Life Support: Interactive Design to Help us Talk About Death


Please note: This post contains themes and content that focus on death and dying. Whilst the tone is positive, hopeful and educational, I completely understand if it’s not right for you at present, but encourage you to return to it when you’re ready.

I had always suspected that our rather Victorian way of skirting around death and basically completely avoiding it at all turns was probably…not very good for us. But in spite of that I hadn’t really challenged my thinking in this area. Shying away from the difficulty and tears that I knew would ensue from my opening up. However since last year, with the outbreak of the pandemic and my participation in a rather unique client project; ‘Life Support’, I’ve found myself ready to make some changes.

Back in the Summer I had the opportunity to work on a very interesting project. I had been introduced by a friend to The Liminal Space, a wonderful group of creatives who specialise in making meaningful and innovative experiences. They had been awarded funding by Innovate UK to create an engaging, interactive piece that would help people to start having difficult conversations about death and dying, with their loved ones.



Covid-19 has completely transformed all of our lives and people are thinking about death more than ever, but they do not feel comfortable to discuss it with their friends or family. This is having a huge impact on our society, mental health and well being. The Liminal Space were close to this issue and through a previous project had carried out extensive research on end of life, death and dying. They had gathered advice from charities such as Marie Curie and Compassion in Dying, as well as insights from leading experts in palliative care, doctors, nurses and physicians. They also had a collection of real life stories from people’s personal experiences with death.

They wanted to find a way to turn this amazing web of content into a supportive, engaging journey that would empower people with stories, knowledge and practical steps for starting conversations.

I joined the team as their UX and UI designer and over a series of Zoom workshops, we explored how we could do this. We wanted the site to feel flowing. For visitors to be able to choose their own path through the content. To alight on some topics and perhaps delve deeply into others. The tone was very important to us, it needed to be supportive but not patronising, open, clear and to appeal to all genders.

From initial sketches to wireframe blueprints, I helped the team to craft the experience. I worked closely with our creative developer Jonny Thaw and our digital producer Michelle Feuerlicht to prototype interactions and animations that felt right. We created ‘puzzle piece’ content blocks of audio, facts and stories that could be dynamically fitted together to create unique journeys.

As we developed the design style; a striking palette of bold shapes, colours and strong typography – a gentle way of animating that reflected breathing in and out, started to come to the fore. This leant a feeling of calm to the site as you move through it. Encouraging the visitor to explore at a slow pace, taking as much time as they need.



We curated the content to support people through a range of different topics such as; how to have a good death, talking about death with someone who has COVID-19, having control at the end of your life, as well as how you can talk to children about some of these themes. We also created ‘poster’ like, downloadable tips and tools to give people ideas for ways into these topics. The dual navigation was designed to allow people to easily find a specific topic quickly or to follow a more personal, meandering route through the site. The expert audio recordings can be bookmarked making it easy for visitors to collect and revisit the pieces that connected with them.

I learned from Life Support that whilst the unbearable sadness that the death of a loved one causes cannot (and should not) be avoided, talking about death before it happens and making our wishes known, can be a huge help.

Lots of the real life stories included in Life Support discuss how forward discussion and planning made a huge positive difference to the people left behind when a family member or friend passed away. Knowing what their loved one wanted (or didn’t want) in advance often proved to remove huge amounts of unnecessary stress and additional upset.

Having recently lost a family member to Covid-19, I have now experienced this first hand. I wish that I had been more prepared for it. Though it’s early days for me, I can now see how valuable it will be for me and my family to start having these conversations with each other. To consider what we would want at our funerals, what sort of treatment we might accept from Doctors and where we would prefer to die. So that when the time comes, as it will for us all, we can take some comfort from knowing that it’s happening in line with our values and wishes.

The project has been well received so far, gaining lots of positive feedback across social media and via the press. It means a lot to me to be able to work on meaningful experiences such as Life Support and I hope it will help lots of people.

I would love to be involved with more forward thinking projects such as this one in the future. If you’re in need of unique UX and carefully crafted interactive design for your project, please do get in touch!

Project Flashback: Secret Life of Boys

Today I thought I’d share a little snapshot of one of my digital design projects – Secret Life of Boys, an interactive comedy for CBBC. I had an absolute blast working on three series of the show with our amazing digital team. As lead designer I was responsible for creating the user experience, interfaces, environment art – plus lots of fun graphic illustrations for game objects like stickers and secret treasure chests!

In the interactive version of the show, players can watch episodes, hunt for secrets, trigger bonus animations, stories and gags and explore the surreal, slightly magical world in which the characters live. Above and below are examples of some of the game screens along with an early wireframe.

Wireframes are almost like a blueprint for a game or digital experience. They help you to work out the best possible experience for a player, and take place before any visual design happens. Investing time on these at the start of a digital project can save a lot of time and effort down the line!…

I’ll share a bit more on this project in the future, but just wanted to let my games design flag fly a little today! Also, for any parents looking for something to keep the young ones entertained, I wanted to give Secret Life of Boys 3 a shout as a really lovely, fun series.

New Year, New Business Cards!

