Designing Life Decisions

Each day we make hundreds of decisions. Some of these decisions are simple, like what will you eat for breakfast... or are you going to skip that daily workout. Some decisions, however, are not so easy and require time to narrow the solution to find an ideal outcome. I think this is where Design Thinking comes into play. 

If you have heard of Design Thinking, you might not think it is inherently useful for making personal decisions. In fact, its iterative process is actually incredibly valuable when making some of those high-risk decisions we face in life. 

Design Thinking is an innovative problem-solving methodology seeking to solve human-centered problems. It entails a 3-step loop: Gaining Deep Empathy, Prototyping, and Testing. This process is repeated continuously to narrow the problem and hone in on the best solution to solve that problem. Typically, design thinking is used business, but I have found it to be helpful in solving my own problems. 

For example, take the problem of deciding where to attend college. This is one of the most difficult decisions we make in our lives, and we often make it when we are still young and unaware of all our options. Using the three steps of Design Thinking can help solve this problem and ultimately help make the best decision. 

Gaining Deep Empathy

Interviews are a great way to gain deep customer empathy. Take time to create a list of questions to understand yourself and your college decision. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What brings you joy?
  • When you were 5 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What does your ideal college experience look like?
  • What factors in your life affect this decision?
  • In 10 years, what does life look like for you?

Write down your interview or better yet, record it. Be sure to expand on questions, follow up with questions, and probe yourself. 


If I had to decide where to attend college again, I would take advantage of prototyping. As you have just interviewed yourself, you might have a good idea of what you want your college experience to look like and the factors that contribute to your decisions. Take time to prototype by scrappily designing your ideal college experience. Create a college brochure or slide deck, your ideal resume for when you graduate college, or any other prototype expressing your ultimate college experience.


After creating your prototype, test it. Ask yourself what you like about it and if there is anything you would change or add. Then, use this prototype as a reference for reviewing colleges. Research and visit colleges. Test whether that college hits the mark or comes close to your ideal college experience. 


After testing your prototype, you have probably narrowed your college choice list. Go back to customer empathy and ask deeper questions about the colleges you have narrowed and your current impressions of those colleges. Try to get a better understanding of what joy each college brings you and what you dislike about the colleges (pain points). Complete steps 2 and 3 again and repeat the loop until you have selected your college. 

Design Thinking cannot only be applied to your college decision, but any difficult decision, like what career move you should make, what home or car to purchase, or if you should get married or not. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even use it to help you decide what you should eat for breakfast or if you should drag yourself to the gym. Although Design Thinking cannot always control the outcomes of your decisions, it is a good place to start to help you make better-informed decisions and take control of your life. 

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