Making meaningful moments happen with people we care about through collaborative commitment.
- Team: Individual project over the course of 5 weeks
- Context: Interaction Design Studio (Fall 2015), Instructors Ashley Deal and Raelynn O'Leary
- Software Used: Sketch, InVision, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe AfterEffects, Adobe Premiere, Omnigraffle
- Skills Used: Stakeholder Interviews, Surveys, Secondary Research, Insight Synthesis, Concept Development, Storyboarding, Wireframing, Visual Design, InVision Prototyping, Videography, Photography, Video Editing
- See the completed project documentation here
In this personal project, I set out to explore how to enable individuals to achieve closure in the event of death. The question that prompted this process of discovery was "If I were to die today, how could I make sure my family and friends know I love them?" My explorations took me from exploring the domain of death and dying, to looking at ways of promoting for more experiential living. My final solution seeks to enable individuals to make more memories together, while living, thus minimizing the number of things left unsaid.
Actualize shared experiences with tangible goals.
trust is a mobile platform that provides a thoughtful, social way of saving money for meaningful future experiences. I arrived at the solution after conducting research on the topic of death and closure, a topic which ultimately led me to designing for living rather than for dying. trust helps users actualize shared experiences, helping them save money towards these experiential goals together via a mobile budgeting system. Users pledge money together to shared goals using the iOS app, and visualize these goals using the matching 365-day calendar. The ultimate goal of trust is to give users the tools to actualize shared plans by providing a easy-to-use platform to help them achieve their experiential goals using concrete parameters of saving money and visualizing deadlines.
Design Process: Developing trust
How can design bridge the gap of emotional closure when it comes to the passing of a human being?
Initially, I set out to explore the problem area of latent communication post-death. This line of inquiry arose when I was considering how I may want to communicate my last thoughts with someone should I pass away the next day, or considering the kinds of things would I say to someone I care about should they pass away in the very near future.
The initial target population of this problem was very broad. I anticipated this problem as afflicting everyone at some point in their lives. To further scope and define the problem, I conducted exploratory research through interviews, internet forum observations, and field research.
In order to find out more about the problem space as well as to narrow down the focus of the project, I sent out a brief survey, conducted in-depth interviews, lurked on Reddit, and read through some death-related literature recommended to me by a professor.
Research question: How do people achieve closure with others’ death? How do individuals prepare for their own future death? What are the emotions evoked in the process of achieving closure?
Method 1: Survey
Research question: How do people perceive and prepare for their own mortality? How do people react to the passing of someone they cared about?
I sent out a brief survey to my social network as well as to several Reddit mourning forums to learn about how they dealt with the passing of someone close to them, as well as whether they are making preparations for their own death. This survey served the purpose of giving me a sense of whether my main research question - achieving closure - is an issue that is on people's minds, or if it's just an issue I was curious about.
What I learned: Most people do have things left unsaid to the deceased, and the reason for not saying these things came in the form of numerous communication barriers. Physical momentos acted as one way the living revisited their memories of the deceased. They also reported a sense of catharsis when connecting with these memories of the deceased. Finally, almost no participants stated they had made plans to make preparations for their own death.
Method 2: Interviews
Research question: What are the individual stories behind achieving closure upon the death of a loved one?
The interviews served to dig into the topics covered in the survey in more detail, as well as to delve deeper into individual stories and insights surrounding the problem space of closure. I interviewed three participants, each with different experiences concerning the death of a loved one. One has never encountered death of a loved one, one has encountered the death of a loved one, and one has encountered the near-death of a loved one.
What I learned: The occurrence of death often acted as a catalyst for the living to stay more focused on the present. Families are the primary target of concern when my participants thought about their own legacies, often citing a fear of families intensely mourning their passing.
Method 3: Web Eavesdropping
Research question: What does a demographically diverse population view the issue of closure and death? Specifically, do they mention revisiting the words or mementos of loved ones after their passing?
To get access to a larger and more diverse group of people, I poked around online forums that gathered mourners in web conversations. The platform I dug around was Reddit, and the subforums I looked at were r/grief, r/griefsupport, r/death, r/AMA.
What I learned: The theme of communication popped up in all forums and threads related to death. There were mixed feelings surrounding the topic of receiving communication from the deceased, although the majority of Redditors mentioned receiving posthumous mail from someone they loved was mostly a positive experience.
Method 4: Secondary Research
Research question: What does academic design literature say about interventions aimed at designing for closure? What are some of the digital applications that are targeting my problem space?
