Your Design Ikigai

As a designer, what gets you out of bed in the morning? What really motivates you to do meaningful work?

The Japanese have a great word: ikigai. It has no direct translation into English, but roughly means your level of happiness in life, or your 'reason for being’.

As you can see in the chart below, you can achieve ikigai—meaning in life—if you can find the right balance of 4 things:

  • Passion
  • Mission
  • Vocation
  • Profession


Your design Ikigai

Your ikigai encompasses your career and your personal life. But it’s also a great lens to use when looking for the next step in your design career.

With Ikigai in mind, we can design our own careers, finding a balance between working on the things that we love doing, the things that we’re good at, and the things that add meaning to the world. And yes, we need to be paid for our work too.

Many people spend their lifetime working out their reason for being.

But understanding where you sit on the chart above might help you realise what areas you need to work on to get there. Here are the questions to ask yourself.

Are you in a role that you love?

Nothing makes us happier than working in a job, or at least a project that gets us into flow state.

Ask yourself, “am I truly happy with the work that I do?”. Are there changes that you could make in your current role that could make you truly love your work? Or would a new role get you closer to finding your passion?

And if you haven’t found your passion yet, that’s okay too. Keep looking.

Are you building things that the world needs?

Where’s your moral compass at? Is working ethically important to you? (Hint: it should be). Are you producing work that benefits society?

If you’re not feeling satisfied with your design career, perhaps it’s because there’s not enough meaning in your work.

Are you doing what you are good at?

To be really satisfied with what you do, you need to be doing things that you are good at. And you need to feel empowered to do your best work.

Knowing that we can do something well gives us a sense of accomplishment. And when we’re stuck in jobs and work environments where we can’t achieve our full potential, it sucks.

Are you in a role that pays you fairly?

A good salary is, of course, another consideration to being happy in work.

We all know more money doesn’t make us any happier, so striving for big salaries is not the be all and end all. In some ways, getting paid more can make you less happy. But we do need to get paid enough to make ends meet.

What changes do you need to make to your career to reach your design ikigai? Finding your design ikigai won’t happen overnight, but I hope by next UXmas you’ll be a little closer.

Ben Rowe

Ben Rowe

Ben Rowe is a UX Designer and Product thinker based in Melbourne. A marketer by trade, Ben moved into UX design almost ten years ago. He's helped improve the experiences of a wide range of digital projects and products. Ben has worked for large corporates, small startups and everything in between.
Ben lives in Kyneton in central Victoria, Australia, and is expecting to have a mid-life crisis any day now.

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