Design the Life You Love with Ayse Birsel
Hello, welcome to CreativeLive. I am super excited, tonight we've got an amazing guest. Ayse Birsel, I love her name. Ayse Birsel is the co-founder, and creative director of Birsel + Seck, an empathy-driven product design studio in New York City that partners with Fortune 500 clients to bring innovation to market. Her work is the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, and has received numerous awards, including the IDEA Gold and ID Magazine Excellence Awards. She's here with us tonight to talk about her new book. Let's welcome Ayse. (applause) Thank you.
Thanks for coming.
You're a hugger, right?
I am a hugger, I'm a hugger.
Yes, hi, everyone.
So I just wanted to ask you first how did you get started as a product designer?
So I have to show you my teacup. Let's start there. First of all, Lara, it's great to be here.
It's so good to have you.
Thank you, so I grew up in Turke...
y in Izmir. I come from a family of lawyers, and I thought that's what I was going to do until I realized that I love drawing and I thought, okay, I don't think lawyers draw. Then I thought, okay, architecture. I was finishing high school and this friend of the family came to tea and he said, "Oh, architecture. "Have you heard about industrial design?" I had never about that. It was like the first time I heard those two words together, and he said, "This teacup," like this teacup. "The way the edge is curved so that it fits your lips, "and it has a handle so that you can hold hot liquid, "and then it has a saucer "so if you spill it you won't ruin your mom's tablecloth, "and that's designed by an industrial designer." I fell in love with the human scale of design. That's when I decided to become a designer.
So now you're here and you have this amazing book.
Yes, Design the Life You Love.
So you were really turned onto product design. How did you get started go to school or?
I did my undergraduate in Turkey, and then I came to New York to Pratt Institute to do my master's. Actually, I want to do the first exercise that I did at Pratt with you. Would you like to do that?
You're game for that, all right. It's actually also the first exercise in this book. I think you all have a card like this. So here's the exercise. Those of you who are watching us at home or at work just grab a pen and your sketchbook, or a blank piece of paper, and it would be great to do it together. Turn to each other, actually, and you're going to draw your neighbor, okay? No masterpieces you only have three minutes, but here's the thing there's like a frame. You could use the whole frame, and the only trick to drawing a face is that the eyes go in the middle that's there. Everything else free flow, have fun. Oh, and the other trick is look at each other every now and then, okay? If you're drawing someone with glasses like I'm drawing Lara it's an advantage. Earrings, facial hair. All right, Lara, don't shoot me, okay? When you see what I'm doing here.
Oh, wait 'til you see you.
Are you feeling your right brain start to warm up?
I am. Okay, I love your hair that gives me freedom. All right, how are you doing here? We're good? Done, please sign. Then let's hold up our drawings. Lara, oh my, that's cool.
Yours is good.
Everybody hold it up.
Well done. A roomful of very talented people. Okay, so there's a little story to this exercise. This is the very first exercise we did when I started at Pratt, first class, first exercise, and here I was Ayse Birsel from Turkey, and next to me was Rodolfo Sanchez from Argentina and we drew each other, and to this day he's one of my oldest and best friends, so you're going to become best friends with the person that you drew, and that's the magic of it. You want to exchange?
Thank you, I love it.
This feels like an art piece. I think I got pretty lucky.
Thank you, so that's how I started. That was the beginning at Pratt, and then when I graduated I started designing products. I've designed so many products including a toilet seat, which not many designers can say they designed a toilet seat. For a while I was know as the queen of toilets, and I took that as a compliment. So here's the toilet seat. It's very easy to clean. You can take off the lid and the seat, and wash them under the faucet which I was obsessed with like it has to be easy to clean. My first project, actually, was a series of office accessories for Knoll that I designed with my teacher at Pratt, Bruce Hannah. To this day they're still on the market which is quite incredible. Then kitchen gadgets, and pots and pans for Target. If you go to Target the Giada Laurentiis collection it's about 50 products. I have to tell you the potato peeler is 7.99. It's known as the best potato peeler out there. Here are what the pots and pans look like. Office systems for Herman Miller, and even an automobile.
For Renault. That's actually how I met Bibi my partner.
So product design and then a book. How do those go together? How did one lead to the other?
Automobiles to a book.
Or toilet seats to a book.
