Design The Life You Love in TEDX Cannes

Hello TEDX Cannes!

Our life is our biggest project.

Life is just like design project, full of constraints like time, money, age, circumstances.

You can’t have everything.

If you want more, you have to be creative about how to make what you need and what you want coexist.

Often what we want and what we need oppose each other (i.e., you want to go on vacation but you need to work)

But if you can make them co-exist…

Like finding a gig to work while I am on vacation, which by the way is what I am doing now here at Cannes…

That is creativity.

It is designing your life.

But if you have the perfect life, don't design it.

In fact, you should walk out now.

Because I am going to show you how to design your life.


I had the perfect life.

In 2001 Renault, the French automobile manufacturer, asked me to design a concept interior.

I didn't know much about cars and so I asked them for a mentor from their side.

They said we will send you Bibi Seck and you're going to love him.

And apparently they told Bibi the same thing, you’re going to love her.

Guess what happened…we did as we were told.

We fell in love!


Things started happening really fast after that.

Bibi moved from Paris to NY with his son.

We started our studio Birsel + Seck together.

We had 2 daughters.

We were working like crazy, parenting full time.

My life was designing itself.


I was happy.

Then the economy crashed in 2008.

I was sad.

Suddenly, it seemed like overnight, all our clients took their work in house.

I hadn't seen this coming and I felt very responsible.

I had uprooted Bibi from a great life in Paris.

We had a family to take care of.

I thought, “I should’ve become a lawyer.”


I come from a family of lawyers.

But the only thing I really wanted to do in life was design products.

It started with a teacup.

A family friend came to tea.

And asked me if I knew about industrial design.

Using a teacup similar to this, he said,

You see how the edges are curved? It is so that it fits our lips better.

The handle is there so that we can hold hot liquid in our hands without burning ourselves.

The saucer is there so that if you spill your tea, you won’t ruin your mother’s beautiful tablecloth.

At that moment, I fell in love with the human scale of industrial design.

I have been CREATING products ever since.

From office systems to potato peelers to toilets.

I was known as the queen of toilets for a while, and that’s a compliment.


All I wanted to do was to design but we needed clients.

I had all this time in my hands.

It was Leah Caplan, one of my oldest friends and collaborators, who said, Ayse you have all this time, why don't you use this time to think about how you think.

Because you think differently.

I think differently because I think like a designer.

With optimism. No matter how hard the problem we think we will come up with a better solution;

With empathy;

Seeing the big picture;

And collaboratively, asking “what if” questions, which is all about having an open mind.


What if I could still design but instead of CREATING products I IMAGINED my life?

I could apply my process, Deconstruction:Reconstruction, to my life.

Design the Life You Love started as an experiment.

I became my first student, out of necessity.


1st step is Deconstruction.

Taking the whole apart to see what it is made up of.

My life is made up of Bibi and our kids.

Our work together.

Our life in New York.


The irony is that the crash had already deconstructed my  life.

Imagine a black compact camera.

If you take it apart suddenly there are hundreds of parts.

Can you put it back together again the way it was before?

Not really.

And that is the beauty of deconstruction: seeing the parts to decide what you want to keep, change or delete.

Which brings us to our 2nd step, Point of View.

Seeing the same things differently.


There is only way to do it is to do it playfully, even about something as serious as our life.

When we play we’re like little kids, we are not afraid of making mistakes.

There is no judgement, no right or wrong.

We try things, and learn and create by doing.


Like a kid, I needed some superpowers.

I looked to my heroes for inspiration.

What would they do?

Our heroes are people we know, like my mom, or people we know of, like Michelle Obama.

They have something that interest us, that we admire and want to emulate.


My hero is Rowena Reed Kostellow.

Rowena was my teacher at Pratt Institute.

I was 20. She was 80.

She became my friend.

She taught me how to create in 3 dimensional space.

She also taught me how to be a New Yorker—buying food at Dean & Deluca, living in a loft, having a personal shopper. That’s the one lesson I didn't listen to.


The qualities we see in our heroes are our own values. That’s why we notice them—

Constant evolution, perseverance, having your own voice, longevity, being the best at what you love.

Values are the foundation of our IDEA, whether it’s a chair or our life.


Our 3rd step is Reconstruction, putting the pieces back together based on our values.

Constant evolution, longevity, fearlessly pursuing your dreams.

I put my life back together as a tree.

My foundation, my roots of my tree are in Turkey, this is where I grew up.

My trunk is in New York, this is where I became visible with my process and products.

It made me think about my future, what should be my future like.

I imagined my future as the world, bearing fruit and having seeds.

This idea of teaching others to IMAGINE their life started to make sense.


I was thinking about my life differently, with optimism and empathy.

Seeing the same things differently is at the center of our creativity.

For the 1st time, I was realizing that you can use CREATIVE PROCESS to transform people’s lives, even without the intermediary of products.

That this is for everyone.

We can all be the designers of our lives.


We can all express and give form to our life VISION, our 4th step.

If I were CREATING a chair, I would sketch it, I would make a model, and I would write about it.

I would visualize my idea to make it happen.

You can do the same thing with your life.

Visualize the life you love to make it happen.

Steph is a graphic designer in Amsterdam, she is the big bird of her life.

She stands tall, she is strong, she is gentle.


A director of leadership development is the Zen master of his own garden, working around the hard rocks he cannot move, to create a beautiful garden.


A young dad and strategist is at the center of his tree of life, with projects dotting every rings, from here to 2050.


My graduate student at SVA is Tintin of his life, steadfast, curious, bold and adventurous.


And I, I am the Katy Perry of design the life you love.

When my daughters were younger, we watched a documentary of Katy Perry’s tour.

I fell in love with how Katy Perry connects with young people and their parents through the beauty of her music.

And I thought, that is what I to do.

I want to connect with young people who have their whole life in front of them, and show them they can design that life.

I want to connect with their parents, you, and show you that you can redesign your life.

And here we are.

I am on tour.

Palais des Festivals, our concert hall.

With you, my great audience.

I have found my voice.

This is my Katy Perry moment!


Now more than ever we want to think about our life differently.

Bibi and I grew up in very different places: I grew up in Turkey; Bibi in Senegal.

Yet our parents gave us a similar roadmap.

Go to school, work hard, get a good job, get married, have kids: that was a good life.

But now our kids live in a different world.

Things are moving so much faster, changes are much bigger.

We don't have a roadmap to give to our kids.

This is an incredible challenge.

But challenges are OUR opportunities.

There are no roadmaps so CREATE your own roadmap.

I don’t have a road map to give to our kids.

The only thing I know that will prepare my children for the unexpected and help them solve life's problems creatively is teaching them my process: deconstruction:reconstruction.


We are the designers of our life.

Create an original life.

A life that looks like you, feels like you, even smells like you.

A life that is coherent with your values.

Isn't that a life well lived?

Design the life you love.

And go and live it.