I received numerous resources surrounding death and technological interventions surrounding death from Bruce Hanington, a professor at CMU who had researched the topic extensively as a grad student.
What I learned: The designer’s role in the explorations surrounding death and closure is the bridging of technology and the rituals surrounding death, and helping people make meaning of death in an ever-secularized world. Rather than an end in itself, design is a means to an end especially in the realm of existential questions.
Synthesis & Summary
After engaging in affinity diagramming and looking for patterns within the qualitative research I had done, I distilled my findings into four main takeaways.
Based off of the exploratory research and synthesis, I came up with three possible design directions to guide the concept development phase. Because my research yielded information that is much richer than just "leaving messages behind for loved ones," I looked at possibilities that are more engaging and brings together more stakeholders than I had anticipiated before the project.
I used Kees Dorst's Frame Innovation Method to propel my concept development, and reframed my design implications to uncover design opportunities. I developed several frames of looking at the current problem territory, and then created storyboard scenarios to test these concepts with potential users. Following the testing, I narrowed the concept into one direction - to create a system that visualizes time left to accomplish certain experiential goals in a collaborative manner - in the refinement phase.
Developing Frames via Frame Innovation
Frame: If the problem situation of people not communicating their most sincere thoughts to their loved ones before they pass is approached as if it is a problem of the invisibility of time, then…
What if there is a platform that helps users visualize the X number of times they have left to do certain activities, rather than visualize these statistics in terms of days?
What if there is a platform that allows different users to pledge to a “friendship fund” in order to make experiences happen?
Frame: If the problem situation of people not communicating their most sincere thoughts to their loved ones before they pass is approached as if it is a problem of concretizing implicit emotions, then…
What if there is a “pay it forward” network where users can do things “in honor of” someone they care about and input these acts into a database? Periodically, the “honored” people would receive notifications of their indirect goodness from the platform.
Frame: If the problem situation of people not communicating their most sincere thoughts to their loved ones before they pass is approached as if it is a problem of a lack of formal occasions for the practice, then…
What if we could utilize the metaphorical idea of departures as a catalyst to spark these types of emotionally laden conversations? For example, an airport kiosk that prompts users to send messages to loved ones in the future with the aim to make salient the thoughts they couldn’t verbalize.
From the frames I developed, I created storyboards of the key interactions present in the concept, and put them in front of various users to get their gut reactions and feedback about the ideas. Of the three concepts, my participants liked the idea of the "friendship trust" the most, but were wary of putting their money into an unidentified platform. They also did not like the idea of being mailed a physical check of their savings, because they wanted the flexibility of having access to their money at any time. From these feedbacks, I decided to continue going in the direction of the "friendship trust" concept and to refine the idea to incorporate the critiques received.
How might we design a tool to facilitate experiential connections between the living, so that they have fewer things left unsaid?
Resulting from the concept evaluation and further research, I concluded by pivoting towards designing a tool to facilitate experiential connections for the living in an attempt to minimize the amount of emotions left unresolved between the deceased and the living. I developed a concept map to break down the components involved in facilitating experiential connections by referencing to some of the responses in the survey and interview results.
Researching Analogous Apps, Colors & Functions
During my research of the novel financial apps currently on the market, I looked into the aesthetics and functionalities of applications and programs like Digit, Acorns, Mint, Capital One 360, Unsplurge, DreamDays, etc. From this exploration I was slightly concerned with my lack of financial banking knowledge and was therefore reluctant to delve too deeply into the financial underpinnings of the project concept. I read up on the platform of Digit in the /r/personalfinance forum, which is frequented by tech-savvy investors whom I trusted would have had more exposure to these novel internet-based financial institutions. Inspired by the platform, I also aimed to incorporate some sort of painless saving into my designed ecosystem.
In addition to the functional analysis of these platforms (of which there are many more, I am sure), I also used the opportunity to understand the styles and colors associated with mobile and internet-based banking to design a more relevantly-themed platform.
Based off of the design principles and the comparative analysis of current apps, I conceptualized the design requirements needed to accomplish the desired design goals. I created a first-pass framework of the functionalities needed in the mobile and calendar components to help stakeholders actualize shared experiences.
With these requirements in mind, I went on to the next phase of information architecture development.
Prior to delving into the wireframing and visual designs of the process, I created and iterated on the information architecture of the platform to ensure that I have all the functions are present and in logical sequence.