Thank you. I think that my life is my biggest project. It's a design project. A couple of years ago I developed my own process, design process deconstruction-reconstruction, which was really interesting because I had to go inside of myself and kind of figure out this intuitive internal process. The creative process is almost magical. I try to put that on paper and write about it, and map it out and sketch it, and kind of capture how do I do that? Out of that I developed the deconstruction-reconstruction the four stepped process which is the basis of Design the Life You Love. When I had my process I thought, well, if my life is my biggest project can I apply design process to my life? So it really started as an experiment. This friend of mine, Shirley Moulton, she had started Academy of Life, which is about learning lessons you don't learn at school. She said, "If you want I'll give you a workshop." I said, "Yes." I found myself kind of putting this Design the Life You Love workshop from scratch, and creating exercises. Then I found myself in front of 15 people one day, people who wanted to design their lives. It took off from there. It was like 15 people and then another 15 people, and they told their friends, and it kind of went kind of word of mouth until from that to the book was people started asking me do you have a book? Can I take this home? I was like, oh, a book, they put that idea in my head, so one day I found myself saying, yes, there is a book. I'm writing a book and that took three years.
It's funny how when you say that you're doing something you actually find yourself doing it.
And how this whole idea of like writing a book seems like this big thing, but it sounds like it just sort of unfolded, and was meant to be, and then all of a sudden like here it is. How long did it take you?
Just like you said once I started saying the words, like, oh, yes, maybe I should write a book then I am writing a book. At one point I was like, well, I really need to write it and finish it. It took me a long time to find my voice because when you say a book I thought to myself, well, I need to write it's serious business, so I wrote this thing on Word, you know, like a Word document that was so boring. I haven't read it since.
Yeah, because we're very visual.
Exactly, and I was like, I can't do this. Then I tried it a second time with a co-author, and that also didn't work because I could hear his voice, and not my voice so I thought, okay, that's when I really realized, okay, if I'm doing this I really have to do it. Then Leah Caplan, who is one of my oldest collaborators, and she really knows me well she decided like, okay, I need to remind Ayse that she's a designer, and her language is drawing, so she started bringing me books that were very visual. One of them was Keri Smith's, Wreck This Journal.
Oh, I love that.
Which I really loved and I thought, oh, I could draw it, I could write it. It could be interactive, and that's really when this book started to take shape.
Yeah, because it's a workbook.
It's really drawn out and that's because I'm a designer that's how I express my ideas I draw things. When I really started in earnest I drew what I wanted to talk about, and then I wrote about them, so that's when I realized I'm a designer that draws, and then writes so that's the book.
Nice, are you gonna take us for a peek inside?
Oh, yes, I will, I'd love to. It's about Design the Life You Love, no prior design experience necessary. The idea was to really make something have a book that feels very lovable. When you see it I hope you'll feel like, oh, I can do this, that was the idea it's playful. When you open it it already starts to talk to you this person who lies there in like my life. Then you have the four steps that are the basis for everything in the book, the four steps of my design process. So deconstruction, the first step is about taking something apart, and when you take something apart you're breaking your preconceptions, and that already starts to help you to see things differently, which leads us to the second step around point of view, and that's where you start to think differently about things you know. Then the third step is the other side of deconstruction, so it's reconstruction. With your new point of view you need to put things back together and make choices, and that becomes like the foundation of your new design, and then you give form to that you kind of give meat to it and then you express it, so it's really simple four steps, it's like anybody can do it. So let me walk you, okay.
I love that it's like design thinking applied to life.
Yes, and the key here is thinking like a designer. When I say thinking like a designer it's about being optimistic because we designers always think we're going to come up with a better solution to any problem, so that optimism drives our creative passion, and that's really key when you think about your life as well.
Is it okay if there are people that ... How many in here are not designers? All right, perfect.
