Designing Is About The Decisions You Make Every Day

An autobiographical essay on living a designed life, by Stefan Boublil.

I never thought, ever since I expressed my unique childhood wish to become a veterinarian, that design would ever figure on my list of things to do.

Stories are told primarily by the things we surround ourselves with.

Then again, even though I had fallen in love with movies as a teen, I only discovered that filmmaking could constitute a career after flipping through a moist NYU film school brochure at the foot of my cousin's toilet, upon which I was attending to more important business. I'm not very quick. But I knew that I loved the meaningful ramifications of stories told near and far. And it dawned on me, after graduating and finding myself in Los Angeles, handing my soul out to all who would hold it, that stories are actually first and foremost told by the things we humans choose to surround ourselves with: our houses, our modes of transportation, our salt and pepper shakers, our phones, and our shoes. These things are our first opportunities to express who we are to the outside world. As consumers, we select what populates our shelves, closets, and glove compartments based on a variety of reasons, both arbitrary and rational, but we must not forget that all of this stuff resulted from decisions made by people just like us — designers — based on a variety of reasons, both arbitrary and rational.

To me, and a handful of practical purists, design was meant to serve people and make life easier, not just better looking. When designers succeed, the results do not need explanations, a narrative or descriptive tags; they tell their stories in how they work. The prize is not fame, fortune, or blog hits but the betterment of society through what might have been perceived, at first, as the peculiar placement of a handle on a cup but ended up changing how we sip, if not the world.

With such potential power in the balance, why then do so many companies manufacture things not because they found a better way or discovered something to add (or more to the point, subtract) but to move as much product as possible? We used to design things because we needed new functionality — I'm talking about objects like the wheel, fire, or cave door — but that's no longer the case, because we have been overtaken by notions of perceived beauty to the detriment of what design should actually be about: how things work.

The realization that each day's decisions are, in fact, part of a larger process was my impetus to start a journey into the world of design, instead of joining the fight against feline herpes.

How I Started Designing

My company, the apartment, was born from a thirst I felt to curate my life, first and foremost. I was never all that interested in design merely as a collection of objects, an illustration of the nonsensical argument that "he with the most toys wins." Instead, I was captivated by the stories that great design could tell and how they could enrich the human experience. When we operated a retail design store in downtown Manhattan, the best day I had was when a family of three came in and started dancing in the middle of the selling floor to the music we always had blasting. They didn't buy anything, just danced, unsolicited, unashamed, and undisturbed. The environment we had created had made them feel comfortable enough to lose their inhibitions for a moment and do what felt natural. How we designed the surroundings aroused a very simple and human emotion.

My company was born from a thirst I felt to curate my life.

The store fulfilled my need for a comprehensive and curated version of my life. I thought about the store's inventory and display in a very selfish way: This is the toothpaste I use, this is the music I listen to, these are the movies I watch, and these are the chairs that I find comfortable. I am going to arrange them in a place I would want to live in myself, and see if it resonates with other people. And it turns out that it did, because the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. It was, ultimately, about the simulacrum of life that got customers? imagination fired up and got those people dancing and the cash registers, eventually, ringing. I began to understand that what was really important to them, and to me, was not so much the chairs but the feeling we provided, the context, too often the forgotten stepchild of the design process.

Getting Lost in Design

Design often gets lost in the details, and I, for a long time, got lost in design — in the mechanics of what was supposed to strengthen my point of view. I became disenchanted, and soon disinterested, as it became more an exercise in consumerism and less about self-definition. So 10 years into this process, I wondered, Why did I start this? Why am I doing this? Why do I bother? What I rediscovered was that from toothbrush to lifelong mate, the paths I had chosen had had an impact beyond the health of my teeth or my capacity for love, that the daily choices we all make are actually forms of expression.

Design and Decision Making

When is the last time design consciously figured in your decision-making as a matter of function, neither aesthetic nor status-based? There are countless opportunities to make choices during one lifetime, one every second, if not more. And we usually think that pondering such decisions at length — about the job, the house, the spouse — is an indication that a good decision is in progress, at the very least a thoughtful one.

