenges of pursuing a dream and serves as a reminder that the tools for success lie within each and every one of us – it just requires a little coaxing. “In design,” she says, “if you can visualise something you can make it happen.”

Watch the Interview with Ayse Birsel