S5-EP4: Ayse Birsel on How to Apply Design Thinking to a Longer Life

Dec 2, 2022




Debbie chats with leading industrial designer Ayse Birsel about her new book and how to use design thinking to reimagine a longer life, especially the last chapter.



Debbie chats with Ayse Birsel about her new book. Ayse is an award-winning industrial designer whose firm has designed hundreds of products for brand name companies like Herman Miller, Ikea and Target. And that includes a product you may have sat on: a toilet seat.

She’s taken her industrial design methodology, broken it down, simplified it, made it fun and inviting… and turned it into a process for life design. The result is her second and newest book: Design the Long Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Love, Purpose, Well-Being, and Friendship.

One of her key points is that life, just like a design problem, is full of constraints — time, money, age, location, and circumstances. And if you’re an older adult reimagining your last chapter, you know what your final “constraint” is. You can’t have everything, so you have to be creative. You have to think like a designer.

You have to get ideas and beliefs out of your head and down onto paper and cultivate an attitude of playfulness and optimism – if you want to change. So the book is filled with Ayse’s whimsical drawings, and her step-by-step maps: for how to make new friends, how to reimagine work, how to create meaning, how to separate achievement from success, how to check your well-being index, and more.

One of Debbie’s favorite exercises: how to reconcile yourself to unresolved issues. Make a list, Ayse says, pick three, personify them and write them a letter and then let them go.

Ayse calls her method deconstruction / reconstruction. That means deconstruct your life, do a lot of exploring through scribbling and list-making and drawing, and then reconstruct the life you want.

Her new book is jammed with exercises and lists and interviews with her favorite mentors. Ayse says you have to draw (even if you think you can’t) every day to rev up your creative brain. Debbie’s advance copy is littered with yellow sticky notes as well as scribbles and arrows. She can’t draw but is trying anyway.


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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."