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!