Should We Design to Live or Live to Design?


A wise man once said, “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

There are two competing schools of thought when it comes to this. There’s the pragmatists who would argue that if you have to do it for a living no matter how you look at it, in the end, it’s work. Then there’s the optimists who would say if you’re engaged in your life’s passion then it will never be work, no matter how little or how much you get paid.

So who’s right?

Is design a means to an end – an occupation and something we do so that we can go home to our lives at the end of the day? Or does designing fulfill the outcome of our deepest desires therefore overriding any requirement for us to consider it a truly laborious activity?

It’s something that everyone has found themselves questioning at some point in their career. We might find ourselves asking it at the very beginning as we determine the first steps of what might be a very long journey in the field of design. We could encounter it again as we transition from place to place or as a new opportunity presents itself. And it can continue to present itself anytime we encounter a hardship of any kind while we’re “on the job.”

But does it have to be so black and white? The nature of the question would tell you that you have to choose one or the other, as though answering it will tell the voices in your head to be quiet and accept a reality that will make you feel better about your life or better about your work.

The other day as I was driving through downtown Los Angeles,  I passed by a series of newly constructed buildings that were being marketed towards today’s postmodern individuals and go getters- work hard, play hard. You know the signs: “Live/Work Lofts” – these are today’s physical towering reminder of that question we are being faced with.

According to municipal codes of the city of Los Angeles, live/work lofts are defined as such:

A live/work unit is defined as a single unit (e.g., studio, loft, or one bedroom) consisting of both a commercial/office and a residential component that is occupied by the same resident. The live/work unit shall be the primary dwelling of the occupant.

It should be noted that the current era of live/work housing owes its very inception to the creative and entrepreneurial communities – startups and artists began to blend the lines between working to live and living to work decades ago. With more recent communication technologies becoming more and more commercially viable and affordable, we’ve been given every excuse to NOT know when we’re working and when we’re living more than ever before.

So is this the correct way to answer the question – to fuse the two sides of the coin to give us a “balanced” answer? If I do a little of both at the same time, than haven’t I struck a healthy balance? As designers, we might even say that this is an elegant and viable solution.

But I would postulate that it only helps us avoid answering the question. We’re no better off than where we began because all we’ve done is tried to make work more like life and make life more like work.

And herein lies the nature of the beast: We as a society, and even as designers, have demonized “work” so that we require “life” in order to escape its grasp. We’ve made “life” the reward of “work” so that we are justified in using colloquialisms like “case of the Mondays” and “Humpday” and are free to express our distaste for any hardships faced while on the job.

But what if instead of trying to find a work/life balance, we focused on what it means to be living and understand that both work and life outside of work are necessary blessings and partners in that endeavor as opposed to polar opposites.

What if God’s desire for us is a continually evolving equilibrium? That balance isn’t a single point of 50/50 or some other equation but that it’s a daily ebb and flow that is best determined and arrived at through God’s perspective and an examining of where our lives are in relation to His plans, not our estimations? By doing so, we might begin to encounter something better than a personal satisfaction for our lives, we will have taken steps to align with His plans for our life and in doing so essentially better understand our life’s calling.

We are not accidental creatives. It is not a coincidence that you love type. That the right looking grid or layout gets you a little too excited. That even when you’re not working on a design, you can’t help but see the visual tangents or improper angles in all the things that you encounter on a daily basis. We should not have to turn on our giftings at 8am after getting coffee and we shouldn’t be burying our talents after 5pm when we close our laptops. There is no on/off switch to how God made us as designers.

We have to restructure how we address the original question – I mean, we are creatives so it only makes sense that we design a better solution…

Maybe for us, design is how we live.

“Let us endeavor so to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” – Mark Twain