Design Thinking

What bigger challenge is there than figuring out how to create abundance and meaning within the systems that surround us?

Design Thinking is a solution-based approach to solving problems, useful for complex problems that are unknown or yet defined — such as “What does career mean to me?” or “What careers are right for me?” 

When we understand the problem, we can reframe it, generate approaches and ways to experiment with it, and then try, test, reflect, and repeat. The thinking works, because developing your career can be a little like a design challenge. The foundation of this process is the belief that we can't know if something is ‘right’ until we try.  

At Stanford’s Life Design Lab, the concept of “designing your life” has led to resources and approaches to intentional career planning. By using the same models designers and engineers use to create products and solutions, you can get to the root of your tough questions! 

One of the most important things about this process is that it is iterative. After you prototype, you reflect: What did you like or not like? What questions do you have now? As you gather insights, look back at your defined problem, refine it or reframe it and continue to ideate and prototype. 

Don’t forget to ask for help along the way if you need it! 

Phase 1 - Empathize: in design thinking, before you can solve a problem, you need to empathize with the current state of things. You might acknowledge: “What does being able to make an impact mean to me” or “What is my definition of success?” 

Phase 2 - Define: after developing a clearer understanding of your current state, define the challenge with the “How might I” method.  

For example: How might I find a career that lets me travel the world while applying the knowledge I gained through my degree? Or, How might I stay in Vancouver while I work towards securing my PR status? How might I find a job that helps me to develop the skills I need to get my dream job in 10 years?  How might I develop a career where I have time to pursue my hobbies and prioritize my important relationships? 

Phase 3 - Ideate: in phase 3 we ideate and come up with as many ideas about how to solve your questions, as possible. Consider brainstorming strategies like building a mind map, conducting a free write exercise or asking others. If you feel stuck here, meet with a Career Education Specialist. We would love to help!

Phase 4 - Prototype: now is the time to prototype those careers through quick, low cost, low risk methods of testing out your ideas. Prototypes with short-term commitments and very little money are the best ways forward. 

Examples are: 

  1. Do conversational research, such as having a coffee chat or doing an interview

  2. Attend an event organized by a company or organization that interests you

  3. Volunteer for an organization or event that you are curious about or care about

  4. Research  a job, company, industry or general area of interest online or at a career fair

  5. Pursue a personal project (if you think you might like to work in marketing,  you can create a sample marketing strategy for feedback)

There are five mindsets of design thinking:

  • Be curious (Curiosity)
  • Try stuff (Bias to Action)
  • Reframe Problems (Reframing)
  • Know it is a process (Mindfulness of the Process)
  • Ask for Help (Radical Collaboration)

The Five Mindsets of Design Thinking image


Many people achieve clarity about their futures by strengthening their understanding of what matters, or motivates them. This can be described as your “why,” or your purpose or vision. Such questions have been on the minds of humans from the beginning of time: why we work, why we communicate in different ways from our friends or colleagues, or why we are drawn to certain occupations and not others. Many people try career assessments like values or strengths inventories. These can be helpful, especially when used within the context of the broader picture of your influences, privileges, intersections and the set-up of workplaces today. 


You might think about why we do things as being more compelling than how we do them. You may consider the philosophy of "a life well lived," or the meaning of ikigai, a Japanese approach to life that translates as "a reason to get up in the morning," or poetically, "waking up to joy."

The concept of flow, as described by Hungarian–American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, occurs when you are in your "zone" - or at your best. For example, some people find flow while making DIY models, or doing athletics, while others find it while researching or playing music.

While these activities aren’t necessarily predictive indicators of career paths, noting the kinds of behaviours or moments when you are at your best, gives you clues. 

Another way to explore meaning is through making collage or a vision board. This can be done with cut paper or in a digital format. Collage allows you to move through trying to "predict" the future and allows for your intrinsic and instinctive qualities to surface. 

Noticing the behaviours and preferences that bring you into flow, or well-being, can help you access your inner guidance systems, and bring clarity and answers. 

Be guided by forces bigger than you: the Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) and the Challenge Cards

The United Nations (UN) has identified 17 priority areas of work, described in the UNSDGs, to ensure a good future for all by 2030. These guidelines can tell us what the world needs, what kind of work is already being done, and what opportunities exist. Here’s a chance of finding work  connected to something that matters to you. 

Explore the Challenge Cards for validating your ideas in areas such as the UNSDGs and others. The Challenge Cards are a card sort that describes a set of broader challenges in the world,  and ways to connect them to possible professions. Work with a Career Education Specialist to learn more. 

ACTION as a strategy to learn and grow

“Do or do not. There is no try" and other wise words from Yoda (via Joseph Campbell). Have you heard this line from the Star Wars films? The line comes when a mentor (Yoda) trains a student (Luke Skywalker) and urges him to take action, rather than attempt something in a half-hearted way. The lesson is: put in the effort to get the pay off. The  concept of “Do, don’t try” helps you move past the doubts and embrace the action first - then reflect later.

We don’t focus on the idea that you must have a singular "passion"  since many people don't have one, (although if you do, go for it!) but we do talk about how the power of intention, attention and enthusiasm can be very motivating. Consider the Growth Mindset, a view that creates a love of learning. If you are compelled to do something, do it! 

REFLECTION as a tool for learning from your past decisions

Reflection is as useful as action, when it comes to considering your next set of big decisions. 

You already decided to study at SFU. You chose or are in the process of choosing your major. You have added roles outside of the classroom (making cultural connections, doing part-time work, taking care of family responsibilities, and more). You are here, reading this, inquiring about work and careers. 

Career development and exploration is a process. Along the way, you likely discover multiple views of yourself, through a variety of different roles, and workplace contexts. 

With this knowledge, we encourage you to add the skills you learned and used, the values and accomplishments from each course, project, and experience, to a living or master resume along the way. This way, you grow your resume as a portfolio, and can keep adding, and editing it as you evolve. 

Then choose your next courses or next activities with intention, according to your interests, complete your degree and continue to expand from there.

As you consider your decisions to this point, ask yourself, what happened after you made those commitments? Were there things that you liked or disliked? Did you find anything in particular that got you excited, or that you would change? What have you learned about yourself and the world? Journal, make a collage, create a podcast or have a conversation to bring this full circle. 

Next Steps

Ready to Research? Head into our network or work search pages for next steps. Or practice your personal introduction and interview questions in 'Tell your Story'