Wireframing & Visual Design
I first developed the initial wireframes in Sketch, followed by several iterations before creating the final version on Illustrator and a clickthrough mockup in InVision. The visual design of the system takes inspiration from banking and budget apps, where cool colors and simple styles take precedence. The name "trust" invokes both the psychological concept of interpersonal reliability, while also invoking the financial concept of financial holdings.
In addition to the digital app, I also designed a 365-day calendar which brings back the design principle of visualizing mortality and the making salient the finite nature of experience-making. I chose to use a 365 day format because month-by-month calendars fail to depict our days in a holistic manner, and instead silos our thinking in month-by-month or weekly patterns. By making each and every day, of every month visually equivalent, the calendar invokes the idea that every day counts, and enables users to count down to experiences that are farther into the future.
I designed the calendar for print on legal-sized paper in order to have it fit nicely into a standard letter-sized envelope without folding it too many times. This is because the calendar would be a print piece that is distributed to users via mail, so the mailing format is very important when conceptualizing the calendar design. Furthermore, the calendar’s main function is to visualize and to commemorate the good times the user has had, so it must have sufficient visual appeal such that the user would actually hang it up and want to look at it. Earlier versions of the poster featured a relatively blank color scheme, but I vetoed that in favor of a more colorful and striking presentation due to the consideration that people should want to look at it once it is up on a wall.
Given that the colors of the system are cool, I decided to choose warm colors for the stickers and tag colors to give more contrast to the calendar.
Saving Digitally, Get Reminded Visually
trust is a mobile platform that helps users actualize shared experiences by helping them save money and set deadlines for the experiential goals they want to achieve. The mobile app allows the user to set experiential goals with their network, pledge money into the goals from their connected bank accounts, view progress towards goals, and transfer the savings back into their bank. Users of trust receive a printed 365-day calendar with round stickers that correspond to goal tags within the mobile system. The calendar serves as a physical reminder of the goals the user wants to achieve, and also serves as an artifact that the user can look back on as an overview of the highlights of his year.
As a solution to the initial problem of bridging emotional closure for those facing death, trust tackles this problem from the angle of actualizing more experiential connections for the living. trust enables its users to have more opportunities to say to those dear to them the things that they want to say before departing life, helping its users live more fulfilling lives.
Committing Together for Shared Experiences
The trust platform helps users actualize shared experiences by providing for a social way to accumulate the means to embark on these experiences. Two or more users create a shared Goal on the iOS app and set a deadline for the experience, each setting their own preferred monetary amount in preparation for the Goal. Each user can then pledge money towards the Goal, akin to putting money into a savings account, in order to work towards actualizing the shared experience. Users can have multiple Goals going on at the same time with different people, and can also cash out at any time during the process (i.e. move the money back to the user's bank account). Users may also sign up for automatic deposits using the platform, helping them save towards these experiential purchases (both large and small) without the mental burden of doing so. The Feed page gently nudges the user to contribute to shared Goals by displaying trust activity by the user's co-savers.
The goal of the mobile application is to provide a simple way for users to save money towards experiences so to minimize emotional regret at the end of life. It is different from current budgeting apps (like Unsplurge) in that the trust platform stores the money for users (like Venmo). It is also different from savings accounts like the CapitalOne 360 program in that it provides for a social platform to save for experiential purchases together with other users of the platform. Finally, the trust platform is unique in its bundling with the calendar component of the platform.
A Calendar Set to Visualize Future Plans
Users of the trust platform receive a 365-day calendar in the mail along with a set of colored stickers that match the Goal colors in the app. The size of the calendar is 8.5" x 14" to fit nicely into a standard-sized envelope for mailing. Once users set a Goal on the mobile app, they must choose a corresponding Goal color within the application. Users can then affix the same-colored sticker to the Goal deadline on the paper calendar to create a physical reminder of the user's experiential Goals for the year. On the right side of the calendar is space for the user to note down the specifics of the Goal, as well as with whom the Goal is intended.
In addition to serving as a physical reminder for users of their shared experiential Goals, the calendar also acts as a record of the user's experiential highlights of the year. Users can look back on the calendar at the end of the year and revel in the good times that had happened throughout the previous 365 days.
Using Color to Connect and Reinforce Shared Goals
Each of the components can be used as a standalone tool, but together they create a holistic and delightful experience for users in working towards shared experiential moments in their lives. The trust platform visualizes and provides for an easy-to-use way of creating shared memories with the ultimate goal of reducing emotional regret at the end of life.