But as of this moment you're going to design your life. We think wholistically. Wholistically, seeing the big picture. Let's see thinking like a designer is also about empathy being able to put yourselves in other people's shoes. What's interesting about designing your life is you put yourself in your own shoes so it's kind of like an out-of-body experience, and it's collaborative. It's really being open to ideas so asking what if questions. You have a design process, but also it's like a design mood as well. Let me walk you through the book. The warm up is ... We just did the warm up, so it's really about warming up your right brain, and drawing is meditative. I find it very meditative, so it kind of gets you into the flow. Also, design is a visual process especially for a lot of the people who are designing their lives they're not designers, so I just want to break the ice, and get them to like draw things without judging themselves. My daughters are in there, Awa and Alev. This is my drawing of them. The trick to drawing kids you have to catch them when they're on their phone or iPad, so that's what I did. Once you're warmed up you can pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and then get your book, a favorite pen. My favorite is Pilot Bravo pens. Get your pen and then you start deconstructing your life. So how do you deconstruct your life? You just think about what are the basic building blocks of your life. Family, work, friends, your favorite pastimes, and then you kind of deconstruct each of those building blocks until you kind of start to create like a mind map, and that's deconstruction.
How many times have you done this, or do you do it like often like deconstruct your life, and then get to another point, and you deconstruct it again? Or am I being like totally over?
I deconstructed my life the first time I did it it was when I was creating the workshop because I thought, okay, if I'm going to take other people through it I have to try it myself to see if it works. That was my first deconstruction. I do it every now and then especially if I feel like I'm stuck in a situation I deconstruct that maybe not my whole life, but like a portion of my life, so you can do that you can maybe start with your whole life, but then once you get kind of the flow of that you can also do portions of it. You can just take your time and deconstruct time.
That seems less daunting than like your whole life. How many pages did it take you the first time you did it to deconstruct your whole life?
It feels like a huge project, right? So here's the thing and I've done many workshops now. I think maybe more than 100. Most people's lives deconstructed guess how many pages?
Two. Yes, and that is really quite amazing that two pages is all it takes for your whole life. That is really quite empowering for people to feel that, yes, I have a complex life, but it fits in two pages. How tough can that be?
Yes, and really the way to deconstruct and reconstruct your life is you need to do it playfully because when we're playing we're like kids we're not afraid of making mistakes. There's no judgment and that's really the mood for design.
That's when the best stuff comes.
Exactly, generate as many ideas as possible, and, sometimes, exactly, some of the best ideas come from the worst places so don't judge. Eventually, as you go through the process you see that the best ideas rise to the top, and you do recognize them when they come up. So that's deconstruction. Look at this camera, right? A camera deconstructed. It's on page 64 I think. Yeah, can you put this camera back together?
It doesn't even look like a camera.
You take a camera, a small black camera, and you take it apart and it has like hundreds of pieces. This is kind of what happens when you deconstruct something, and once you deconstruct it you can't quite put it back the way it was before, and that's really the idea here that when you deconstruct your life it's not gonna go back the way it was before. In the book and also in my workshops that's my kind of moment of dare. I ask people I say, look, if you have a perfect life this is the moment to leave. Don't deconstruct your life. Then nobody leaves because once you deconstruct your point of view about it starts to change, and you start to see patterns. You see, oh, that thing happens in two places, or there is a lot of constraints here. So that is the beginning of the second step the point of view. Point of view in my mind is kind of the heart of creativity. It's the ability to intentionally look at the same things, and see them differently. So there are two exercises that are about intentionally shifting your point of view. One of them is about heroes. Are you ready to do another exercise?
I love this.
Cool, are you ready?
Internet, are you ready?
All you need is a pen and a piece of paper.
Exactly. Let's think about your heroes, and every design project needs some inspiration, so when we're designing products we might go see an art exhibit, or look at architecture, or depending on the project look at some maybe historical pieces, and you go and gather inspiration. When I was doing Design the Life You Love I thought, well, it's a design project. How am I going to inspire people? I thought when it comes to life we're inspired by other people, so I thought let me ask people about their heroes. Heroes, these are not superheroes. They're just people that we admire, or that inspire us that have qualities that interest us. In the book there are some examples of people's heroes. I'll read you one.
So this is on page 105.
