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*Refined* Facilitating a collective creation of a symbol that challenges death as a taboo and represents an empowered community.

A collective exercise that gives a framework for discussing death positively at various levels, all anchored by a universal symbol.

Photo of Pranav Nayak
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

Our idea is designed for a society that finds the very discussion around death uncomfortable. The symbol affects change at various levels - Patients & Relatives A starting point for a for belonging and supportive community. - Doctors & their support staff A repository to initiate a difficult conversation and follow through with empathy. - Youth A tool for educating them about a heavy subject like death. - Local institutions Framework to create a safe-space for people associated with EOL

Table of Content

  • In a Nutshell
  • Idea Overview
  • Where’s The Need?
  • The User Maps
  • Solving Assumptions
  • Partnerships
  • Acting on Feedback

In a Nutshell

We are proposing a collective exercise and conversation around the end of life, which culminates into the creation of a universally accepted symbol of death, which will acknowledge multicultural and diverse aspects regarding the end of life experience

This symbol then becomes a rally point for a slew of discussions and changes at various levels. The symbol will be a spark for political debates, a safe space for patients, a tool for simplifying for doctors, imagery to associate with for local establishments and taboo breaker for others.

Idea Overview

It takes three phases to complete our idea.

The first phase is iterating and prototyping the workshop structure and deliverables.

Second is, executing the collective workshop.

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The third phase is execution of the framework our workshop provides, at different levels. 

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Where’s The Need?
Currently, death is something society finds hard to admit. Death is handled privately, in isolation. And the first step in understanding and supporting a cause is acknowledging it; think the recycling symbol, pink ribbon etc.

If someone around us is nearing the final stage, there is no way for society to communicate or get support. Symbols for breast cancer awareness, AIDS, Autism etc make the discussion around these problems possible. An icon for death gives society the chance to show support and empathy towards people close to passing; as opposed to being pitiful and avoiding the uncomfortable discussion.

The ingrained negative connotation of death in society today

Existing Symbols Prompting Support & Awareness

The User Maps

Typically, an execution has one user map since it’s targeted to one user. But the success of our idea relies on affecting multiple lives at various levels. To illustrate the ideal scenario, we’ve mapped each user with a story.

A Patient’s User Map

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A Doctor’s User Map

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A Relative’s User Map

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An Influencer’s User Map

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Solving Assumptions

 The symbol forms specific solutions which solve problem assumptions. Same has been illustrated in the media gallery.

Scope For Partnerships

There will be two tiers of partnerships. One for creating the discussion and symbol & the other, for the deployment of the solutions.

Partnerships for the workshop:

-       Medical Institutions

  • World Medical Association
  • World Health Professions Alliance
  • Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance
  • National Library of Medicine (NLM)

-       Cultural Institutes

  • European Union National Institutes for Culture
  • Goethe-Institutes

-               Professional Associations

  • Association of Information Technology Professionals
  • Institute of Food Technologists
  • International Association of Facilitators
  • Project Management Institute

-               Religious Institutes

  • Missionaries of Charity
  • Association for Jewish Studies
  • Art of Living Association
  • Buddhist Association of China

Partnerships for deploying solutions:

  • Pearson PLC
  • Presbyterian Hospital
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • Walgreens Boots Alliance
  • Families USA
  • American Academy of Nursing
  • International Baccalaureate
  • International Education Foundation

Acting on Feedback

At this stage, we interviewed close friends and relatives about the soundness of our idea, along with the feedback from the IDEO community.  

-       Workshop isn’t just for creating the symbol

The feedback suggested the workshop phase be for discussing broader topics about the end of life. Since we are taking the effort of bringing people together, let’s bring ideas together and document the process.

-       Suggest the applications of the symbol

A valuable feedback was suggesting the ways in which the symbol can take form. We identified core pillars which formed the 3rd and crucial phase of our idea.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The prototype and iteration phase is the most important stage in our idea, it’s only with the help of organisations like IDEO and Shutter Health, that a broader scope is possible for our team for testing the complete pilots for developing. It is also behind the name of important collaborations that projects like this one are possible. We would love to reach out to existing palliative care institutions, patients and their support structure, to take their views on how this could help them more.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Formulating the symbol is a process. This can't be completed by a liner design process. It has to be collaborative in nature. - Using Ideo’s expertise in bringing together a motivated community - Ideo’s facilitation prowess to engage that community in remote workshops - Harnessing the community’s inputs and picking a symbol that’s culturally accepted. Since the symbol is the face of the movement, what conversation points and activities can maintain the relevancy around the movement?

Tell us about your work experience:

Erika grew up in Colombia. Passionate about social issues, she attended Hyper Island and took the leap towards UX and a more human approach to problems. Pranav was born in Mumbai where he dabbled as a copywriter, before finding his calling at Hyper Island as a strategic storyteller.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • A student collaboration


Join the conversation:

Photo of Summer

I love the idea of a symbol to stimulate individual existential exploration and collective engagement surrounding death. That said, I worry that death taps into such differing and deeply held belief structures that agreement upon a universally embraced symbol to represent "death" itself may be hard to achieve. It seems it would require an accompanying narrative that bridges ideological divides.

One consideration would be to slightly reframe the effort to generating a universal symbol that represents human connection and compassion around our shared ending.

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Hi Pranav – I'm loving all your user journeys! It creates a wholistic vision of what this product could do. This comment stood out to me: "Formulating the symbol is a process. This can't be completed by a liner design process.
It has to be collaborative in nature." I'm curious if you have any initial mockups of what it might look like! (I'm just so excited.) What's the story behind the graphic in the "Idea Framework" image?

