Charrette 2: Conversation Piece

In my research, interviews and casual discussion about conversations about death, people often report that the first discussion they have about death with their parents is “Go around the house and claim what you’ll want when I die”. While this might seem morbid, physical objects are a very stable foundation to jump off from when beginning the death preparation process. Conversations aims to both facilitate this activity in a meaningful way by allowing both parties to attach history and meaning to possessions, recording the information for posterity, and strengthening their interpersonal bond as a result.

Participants (presumably an elderly parent and their adult child), each draw a card from a deck. On the front of the cards, there are prompts such as

  • a reminder of a happy time
  • a reminder of a difficult time
  • a reminder of a time we shared
  • a reminder of my childhood
  • a reminder of you
  • a reminder of a major event

Participants either split up and find the item, if it is on display or in accessible storage, or think of the item if it is not readily available. They then fill out the back of the card with information about the object, where and when the acquired it, and why they chose it for the prompt. Participants then regather — immediately, or after days or weeks (or one family gathering to another) and discuss their objects as they relate to the prompt, the history of their objects, and the future of their objects. The card can then be stored with the object to be passed down to whoever inherits it.

This activity will provide a bonding experience for participants as well as provide an opportunity to record important information about an individual’s story that can be passed down to future generations


Service Architecture: Postmortem Messaging

Below is a prototype for the system architecture that promotes foresight before death. It's reminiscent of a journal entry, logged throughout the life of an individual. It works in conjunction with the mourning stone to prompt those in grief to seek solace in interacting with this stone, eventually acting as a cue/key to the messages amassed throughout the years of the deceased's life.

Project Thesis

Below is an illustration of the objectives of this independent study. This project will aim towards developing a service that promotes collaborative planning, and conversations about death, that eventually manifest in an artifact that prompts further use of the service to facilitate the postmortem experience.

Mourning Stones

These artifacts function as part of a potential, sustainable substitute for traditional modern grieving practices. They are worry stones are crafted from marble remnants of local gravestone makers. Each stone is intended to facilitate the post-mortem experience by allowing the mourner to interact with a symbolic artifact in remembrance of a loved one.

Current mortuary practices impose huge costs on loved ones as well as the environment; funerals become a platform through which people display how much they loved the deceased through expensive woods for coffins and flowers for bouquets.

In contrast, the stone’s finish changes overtime, becoming a visual and interactive gauge for the time after the death of the loved one.

Charrette 1: Map of End-Of-Life Conversations

This map is from the point of view of the individual that will eventually die, though family members may be the ones to initiate the first conversation. It is a hard balance to strike between the “right” way to have these conversations and the “real” way these conversations happen, because nearly all factors that impact these conversations are circumstantial.

In creating this map I had to be very mindful that this timeline may only be applicable to the American middle class way of life (especially with regards to the medical and legal timeline represented, but also in the way that we are expected to relate to our family, spirituality, and the way we may prioritize or personal wishes over what may be “traditional”.


Social: Conversations we have with our family and friends about what we want them to know, what we need from them, and gaining closure.

Personal: Considerations we contemplate personally that inform the conversations we have with others

Logistical: Determining practical aspects of communication including when, where, and with whom conversations will happen.

Legal and Medical: Though separate, these categories are put together because they impact each other and may be handled or facilitated by professionals that work together to solve issues such as a lawyers, social workers, and doctors.

Spiritual: Conversations had and actions taken with a member of the clergy

Funerary: Preparations made for a funeral, shiva, or memorial service. This category may be subject to the most change from case to case based on tradition, willingness to address mortality, and timeliness of death.

Time Periods

Preparation: Possibly the longest period of time, preparation begins when you become aware of your own mortality and become an active participant in preparing for your eventual departure. 

Anticipation: Anticipation begins when death is a tangible, approaching event, though this may come at a different time for every person. This may be when someone becomes immobile and unable to care for themselves, when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness, when they are told there is no more viable treatment and should enter hospice. 

Conclusion: Conclusion is (hopefully) the shortest period of time. It begins when the dying process begins, and ends when death is complete. 

Project Timeline

Feb 9  Project Objective

Determined as facilitating end-of-life conversations to better prepare for and deal with death


Feb 16  Death Preparation and Grieving Process

Research preparation including medical, legal, social, spiritual considerations, grieving process including stages of grief, role of religion and community

Interviews with death-related professionals Tim Smith, Cheryl Leath, Sarah Hansen


Feb 23  Charette 1

Vivian: Handheld marble artifact meant to soothe mourners

Lea: Comprehensive map of end-of-life conversations


Mar 2  Existing Product Landscape

Services for death preparation, conversation facilitators, aids for grief

Exploring the physical and digital realms and how they can support above processes


Mar 9  Project Thesis

Service architecture and revised goals statement


Mar 23  Charette 2

Vivian: Discovering new information post-mortem

Lea: Facilitating hierloom-based information exchange


Mar 30  Relationships

Exploring relationships (lovers, family, friends) as they relate to major

changes/death to inform emotion, tone, and content of  final service and artifact


Apr 6  Final Concept

Finalized concept for service, artifact, and interaction


Apr 27 Iterations and Testing

Iterations of overall product (service and artifact)

Research session with potential users


May 18 Final Deliverables

Deliverables completed including prototypes, service map, and justification

Project Outline

During this semester, we will be analyzing common practices in mourning the dead in different cultures, through different time periods. This research will be used towards developing a new way to mourn the dead to accommodate different causes of death in a sustainable way. This redesign of mourning will be a response to a shift in digital personal content and modern technology.

The goal of this project is to create a system and/or service that can represent the life of a loved on in a satisfactory, whole, and meaningful manner. This will be a means to facilitate the grieving process in a healthy way.