Bill Burnett View Profile

Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford University

“Design thinking is an innovation methodology – it works on products, works on services. But I think the most interesting design problem is your life.”

It isn’t terribly surprising that Bill Burnett approaches problems – no matter what kind – through the lens of design thinking. After years of drawing cars and airplanes under his Grandmother’s sewing machine, Burnett went off to the university and discovered, much to his surprise, that there were people in the world who did this kind of thing every day (without the sewing machine) and they were called designers.

Thirty years, five companies, and a couple of thousand students later Bill is still drawing and building things, teaching others how to do the same, and quietly enjoying the fact that no one has discovered that he is having too much fun.

“We’ve been taught in university to be skeptical realists, rationalists – but that’s not very useful as a mindset when you’re trying to do something new, something no one’s done before. So we say you start with curiosity and you lean in to what you’re curious about,” said Burnett.

“You reframe problems, because most of the time we find people are working on the wrong problems. They have a wonderful solution to (the wrong problem).”

The co-author of Designing Your Life alongside Dave Evans, Burnett currently serves as the Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford. He directs the undergraduate and graduate program in design at Stanford, both interdepartmental programs between the Mechanical Engineering department and the Art department.

He earned his BS and MS in Product Design at Stanford and has worked professionally on a wide variety of projects ranging from award-winning Apple PowerBooks to the original Hasbro Star Wars action figures. He holds a number of mechanical and design patents, and design awards for a variety of products including the first “slate” computer. In addition to his duties at Stanford, he is a on the Board of VOZ (pronounced “VAWS – it means voice in Spanish) a social responsible high fashion startup and advises several Internet start-up companies.

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