Actually, let's go to page 106. So Hani Hong came to one of my workshops. She said that her mom is her hero, and she sent a picture of her mom after the workshop, but she said, "Here's my mom with her five children "under the age of five in her passport picture "before she escaped Vietnam, "and went into a camp without my dad." She said, "My mother's secret is unconditional live, "and she's my hero." Your heroes can be people you know, and people you know very well. It could also be people you know of, so Hani's mom, obviously, is someone she knows, but Michelle Obama is somebody we know of, and she can still inspire us. These people can be artists, musicians, authors, designers. They could be scientists, writers. They could even be fictional characters in books, even pets. So now I want to ask you and you who are your heroes? Let's start with one example and here's the trick. Write the name of your hero and then also do a little icon of your hero a little symbol for them, but then write their qualities. What is it about them that inspires you? Their qualities write a couple of qualities. Okay, so let's do again three minutes.
I really enjoy the interactivity of this. How many of you guys are like once I write in this book it becomes mine and I have to keep writing in it, right? I was like looking for another piece of paper, so I don't mess the book up, it's like let me just write in the book right now.
Yeah, claim it, go for it.
Yes, claim it. All right.
You'll see that in the book I will encourage you to write and draw, write and draw because I think writing is one expression, and drawing is another kind of expression. When you draw you think of different things, and then when you write you think of different things, and the two compliment each other.
So it's like you're using two sides of your brain,
This really gets you to think and reflect.
Yes, it gets you inside of yourself. I'm the icon police. If you're not drawing your icons you'll hear from me. That's beautiful yours. Lara, shall I put you on the spot?
I'm up here already on the spot.
You want to show us your icon.
Yeah, I like the one that you read, and it sort of got me thinking about my own mom. The drawing's not very accurate but I put graceful. She's really kind, she's brave and she's independent.
Beautiful. All right, let's hear some more.
So my hero is James Victore.
I've been to his workshop here in CreativeLive. The qualities I like and admire him is like he's powerful and energetic and strong, and self-aware and self-accepted, and in tune with his emotions and in love.
James Victore, did you hear that? Because I know you're tuning in right now.
Yes, James I heard that, that's very cool, thank you. We need some more heroes, come on, I want to hear because you're going to inspire me.
I put my Aunt Brenda she's compassionate. Whatever happens to her she approaches it with a sense of humor. She's a writer a very prolific writer and storyteller, and she's very forgiving so she kind of whatever happens to her she just, you know, approaches it with a humor and all the other things, and just let's it roll so that's great.
I love it, one more.
I don't know if anybody knows who this is. I have so many heroes, but Iris Apfel is one of my heroes.
Oh, yeah, I love her.
She's daring and unapologetic and creative and sassy and bold and funny.
I love it, I also love the descriptions. Thank you. All right, and I think we have one more.
Okay, this one might be a little nerdy, but it's Hayao Miyazaki.
Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animator. I like him because he's playful, he's childlike, philosophical, natural and empathetic.
Empathetic, playful, natural, and what was the other word?
Childlike and philosophical.
Childlike, yes, all right, that's wonderful. Okay, so now here's what we're gonna do. Cross out your heroes names, and put your own name there. Cross them out because the qualities that we recognize in other people are our qualities, and when we see them as our heroes, and we write their qualities we're actually describing the things that inspire us that we want to have in ourselves, so Lara, kind, graceful, independent, brave, that's you, and powerful, energetic, self-aware, in love that's you. Compassionate and having humor at the face of challenges, prolific that's you, and daring, sassy, bold, funny, Andrea, I know you now that's you. Miyazaki, which is also one of my heroes, playful, natural, childlike, empathetic that's you.
I know him and that is you, that is totally you.
Exactly, so I find that even thought I might not know you I know that these are your values. It's really a different way like if I asked you what your values are it's a hard question to answer, and you might not have said I'm graceful, I'm kind, but the heroes actually take us in a roundabout way, but it's holding a mirror to ourselves and saying these are my values. The values are key to design because whether you're designing your life, or you're designing a product or an experience the values are what sustains you throughout that process. It's a tough process, but the values are really the things that we believe in. The whole idea is when you're designing to build coherence with those values, so now you know your values, all right?
So your values inform your design.