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Happy New Year! I hope that you’ve had a lovely, festive break. I’m back home in London now after an extended festive period and feeling quite grateful for January’s slower pace. Despite it usually being quite a grey and chilly month, I do enjoy the blank page it offers, the opportunity for reflection and some gentle planning of the year ahead before things gear up too much!

I’m excited to share my new, dragon themed, business cards with you! I got them printed on Moo’s 100% recycled cotton card (made from old T Shirt offcuts) they have a nice, tactile feel to them and are hopefully a greener option too. I had fun illustrating this fantasy, dragon ruled landscape and look forward to handing them out this year.

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If you have a design, illustration or digital project you’d like to discuss for 2020, please do get in touch, I’d love to hear about it!

 

Project Flashback: The Sickle Buddy App

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I’m trying to get better at posting little flashbacks to some of my favourite, client design projects….the reason being that these projects were so enjoyable, creative and fulfilling, that I would love to attract more like them!

A little while ago I had the pleasure of working with Imperial College London to design ‘Sickle Buddy’, an app created to help children who suffer from Sickle Cell Disease. Through colourful illustrations and fun interactions, young patients can learn more about the disease and discover new ways to look after themselves and manage their symptoms which can be painful and frightening at times.

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I created the app’s UX, UI, Illustration and character design work and had lots of fun doing so! It meant a lot to me to be able to work on a project that could potentially help young sufferers and offer some comfort and relief through play.

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If you’re in need of a freelance digital/games designer for a similar project, I would love to hear about it! Or if you have suggestions for similar apps you have enjoyed or found useful, then do please let me know.

You can download the Sickle Buddy app here on the Google Play Store.

 

Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington

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I’ve just finished reading Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington. Aside from having a gorgeously illustrated cover featuring a magical barn owl and a shower of gold foil sparks…it’s also a rich and soothing read!

I’m sometimes put off by nature books that can be a little dry and factual in their descriptions, but Miriam’s writing is full of life. Each chapter focusses on a different species of owl and her journey to viewing it in the wild. As the adventures unfold, she shares her in depth research into the habitats, biology, history and mysteries of each creature. At the start of each chapter we’re also treated to an illustration of the owl in question, including; Snowy, Barn, Tawny, Pygmy, Eagle Owls and more…

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Miriam explores our fascination with owls throughout history. She delves into folklore and literature where the owl is sometimes revered – but often times feared as a portent of death and doom. She perfectly conjures up images of dense forest and icy plains and weaves in her personal encounters with bird lovers and experts that she encounters on her quest.

But throughout, there is a steady respect for the wildness of the owl that I very much appreciated. Miriam reminds us that these magnificent creatures belong to nature. We shouldn’t make the mistake of cute-ifying them or imagining them as cuddly Potter-style pets. Nor does she shy away from climate change and how our actions as humans are endangering these precious birds. But even with its urgent messages and heavier thoughts, I found Owl Sense to be a calming book for the soul. And I loved learning more about some of my favourite animals!

Owl Sense jacket illustrations are by Talya Baldwin (owl) and Peter Fitzpatrick (tree).

 

Sibling Skill Swaps & Logo Design

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Though my brother and I both live in London, we don’t always get to hang out as much as we’d like – so when we get the chance to collaborate on a creative project and share our different skills to help each other out, it feels really special!

Mikey Parsons is a talented composer studying his final year at Trinity Laban in Greenwich. You may remember that he worked with me a couple of years back to create atmospheric, chilling soundscapes for my Shackleton Illustration project with the Drawn Chorus.

He’s especially skilled at creating music for video games and as is hoping to enter into the industry when he graduates. As such, he had asked me to design him a logo that would help to represent him across social media and beyond as he reaches out to new contacts…

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I begin most logo projects by creating a few pages of loose, quick experiments. I like to keep these playful and experiment with ideas, shapes, letters and textures to see if any interesting patterns or compositions begin to emerge.

Mikey draws lots of musical inspiration from magical games like Final Fantasy, from adventure stories such as Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter universe. Luckily our sibling interests align, so I was able to have lots of fun playing with dragon motifs and magical emblems.

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For all of my logo and design projects, key moments are built in for the client to review and feedback on the work I’ve completed. This is important to make sure that the project develops in the right direction. Mikey selected a couple of his favourite directions from my experiments and I took these forwards to the next stage.

Owlstation_freelance logo design_2019_2We were both quite taken with a small logo mark I’d drawn, in which each letter of Mikey’s name had a symbolistic feel to it. With the lead letter ‘M’ appearing to dissolve away as if made of magic particles. I took this design into illustrator and started to refine each letter.

Throughout the process, I shared design updates with Mikey. We’d identified quite early on that he would also need a reduced version of the logo that used only his initials. This would be used for social media profile images and read better when viewed at a smaller size. I developed this version in parallel to the larger logo to make sure both felt like they belonged in the same magical family!

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I really enjoy working on logo designs for other creatives. It’s always a fun challenge to take their ideas, inspirations and personality and find a way to turn it into a beautiful logo that helps represent who they are and what they do.

Be sure to check out Mikey’s awesome music and check back for more design project posts from me in the near future!