Designed Versus Designer

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designer3My lifelong dream of becoming a designer came after graduating from the College of Design at Iowa State University a really long time ago! As an interior designer, I would get a lot of “oh so you are a decorator” comments, or people begging me to see my house! Aside from the fact that I was a corporate interior designer, not residential, there is a difference between a designer and a decorator (not that there is anything wrong with decorators…bear with me).

According to the dictionary that comes up when you Google it…

A designer is a person who plans the form, look, or workings of something before its being made, built or rebuilt, typically by drawing it in detail.

A decorator is a person who decorates or makes something look more attractive by adding extra items or images to it.

One focuses more on function…the other on form as they say.

For me, being a designer isn’t just a profession, it is a mindset and a collection of principles to apply to any challenge. One of my favorites being…

Less, but better

Which means a designer knows that they have reached perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but rather when there is nothing left to take away.

And it’s with this principle of paring a design down to its simplest form that I approach everything from my work (currently as an event and graphic designer), to my volunteer activities to my life as a mom and wife. I work to analyze all of my challenges—big and small—with the same approach. This includes everything from an awards event for 400, to a bedtime routine, to a weekly meal plan. First defining the challenge, and then flipping it upside down, taking it apart, and finding a solution for a rebuild that will improve the situation with the least amount of moving parts.

As a result, I often refer to my life as designed. For me that means that everything that I do, is of my own design. I saw what I needed, and then I created it. I built it this way. And it’s a work in process—believe me and not always beautiful! But I work to make my life simpler every day. I focus on activities and work that excites me at my core, on my terms, and is in the best interest of my family and all of our sanity.

Now on the flip side, I would define a decorated or “designer” life, as one that has many bells and whistles added to it—activities that you do because you feel you have to, not want to. Loading up on activities and responsibilities that may impress others, but don’t feed your core. Or pursuing work that pulls you away from what is most important in your life. I would also add that suffering from the “fear of missing out” can lead one down the road of a designer life. A lot of energy spent on doing what “they” are doing.

So is your life designed? Is the majority of your own making? Are you pared down to the simplest solution? Or do you have too many bells and whistles added on?

Let’s see. Can you spare 10 minutes to do a little exercise with me?


Great…take out a piece of paper, your journal, or a used paper towel (the what is not important)…and make a list of all of the aspects that make up your life—your work, your hobbies, your household responsibilities, your vacations/travel, your volunteer work, your children’s activities, your family activities, your extended family responsibilities, your self-care activities, your passion. Everything. Get them all out in front of you.

Now, are you ready to become the designer of your life?

I know you can. And remember you don’t need to show this to anyone.

Put a star by all of the items that you love to do—wouldn’t change a thing!

Now circle all of the items that you dread or do not look forward to doing. From this list, are there any items that you could just remove—get rid of…right now? What would it take? Are you willing to make those changes? What are the ramifications if any? How would that feel to let them go? Lighter…happier…scared?

Now the circled items that you don’t think you could remove completely—how could you redesign them to make them work for you? Do you need to arrange for back up? Do you need to create a new routine around it to make it easier? Do you need to change your perspective on it to help you see its importance? Do you need to delegate it—you don’t have to carry everything yourself.

Now is there anything that needs to be added to make the machine work better…more self-care or support or passion work…or hobby?

You get the idea.

Clearly…getting to the fully designed solution with the least amount of moving parts, is more than a 10 minute exercise. But from this, what sparked…what made you smile…what made you want to throw up a little in your mouth? That’s where you want to start.

You don’t need a design degree to design your life—I promise.

What you need is intention and the ability to edit! A lot.

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