Absolutely. If you can build coherence between your values and your life, again, like in design what you're doing is you're simplifying the complexity. Something simple is easier to manage and bring to life. It's like that simplicity on the other side of complexity. All right. You'll find in the book another wonderful exercise one of my favorite exercises, actually, about metaphors. I ask people to think about their life through metaphors. Metaphors help us visualize complex things in relation to things we know. There are examples in the book to kind of like my life is climbing Everest, and then you use that metaphor as a hook to kind of describe what that life looks like. If you're climbing Everest you need a guide, you need a Sherpa so then who's that in your life, and you kind of build it out like that. Again, like heroes it's a creative way of understanding yourself, understanding your life, imagining it, and visualizing it. Okay, so that kind of is where we generate ideas, but then at one point after you diverge you need to converge so that's reconstruction. Reconstruction is really the other side of deconstruction you need to put the pieces back together, and as you put them back together you can't have everything, and that's really the trick here is that you need to make choices. To me that's really what design is all about. What choices are you going to make, and what's the hierarchy? What things are you going to keep? What are things you want to change, and what things do you want to leave out? When it comes to your life that gives you a very kind of sharp focus as to what matters to you. The three circles is actually a representation of that. Again, there are examples in the book from people who've come to the workshops, and who've allowed me very generously to use their examples, to show how people do the exercises, and also for you to feel like you're not alone in doing this. There were other victims before you, but it's really if you were to reconstruct your life into three circles what would you choose? That's kind of like that moment of truth in a way. Well, then that becomes like the backbone of your design, and then you need to express it, so you need to give it form. You'll see that there are a bunch of exercises, expressions that help you think about depending on your mood or how you want to express yourself. You can write a poem. You can write a letter to yourself. You can do a to-do list, or you could do what I did you can do, you know, to-do list.
There you go, it's very helpful, actually, how you're gonna get from here to there. You can also do a vision map which is my example. This is my ... This very personal vision map I put in the book because I thought, okay, I need to show people how crazy you can get, and how freely you can think so my vision is to be the Katy Perry of Design the Life You Love, and to understand this you need to read the book, but you also need to have two daughters who are like 10 and who are kind of watching things like this, and then you wonder what are they watching, so I ended up watching Katy Perry's documentary about her tour and really fell in love with her energy. The way she works with friends and family I thought that's like how I love to work, but also that she was connecting with thousands of people, and mostly young people and their mothers, and I thought, well, I want to do the same with design. I want to show young people that they can design their life, and by the way, I want to show their parents that they can design their life as well, or show the parents, and then for the parents to show their children that this is an option that you can think about your life with creativity and optimism, and playfully, basically. That's my Katy Perry, no singing involved, rest assured.
I was just thinking that this would be a great book to have in school. Wouldn't you have loved to get this? If they were like, okay, here's your workbook for school, let's get started I would have been like in a different place than I am now.
I'm so glad you say that. I really want to take this to like high school kids, and college students, and show them, okay, you have your whole life in front of you. Here's one way you can think about it. It's also for like people of all ages. There are lots of people who've come to my workshops, and they're like empty nesters and they're like the kids are leaving what are we gonna do now? Or people who've really accomplished great things in their life, but then they're questioning what's next? It's just a whole gamut of people who are at the turning point who are interested in that question what's next? Then the last piece is living the life. Like any design you need to prototype. You have this life design but you need to bring it to life, and there I think collaboration is really important. Most design when you first have the idea you have it inside of yourself, but then you need other people to help you realize it. If it's a product this is the manufacturer, the engineers, the researchers, the marketers, and in your life it's all the people in your life, your family, your friends, the people you work with, so bring them along. You'll see that I talk about once you have the idea like my Katy Perry idea I shared that with my family. I shared it with Bibi and I shared it with my children, and they got excited and they said, "Yes, we can see that," and that gave me confidence, but the only thing is my 10-year-old daughter, Alev, the other day asked me, so, mom, when are we going on tour?
And here you are.
Here I am, yes, it's like now I am on tour and really the end is in a way the beginning. You go ahead and you live the life you designed, and you try it out, you test it, you modify it.
Wonderful, thank you.
Thank you. (applause)
We have time for some questions. Do you guys want to have a Q and A?
I want to have a Q and A.
Yeah, all right.
How long do you recommend people ingesting this book?
That's a great one. In the book what I suggested is like do it in 20 minute increments kind of like get a cup of coffee, or glass of wine. Find a quiet moment, do a drawing, and then do one of the exercises for 20 minutes. If you feel like you're in the flow you want to continue, continue, if not leave it to the next day. It could also be that this is the kind of book that you can buy at the airport, and do it as you fly from like San Francisco to New York, and you could just do it that's also possible. If you want to do it slowly just do it in 20 minute increments.
