Applying Design Strategy to Your Life

Mike Johnson
5 min readOct 14, 2020

I have spent the bulk of my career as a Design Strategist — helping businesses better understand their customers’ needs, in order to design products and services to address those needs in novel and profitable ways. I recently pivoted to helping people navigate transformation and uncertainty in their personal and professional lives as a Coach. It was a jarring shift at first — businesses and individuals are two very different types of “clients” to serve. However, it quickly became clear how there are some important themes between how Design Strategists help businesses create powerful solutions for their customers, and how Coaches help their clients design fulfilling and rich lives. I began to cross-pollinate the two disciplines in my coaching — namely, by helping people approach transformation in their life as an iterative design process.

They share a model for how to achieve successful design. In business, as in life, you aim to invest your resources and energy into opportunities that are desirable to the people you serve (in life, that’s you), feasible to achieve, and viable for your overall growth in the long-run.

These 3 concentric circles represent a foundational framework that designers of all types use to guide the strategic design process.

As a Design Strategist, the objective was to ensure that the product or service we created would balance all three of these elements:

  • User Desirability: Empathize with a group of customers and engage them directly in the process of designing something that meets those needs in new and valuable ways.
  • Technical Feasibility: Assess the organization’s capacity/ability to deliver the products or services as demand grows.
  • Financial Viability: Project the profitability over-time to ensure that it will be make money within a reasonable timeframe and/or help the organization grow in a desired direction.
The titles of each concentric circle are different, but their respective meaning is the same.

I coach people to design their choices, actions, perspectives, environments, and behaviors in a way that balances those same elements:

  • Fulfillment (Desirability): Identify your unique definition of fulfillment and your core values. Use them as the constraints within which a kaleidoscope of fulfilling possibilities could be explored.
  • Sustainability (Feasibility): Bring awareness to your boundaries and what fuels vs. drains your energy. Become more intentional about how you spend your energy, while fostering balance in your life.
  • Conscious Growth (Viability): Set a target for what you want to achieve and/or who you want to be, and then design your choices, actions, perspectives, environments, and behaviors in ways that yield the most progress towards your target.

Design Strategists and Coaches both open up fresh and surprising possibilities for people through an action-oriented and creative process that balances fulfillment, sustainability, and growth. They provide tools and structure for making sense of signals that are difficult to quantify or analyze with clean logic. As a practitioner of both disciplines, I find myself operating on many of the same principles, especially the three below:


Design Strategy | Put yourself in the shoes of different customer groups to discover their needs, pain points and motivations, in order to design something that’s valuable and intuitive to them.

Coaching | Put yourself in the shoes of an individual, their inner-leader, and their inner-critics, in order to design their lives and circumstances in a way that resonates with what they value most.

Test & Learn

Design Strategy | Create a diversity of concepts and share them with your potential customers to get their feedback on which elements/features might be most valuable to them.

Coaching | Generate a diversity of perspectives and strategies, in order to see which serve you best and why.

Creative Problem-Solving

Design Strategy | Create conditions for product teams to think beyond the status-quo to identify opportunities that are truly innovative (and maybe a bit risky).

Coaching | Create a safe space for clients to think expansively about possibilities for their lives without judgement, in order to identify new perspectives or strategies that serve them better (and maybe take them out of their comfort zone).

Blending Design Strategy Into My Coaching Process

I’ve woven a Design Strategy perspective into every aspect of my coaching practice. This perspective creates space for people to be innovative about the possibilities they see for their lives, and intentional about the steps they take to transform themselves and their circumstances. There are three tangible ways that I am blending these disciplines to bring more clarity and value for my clients:

Frame insights in an accessible way | I translate my notes from each session into a slide deck that traces the journey of our conversation in a clear and visual way. Clients use this content as a resource to keep them focused and inspired between coaching sessions. Design Strategy has the same virtue — frame insights from customer research in a way that allows different stakeholders to understand and engage with them constructively. See this example below:

We identified the client’s different ‘parts’ (aka perspectives) that are activated when she things about taking the leap to start her business and potentially leave her full-time job.

Treat values as anchors around which to design your life | I often challenge people to use their values as a rubric when evaluating opportunities and navigating uncertainty. Customers’ needs and pain points are used in the design process in a similar way. Values form the healthy constraints within which we can make choices and design our lives to align with what’s most important to us.

Surface testable assumptions about our lives and circumstances| Designers test their assumptions about desirability (eg. People will want this), feasibility (eg. We can deliver this) and viability (eg. This will be profitable) in the process of creating a new product or service. In life, we operate on many untested assumptions about ourselves, our circumstances, and our possibilities. By identifying and evaluating these limiting or empowering assumptions, we can bring curiosity to them and actually create a plan to test them through our lived experience.

As a Coach, I provide the space and structure for people looking to transform their lives to become more fulfilling, sustainable, and growth-oriented. The process opens up new possibilities that didn’t seem possible or feasible, just like Design Strategy does for businesses.

If you’re eager to re-design your life or if this struck a chord with you in some way, I’d love to hear from you! Check out my website or drop me an email at



Mike Johnson

Coach + Design Strategist— I partner with people to design their lives and careers to be more fulfilling, sustainable, and intentional. |