Death is an unavoidable issue due to our natural life cycle. Mortality causes a further problem among society due to the effect of grief among family members of the person who passed away.
The end-of-life conversation has remained hidden and considered taboo due to its association with sadness. This perception leads to a domino effect on unresolved emotional issues and regrets: "I should have said this," "I could have done this."
Bear was created as a student project at Parsons School of Design, with the goals of raising awareness of the need for end-of-life conversations and providing a way for people to have something that represents their loved one to help ease the emotional struggle of bereavement.
Bear is a platform that helps users help their loved ones. Bear allows people to create a Time Pod and prepare for the unknown. Users can add future messages, design how they want to be remembered and customize a Time Pod to help comfort their loved ones when they're no longer around. By creating a Time Pod, their loved ones can still visit the customized message that the user created for them for their future birthdays, wedding, other life milestones or when some days just really suck. Users might no longer be around, but their message can be their representation.
INTENTION & RESEARCH: Grief has always been a recurring problem in our society. Whether it is facing one's own death or witnessing someone we love pass away, grief over death is not a problem that can be fixed. It is, however, a problem with areas that can be improved regarding the end-of-life experience and grief from the death of loved ones.
As a person with first-hand experience of the loss of a loved one, I design my research with an intention to seek unbiased information outside my circles while at the same time using my personal loss experience as a guide to be mindful when addressing sensitive subjects with each participant during interview sessions.
The initial research approach was to explore the overall area of grief and bereavement to gain a full perspective of grief from across a spectrum of various theories of grief, analysis of existing businesses and organizations, and through direct contact with professionals in the end-of-life industry.
The research began with a key assumption that there is a lack of acknowledgement of the impact of grief that continues to follow grievers throughout their lives. With this key assumption and an intention to find an alternative way to help grievers in mind, the research question formed into two main queries:
1) How can we help to make these inevitable experiences less difficult to face?
2) How might we find a way to help capture the essence and memories of someone before they pass away?
The methods used to conduct this research were the following:
1.) Interviews with participants from various backgrounds and different relationships to grief and bereavement. - Clinical Psychologist: specializing in grief counseling, experienced personal losses. - Vice President of Education for an organization that specializes in Hospice Care. - Funeral home worker. - A part-time worker at a nursing home. - A documentary filmmaker, trained as an end-of-life doula. - An individual that lost family members due to old age. - An individual that lost a family member in a traumatic death. - An individual with a family member diagnosed with cancer.
2.) Survey questionnaires with questions designed to gather the participant's point of view on the end-of-life topic.
3.) Focus group research where participants were selected based on two criteria: age and country in which they were born. Inspired by Death of Dinner organization, the participants were invited to a small home cooked meal dinner at the researcher's home where they were invited to share their thoughts (and personal stories) around the end-of-life topic over dinner. Both sessions were recorded through voice recorder with each participant's consent.
4.) Observations at a funeral home and memorial museum: observing the type of communication, arrangements, and relationship between the physical space and the people.
5.) Academic journals and articles.
6.) Educational videos and podcasts.
7.) Collected online personal essays on grief.
8.) Online images of memorial sites (sculptors, tombstones, museums).
9.) Analysis of the competitive landscape: What types of services other businesses and organizations provide to the end-of-life industry, and what approach do they take to tackle the end-of-life problem space?
INSIGHTS: The information from the research has revealed the core causes of grief and validated the initial assumptions. The insights from the research emerge into two key themes. The first theme is deeply embedded in the interrelation between an act of expression, representation, and sensemaking. This shows how people find a way to say things left unsaid as a way to respond to their regrets, while finding things that represent their loved ones in order to make sense of what happened and to remember the memories of the people they lost, as they reinvest in their own lives.
The second theme came as an unexpected insight. This theme shows the transformation from 'barrier' (death as a taboo) to new perception (once experienced, the barrier breaks). Once death is experienced and effectively addressed, the barriers to dealing with future episodes of grief are worn down and positive outlooks may form. As the research journey progressed, it revealed that many experts in the end-of-life industry had lost someone they loved before. Their losses formed new perceptions and got them involved in efforts to will help others that are (or will be) going through similar experiences.
ACTION: By forming insights and translating them into a strategy, I created the Bear concept as a platform to provide services to two kinds of users: the Creator and the Receiver. The Creator can choose to customize a Time Pod for the Receiver, using features in the platform to record and upload media of their choice ranging from video and voice audio to playlists, letters and images.
By providing tools for the Creator to create a Time Pod for the Receiver as a way to prepare for the end of life, Bear will indirectly put the Creator in the preparation mindset and start the conversation with their loved ones while they are still around. Moreover, once the Creator has passed and the Time Pod has been activated, the Receiver can visit the Time Pod for messages that the Creator created specifically for them whether it's a video message for their future birthdays, playlists for specific occasions, or a message to connect with other Receivers to support each other. In the long-term, the Receiver will convert into the Creator.
TESTING: Testing the concept was separated into three test goals: the product (platform), user behavior (how does this thing work?), and education (why is this service important to them?). The testing was done in three different approaches. The first testing was done through a prototype of the platform, created from InVision where users were asked to navigate through the Bear website. The second testing was done by providing a piece of paper and a pen to the users, and asking them to sketch or write while thinking about the scenario in which the person they love is no longer alive. The things users put on paper were the things that they wanted the person they love to leave behind for them. The second test then proceeded with a follow-up one-on-one interview. The third testing was done through card sorting, asking users to think about someone they love and build a care package for them, using cards provided to them. The testing was then followed by a short one-on-one interview.
One of the participants from the interview in the research stage was among the people who tested the concept. New users that participated in the testing had different backgrounds, ranging from a parent starting to think the possibility of his own death and how it would affect his child, to someone that experienced the traumatic loss of a spouse, to someone that has never experienced the loss of a close family member.
RESULTS: The early adopters of this service are predicted to be people that have experienced the loss of loved ones before, while in the long term the Receiver user will convert into the Creator user. Apart from the service provided by Bear, there are also opportunities to be involved with other stakeholders including social media companies for consolidating and linking images, cloud storage and online security business, support groups, hospice care and funeral home services, as well as the legal industry.
Regrets and unresolved issues are often the main causes of grief and bereavement. Apart from a direct negative effect on the griever's mental health, grief and bereavement can cause problems in the griever's workplace and personal relationships. By using Bear as a tool to increase awareness of the importance of conversations around, and preparation for, death, users will find a new perspective on appreciating life and the people around them. This will act as the beginning of a domino effect to effectively address end-of-life issues.