Has your life been designed by you or your community?

The daily choices we all make are actually forms of expression. But ask yourself this: Do your final decisions actually reflect your educated selection or the values you're expected to have? From the beginning, you believe in your parents? god, that their vision of good and evil is irrefutable, and you do not put your elbows on the table. Might the decisions you make be the result of cultural rites that have made their home in the communal mind and seeped into the folds of yours? How can you be sure that your final choice is not idealism that has been pushed on you, like so many bags of Cheetos on starving film students pretending that the shoot on Union Square is "catered." Why? Then there is the community to which you have worked so very hard to belong and to which you feel, somehow, that you owe a debt of gratitude. You espouse its ideals as your own, you recycle, go to work, and exercise for 20 minutes three times a week. Has your life been designed by you or your community?

Designing my life, not just my work, is what I now strive for on a daily basis, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always making sure that the decisions at hand are my own. That is worthwhile design.

[Top image by Todd McLellan, from his terrific series of disassembled gadgets]

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  • creative

    Hello Stefan

    This article actually made me think about, actions or things
    which we do without thinking about the consequences, some of these actions are
    designed by us; some are designed or influenced by others. Usually the actions
    which have a favorable outcome are branded as the actions taken by one, while
    the blunders are branded as the act of others. Designing something is a
    meticulous job as one mistake can ruin the entire design, I think designing is
    a process and enjoying the state of randomness is what design means to me. 

  • Creati-wittySIIB

    Inhibitions when we loose

    Instinct  when we

    Creativity when we infuse

    Analysis when we abuse


    Designs we put across the table

    Are the thoughts on us they label

    Everything is old, nothing novel

    Why being ourself is now a fable!

  • Roland SIIB

    Truly an elegant yet simple article.                                                                           Many a times the choices we make are not really ours , which colleges and courses to take up which profession to be in to become a part of the society, these choices are subconciously and systemically fed into our minds. Self expession and creativity is subdued overtime. Designing any object as miniscule as it may be allows  us to  expressing your true self by making the choices we find best for us. Everyone has the ability to make their choices but only few do. What we create today will tell our story tommorow...

  • Diablos SIIB

    Hey Stefan, Really enjoyed reading your article. It is when we turn blind to the things expressed around us that our own expressions turn mute. Instead of just observing and replicating, the need is to understand and portray what actually is residing within us. We are influenced by others and do things for which we are not meant. Maybe it’s just the fear of losing. But trust me you  always win when you listen to only yourself.

  • roulettesSIIB

    Dear Stefan, that was an incredible read. Every decision that we make in life is the result of a lot of influences of people and things around us.They carve out our choices.In fact circumstances play a major role too. But in how many situations do our rationale play the lead?? The true success of design creation lies in the understanding that brick and mortar as separate entities do not make much sense. But when they are put together to form a shape which your mind has drawn brings in a sense of comfort and belongingness which indeed are the most critical elements of design process.

  • sandeep bilwal

    Every Human Being has something hidden potential in him/ her and it only requires some event in your life to recognize that potential. Our decisions most of the time are taken a midst all the pressures that exists surrounding us but the best one comes from your inside. Realize that true power of yourself and feel that.

  • Rock-a-doodle-doo SIIB

    The power of spontaneity should not be underestimated.  The moment we start putting in efforts to align
    our thoughts with a preconceived scheme of things, we end up with a thought or
    a creation that is deprived of creativity, originality and life. As mentioned in
    the article, amount of time taken to evaluate a decision does not tell you how
    wise your decision was; it’s just an indication that you are falling prey to conformance.

  • Donkey Kong SIIB

    Hello Stefan,
    A very well versed and articulated article. You are right about the fact that we don't really step back and think about the decisions we have made/making are inspired by the society we live in or are inspired by us. Then again if you look at it from a different point of view, aren't we the shadow of the society we live in? 
    In my opinion we should do what we enjoy doing but without being self-centered!

    Really good article, keep up the good work.

