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Bill Burnett

Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford and co-author of the #1 New York Times-bestselling book Designing Your Life

  • About Bill Burnett

    Bill Burnett’s penchant for drawing and building things began at a very early age. Today, he is a very successful designer, having worked at start-ups and Fortune 100 companies, including Apple. His innovative thinking helped create award-winning products such as PowerBook laptops and the original Hasbro Star Wars action figures.

    Burnett then turned his passion for design into a career as an Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Executive Director of the Product Design Program at Stanford University. There, with his colleague Dave Evans, Burnett teaches a Life Design class that Fast Company has called “a course that’s part throwback, part foreshadowing of higher education’s future.” Inspired by the demand for this course, Burnett and Evans published Designing Your Life in 2016 to teach readers how to use design thinking to build meaningful, fulfilling lives and establish a growth mindset. The book struck a chord, becoming an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. Now, in Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work, they apply that transformative thinking to the place we spend more time than anywhere else: work.

    In thought-provoking lectures, Bill Burnett brings the principles from his bestselling books to larger audiences—proving that the same design thinking used to create amazing technology, products, and spaces can also be used to design and build a person’s career and life.

    Burnett earned his Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Product Design at Stanford. He holds a number of mechanical and design patents as well as design awards and advises several other internet start-ups. He lectures around the country on design thinking and offers a popular e-course on the subject through Creative Live with Dave Evans.

    Discover how you can find balance within your organization. Visit Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’s Company Reads page to learn more.

    Contact us for more information about booking Bill Burnett for your next event.

  • Speaking Topics

    Designing Your Life

    The question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” is one that never truly goes away. Whether you are a college grad entering the workforce, a forty year-old shifting careers, or a sixty-eight year-old trying to define an encore career, the search for a fulfilling life never stops. In this riveting keynote that can be adapted to a hands-on workshop, award-winning product designer Bill Burnett teaches audiences how to look at career and life planning through the lens of design. Participants are given the tools to build their way forward and to develop various life scenarios just like a designer tests multiple prototypes. This approach fosters creativity and adaptability and allows audiences to accept that there is never just one right path.

    The Human in the Room: The Post-Pandemic Imperative to Make Work More Meaningful

    The pandemic forced our humanity out into the open, especially on the job. When you Zoom into work from the bedroom, your colleagues see you as a real person, not just a role. Disruption hits us all so hard that it makes our shared humanity—our hurts, our fears, our vulnerability—immediately more visible, and increases the levels of trust between employer and employee. Bill Burnett demonstrates how this change in relationships offers the potential to make work a more human experience for all of us. He also warns against the danger for business leaders who ignore this shift in the culture. If organizations try to simply return to “normal” and take away that increased level of trust and recognition from their employees, they will soon find their talent looking elsewhere.

    The Future of Work: The Solution to Non-Stop Disruption is Non-Stop Design

    The pandemic of 2020 created massive disruption—a change of such scale that things will never be the same again. Life-altering disruptions can be personal, regional or global and are increasingly part of modern life. We all need to know how to design our way through them. When a disruption arrives, it ends the way things were and throws life into a confusing latent zone before the new world begins. It’s tempting to “just wait” for things to go back to “normal”—but they never will. The only way out of the waiting room is through generative acceptance. In this presentation, Bill Burnett shows how to turn the ambiguity of disruption into design freedom by generatively engaging the new reality and staying ahead of the unpredictable. Learning how to set the bar low and clear it with frequent and small redesigns for all aspects of life and work can help us not only learn to survive disruption, but to find new opportunities within the uncertainty. Disruption Design is a new core competency for modern life.

    The Art of Innovation

    In today’s fast-paced markets, every organization needs to master the Art of Innovation. Stanford’s Design Group has been teaching and researching this topic for over 50 years and Bill Burnett, a graduate and the former Executive Director of this program, can help your team understand how to organize for innovation and teach you how to create a Culture of Creativity. His talks include some neuroscience, some theory, and some very practical ideas for how to shift your thinking to make innovation a regular part of your portfolio.

    People Management and Retention

    Talent management professionals know that traditional, hierarchical relationships between employers and employees are shifting rapidly, and the future of talent retention, particularly among millennials, lies in keeping employees engaged. In this lecture, Bill Burnett helps talent management professionals become early adopters of design thinking, integrating managers’ personal development conversations with employees’ life design goals so that each employee can actively co-create his or her experience within the company.

    College is over—now what?

    The notion that a student’s college major will determine what they do for the rest of their life and that everyone must find their “passion” if they are to succeed are myths, or what psychologists call dysfunctional beliefs. In this thoughtful and inspiring lecture, Burnett helps college students and grads debunk these myths and understand that there is no single right path. Following the framework of design, Burnett walks audiences through the process of trying out lots of ideas, taking action and learning by doing. This is a lecture that can change a student’s life.

    Topic customization for freshmen: Burnett also adapts this talk for incoming freshmen to help them learn how to design their college experience.

  • Video

  • Praise for Bill Burnett


    Dave and Bill perfectly hit the balance for the audience and spoke to the crowd in a targeted way. I couldn’t have hoped for anything more. The room was packed and in spite of being early in the morning, about 1000 people attended. Smashing success.

    Clio Cloud Conference

    Bill was great!!  His content was right on target with what we requested and received very well by the audience.  It really helped deepen our understanding of design thinking.

    Center for Creative Arts

    . . . Bill was engaging, humorous, and fearless in taking our questions and scenarios, and also in sharing his views of other processes for attaining creativity and innovation.  We put ourselves in his hands for 4 hours, and emerged more thoughtful and energized than I could have hoped for.  I highly recommend engaging with Bill to get a different way of thinking about life’s important questions and a different pathway to solving them.


    Praise for Designing Your Life

    Designing Your Life walks readers through the process of building a satisfying, meaningful life by approaching the challenge the way a designer would. Experimentation. Wayfinding. Prototyping. Constant iteration. You should read the book. Everyone else will.

    Daniel Pink, bestselling author of Drive

    The prototype for a happy life…Burnett and Evans show how to apply Stanford’s famous design principles to finding your place in the world, as a recent graduate or mid-career.

    NPR’s Brian Lehrer

    Life has questions. They have answers…Learn how to find a fulfilling career…learn how to better navigate life’s big moment decisions and kill your ‘wicked problems dead.'

    The New York Times

    Perhaps the book’s most important lesson is that the only failure is settling for a life that makes one unhappy. With useful fact-finding exercises, an empathetic tone, and sensible advice, this book will easily earn a place among career-finding classics

    Publishers Weekly
  • Books by Bill Burnett

  • Media About Bill Burnett

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and Availability

  • 212 572-2013
  • Bill Burnett travels from San Francisco, CA

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