So I was not paying attention, and we have a bunch of questions from our online audience.
We do, where are they? Hold on, oh, they're there, thank you, thank you, I love it.
Can you suggest prompts for the deconstruction process can you suggest prompts?
Yes. The prompts one is, you know, start, first of all put your life at the center of your page, and say my life, so that you remember what you're deconstructing because it's really important. Whatever you put at the center is what you deconstruct. Yes, I know, I know, but I learned this over time. Then you put kind of the basic building blocks, and just go with the flow. It's like if I said apple what comes to your mind?
Really? All right, okay, no judgment, peanut butter, okay. So that's the process. Lara, I'm teasing you, but that's the first.
What would you say oranges?
Yeah, okay, no, so just go with that. It's like the first thing that comes to your mind put it down. Don't judge, don't smirk like I just did. Do the first couple of building blocks, and then deconstruct those. It's a great way to start filling the page, and once you start kind of breaking the whiteness of the page you continue. Then you'll see in the book there is a second way of deconstructing and that is doing it across four quadrants. That is another great way of doing it. So what you do is you divide your page into four quadrants. One is emotion, one is physical, one is intellect, and the other is spirit. These four quadrants you kind of that's your life, and you put some emotion like what are things that you feel. Physical, what are the tangible quantifiable things. Then intellect kind of what goes through your mind the whole intellectual process, and spirit are the universal intangibles. So you could just put one, put one, put one, put one, and kind of go around like that, or some people just fill as much emotion as possible then they move onto the next quadrant, but this is a great way of thinking holistically, and then you'll see that there is a reconstruction that corresponds to that where you then make three emotional choices, three physical choices, three intellectual choices, and three spirit, and those 12 circles actually give you kind of a very wholistic 360 view of the life you want to design the life you love. Those are the prompts. That's a good question, thank you.
So, Chris G., hi, Chris G. He's asking how often should you try this process of deconstruction-construction?
Thank you, Chris. I think that it's a great way like to end the year. Instead of doing New Year's resolutions you can design your life. You could even start now, but it's kind of like think about the next year in front of you, and then at the end of the year you could look back, and look at some of your expressions that you kind of tuck in your drawers, or you post on your wall or put under your pillow, and then see, okay, how did I do in those 12 months. I sometimes do it when I have something a very specific question in my mind, and then I do it again like the deconstruction-reconstruction of that, and give myself a certain amount of time like three weeks. When I was trying to finish the book I gave myself three weeks. It was around Christmastime so my reconstruction map for those three weeks was write the book, hang out with your kids and Bibi, of course, and then eat good food. I tried to accomplish those three things in those three weeks so that's the idea.
I'm gonna do one more from our online audience. Elp13 asks what sort of fears might you have to overcome to deconstruct your life?
That's excellent, you had the same question, yeah. Thank you, thank you for asking that because design requires courage because what you're doing is you're imagining the future based on what you know today, and you're taking some risk. It's a new idea, and when it comes to your life it's even riskier because it's your life. It's not somebody else's life. There I think the design process, and what we talked in the beginning about thinking like a designer is what gives you courage that you're doing playfully, optimistically, and by empathizing with yourself. Then once you have a good idea which, again, you do and you will and you'll know it when you see it then you have kind of the passion to bring it to life. This process is to help you, to guide you until you get to that good idea like this is the life I want, and then after that the idea propels you forward.
I love that.
I think that might be a good way to end unless anybody else has any questions. So I'm gonna plug the book for a minute. AyseBirsel.com is your website.
You can get the book on Amazon. I sort of think this is the kind of book where I'm like I have so many friends that could use this book, so it's a very thoughtful gift because everyone here has a copy. Then you should follow Ayse on social media because part of that Katy Perry thing I saw was followers, wasn't it?
Exactly, exactly, you saw that?
Yes, I know, it's kind of embarrassing but it's true.
No, put it all out there.
I needs thousands and millions so, yes, to get to Katy Perry I mean.
I also want to thank Pilot pens because these pens are awesome and Ten Speed Press for the books and for attending, and for all of you guys for coming tonight and for Ayse.
Thank you CreativeLive.
Thank you and Lara, thanks.
You're welcome, this was fun.