  • E-Gazers SIIB

    Thank you Stefan for this piece of work.

    This article was like a soul-curry!

    Design to me is something unique, exclusive that one can
    claim to be his without having to fight for it.This unique blend of exclusivity
    and possession can be widely applicable to one’s life as well. We are what we
    make ourselves to be. There aren’t any rough sketches! Surely we can edit few
    errors but we can’t erase our blunders!!Life gives us opportunities to design
    our path, we can go perfectly right and make a masterpiece or can go perfectly
    wrong and struggle to carve an image.

     Sometimes the design
    might be perfect but the ingredients can go wrong?

    Sometimes the worst of the designs can make up an artifact.

     Life is so much
    so about serious business, about weighing our actions about designing our paths
    and most importantly about taking that path.

  • Dbuggers

    Experiences are best when in irregular sizes. If the slightest of actions in life were an effect of self inflicted design, we'd become more of AI Bots than human. Moreover the rate at which we learn and unlearn, perception is so dynamic that no design set so far really yielded. I believe we'd be happiest with life when we live it in the flow. Totally Enjoying the chaos this no design state brings to me - Let alone the thought of community designing design for me.

  • bandoleros

    hey reading this article was really nice. The way in which you thought about 'design' and designing as your passion was really unique. Its just that if a person actually has a passion for something, the whole life of the person revolves around it. People can actually find to live a way of live by pursuing that passion.

  • win-novators (siib)

    It was indeed a delight to read this perspective Stefan!
    Designing anything is not a one day affair. It's majorly a continious process with incremental evolution and then eventually we realise that  something new has been designed which is not true because the need is same, we have just found an evolved form of satisfying that. Nature has helped us evolve (design) from an amoeba to human being.Over a period of several centuries this has happened.Its not only about making the decisions everyday but yes its about decison making at regular intervals !!

  • AlturaSIIB

    Hi Stefan, 

                    There is not a single decision we take by ourselves.From nascence,it is thesyncretism of influences that converge to make a decision for us. We design ourlives to suit others,selling our personality everyday to ‘fit in’. The conflictof 'for self' and  'for others' occurs,we invariably choose the altruistic path.I wonder how much can one design purely for oneself in today’s world? 

  • Rockafellas SIIB

    This article
    tries to challenge us to break away from our inhibitions in order to try and
    create things around us that we really like doing and are passionate about. In
    succumbing to societal pressure, we lose focus and our minds steer, thereby
    influencing us to do things we don’t really desire.

  • AlturaSIIB

    Hi Stefan,

    is not a single decision we take by ourselves.From nascence,it is the
    syncretism of influences that converge to make a decision for us. We design our
    lives to suit others,selling our personality everyday to ‘fit in’. The conflict
    of 'for self' and  'for others' occurs,we
    invariably choose the altruistic path.I wonder how much can one design purely for
    oneself in today’s world? 

  • Genesis (SIIB)

    A wonderful article! I wonder if a designed life would be simpler or just better looking. It is indeed difficult to imagine design, only as a matter of function. I guess we all try ro design our lives everyday but end up commercializing them.

  • Mercurials SIIB

    Hi Stefan.. really enjoyed reading your article. Breaking from
    the design created by the community is difficult since this “culture” has been
    engraved in the mind since birth.  However
    if one starts his day with a clean slate and  jots down the activities that he is passionate
    about or are important then he can design his life by following the activities written
    by him.  

  • Jugadu Amigos SIIB

    dear Stefan, it was truly enriching to read the article and i firmly believe that every design has a story behind it and it keeps evolving over a period of time. But, it is very difficult to identify whether the design that we have in mind is our own creation or an outcome of interference of the world surrounding us. And i firmly believe that bringing your own design into existence is more satiating that following the patterns of someone else's design.

  • Mavericks

    Simple objectives of life often get lost in the complexities of means by which we tend to achieve them.
    This is perhaps due to the designs created by the society which are unconsciously influencing our decisions. However, every person should design his life in his own way as every individual is different.