Designing Your Life


what is this course about?

The course uses design thinking to address the “wicked problem” of designing your life and career. This class offers a framework, tools, and most importantly a place and a community of peers and mentors where we’ll work on these issues through assigned readings, reflections, and in-class exercises. The course employs a design thinking approach to help students from any major develop a constructive and effective approach to finding and designing their vocation after Stanford.

Topics include the integration of work and worldview, the realities of engaging the workplace, and practices that support vocation formation throughout your life. This is an experiential class that includes seminar-style discussions, personal written reflections, guest speakers, and individual mentoring/coaching. The capstone assignment is the creation of an “Odyssey Plan” focusing on taking action in the 3-5 years following your Stanford graduation.

This is a 2-unit class, meets once a week and is graded on credit/no credit basis. 

when is this course offered?

This course is offered in the Autumn, Winter and Spring terms.  Class is open to juniors and seniors of any major. Enrollment is limited and often over-subscribed.


Check out this article by Nick Benavides, Class of 2019, Co-President of ASES, in which Nick shares some of what he got out taking the course.

“Because of DYL, I not only got my dream job after college, but was super intentional about my life- friendships, health, hobbies, relationships, etc, in a way that I wouldn’t have been otherwise that made life after college just as fun, if not more fun, than my time at Stanford, which I didn’t think was possible!”

“Designing Your Life gave me ‘permission’ to dream. I was able to take myself out of my present setting and think, ‘What would I do if I could do anything? Where would I go?’ Somewhere along the way I had become scared, and I had decided that I was comfortable where I was. Working through DYL gave me the validation I needed to dream. To be okay with asking for what I want. To come up with plans to get what I want. To see that these dreams were in fact more attainable than I thought they were.”

“I came into DYL thinking I had it all figured out. My previous quarter, I got the grades, the girlfriend, and the job. I thought, ‘When I graduate, I’ll try the job, do some fun things on the side, and then go from there.’ I know. Laughably general. But through the course, I learned the importance of having specific, intentional directives. And now I’m more excited to graduate and start the next journey than I was ever before.”

What’s “design thinking” and how does it apply to my life and career?

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem solving and innovation through prototype iteration. Design takes a highly collaborative and hands-on approach to conceiving a new solution and expects to learn by doing and through feedback iterating real ideas in the real world. This approach lends itself especially well to the challenge of designing your vocation, which is a large and vaguely defined task — just the sort of thing design is good at. While some people really do know what they want to do with their lives, the large majority of people have to try a few things out and learn as they go. The steps along the way are prototypes to enjoy and learn from, not failures or practice rounds.

How much work is this class?

It’s 2 units. The class meets for two hours each week, which will include both class and section time. Outside of class expect 30 or sometimes 60 minutes of reading and usually a reflection exercise. The two major homework efforts are making a number of information interviews and writing them up and at the end of the course developing a draft “Odyssey Plan” for your post graduation season.

Who’s the course for?

Any Stanford Junior or Senior who would like to learn and apply a creative approach to designing their life. The course will “work” for people in a wide range of situations — from having a solid major and a good career idea already to being ready to jump into a new major and restart. Most importantly, the course is for students who want to engage with ideas and their peers and mentors in an honest effort in thinking about their lives. If you’re just curious about how we go about this, but don’t have much interest in applying it yourself, then it may not be for you.

I’m majoring in the Humanities — does it apply for me?

Absolutely. Even though “design” is part of the School of Engineering, this isn’t a technical class nor is it just for technical or business people. The process of design thinking can be applied to a host of situations.

Why is enrollment limited?

There are two reasons we limit the class size.  First of all we don’t want to overcrowd our class space.  Secondly, the course is structured around a small group experience with an emphasis on group discussion.  We’re constrained by both the room size and the number of section groups we can manage.

What if I don’t have career ideas yet or even am unsure about my major?

No problem. One of the advantages of this approach is it doesn’t start by asking the question, “Well —what is your passion?” or “What is your childhood dream?” Those questions don’t actually work for most people so planning approaches that start with those questions just fail those people — which is most of us! This design approach begins with right where you are now, regardless.

Do I have to actually design things in this class?

One great thing about this class is you get an introduction to design thinking – we call it a Design Boot Camp — which happens right up front. Boot Camp provides the basic ideas and perspectives of design which we’ll rely on throughout the balance of the course. There may be some simple projects in the Boot Camp, but nothing that takes any prior design or fabrication experience. Anyone can do it and it’s a great thing to learn.


Designing Your Life is one of many courses we teach that applies the Design Thinking approach to wicked life problems. Check out the full list of courses we offer here. With each course, we’ve tailored the material to a specific student population.

Stoked! where can i sign up? 

Sign up for ME104B: Designing Your Life on Axess.