Photo of Amy Holliday

Absolutely awestruck by your entire package and ability to define and present your vision! So much for me to absorb to be able to respond at present, but wanted to applaud you and follow your progress! 

Photo of Josh Benjamin

I would like to see this iconic idea explore more specificity around icons. I imagine there could be versions of a base icon to communicate 1a) an individual nearing end of life vs 1b) the loved ones, and 2a) the deceased vs 2b) the bereaved and 3a) place containing an individual nearing end of life and 3b) place containing caregivers/bereaved.

For the bereaved in society, the Jewish tradition of Shiva includes a Keriah which is "The torn garment, usually a shirt, jacket or vest that "covers the heart," is worn throughout the shiva period (a practice known as "keriah"; alternative spellings "keriyah", "kria"), except on Shabbat. Conservative and Reform Jews will usually wear a torn piece of black ribbon instead of a torn garment. The torn garment symbolizes and expresses the grief of the mourner"

Photo of Pranav Nayak

Hi Josh,
Thank you so very much for your thoughts and feedback. Let me try and speak for the first point after some proper consideration. The variations of the primary symbols for 1. An individual nearing the end of life. 2. The deceased. 3. The place for nearing end of life.
This would indeed serve a functional utility by categorizing/differentiating the people nearing the end of life, from their support structure and the institutions.
But in doing so, don’t we dilute the primary symbol as a whole? From a design POV, a family of symbols (even with slight variations) warrant more attention, in a fragmented manner no less. Also, designing different symbols for the different ‘segments’ (excuse me for the impersonal terminology), might end up bracketing/clustering people, whereas as our primary objective is to make the concept of death universal in nature. Since we want to create a movement, won’t it be more clear (even from a minimum viable product angle) to have one symbol as an anchor? After all, we are trying to alleviate the image of death first and foremost, and not of the people suffering. Is there a merit in this direction? We’re still thinking! So, even though there’s evident benefit in breaking up the symbol into a family, don’t you think we need to weigh the purpose we’re trying to solve?
Would love to hear your thoughts,

Photo of Josh Benjamin

I'm getting that your ideal is for people in each of the segments to identify as human beings who face a universal ending, and I'm with that. There's totally merit in a movement to make death universal in nature. I wasn't attached to that particular outcome, was thinking of it in terms of story rather than theory. If you're on the bus wearing a universal symbol, will a stranger on the bus have enough curiosity about you to strike a conversation? That's the story I'd like to see play out, and think that some more specificity would break the ice enough to make that more likely. I'm most interested in how humans in society relate with each other in the context of EOL. A facet of this design is the connection of brand/icon and identity: as it stands today, an individual nearing end-of-life does not identify the same as someone who is grieving.

Lots of good stuff to learn from field testing a universal symbol. I agree, it's great to have a symbol that acts as the universal anchor, despite its ambiguity. Variations on the symbol begets fragmentation and potential confusion - "life/death as concept" vs "life/death in context" will have their pros/cons. A little less fragmenting might be if it's the same symbol, and different colors express those different segments (e.g. awareness ribbons

Photo of lorain hamilton

The usage of Isotypes is brilliant, because is visual language that is broad and could be decipher from various cultures.  Ellen Lupton, a design curator wrote an insightful article about Isotopes, please check it out

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld

This is just a fabulous concept, Pranav.  Thanks so much for sharing it with the group, and I hope to see it developed further!

Photo of Pranav Nayak

Hi Ken,
Really appreciate your kinds words and encouragement. Gives us a lot of confidence in the process and the idea itself.
We’ve got some interesting feedback, to which we’ve commented after some good delibration. 
It would be really nice to hear your thoughts on those and while going forward.
Do keep sharing your support and experience!

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld

Pranav, looking forward to digging deeper with you about this.  I was drawn to the symbol because it does convey a strong sense that dying is an important and connected event.  Where I'm a bit hung up is in identifying clear practical uses for it.  I do think that hospice organizations, bereavement counsellors and programs, etc could use this as a public symbol, and hospitals could use it in certain situations where goals have shifted to comfort.  I also think that planning services -- estate planning, life insurance, etc -- might use it.  I do agree with others about the sensitivity needed when using the symbol in settings where individuals might feel they're being characterized as "end of life" when they just are not emotionally "there" yet.  On the other hand, the symbol might be one way to gently move them along in that process....
as a palliative care doc, I'd be happy to talk with your team about this more by phine, if you wish.

Photo of Gary Malkin

Wonderful idea!
i really appreciate this way of bringing the presumptive end of life process (approaching death) and the actual death and follow up grieving process out of the shadows  of denial that our culture is entrenched in. However one suggestion. The very precondition for accepting hospice care requires a stopping of attempts to heal and a letting go to palliative care. That requirement alone contributes to one of the deeply limiting aspects that keep the average hospice referral rate to a dismal few days preventing some time for the incredibly healing and heartwarming privilege - when possible- for life review, relationship healing (apologies and forgivenesses) and the full expression of gratitude for having been alive at all. If the graphic could have three versions-or varieties- that were "cousins" from a design perspective- that indicated, (1) we are in the midst of a presumptive end of life process, a process of preparing, letting go, facing the unknown, deciding to stop quality of life compromising interventions, etc. (2) Second distinction requiring a design response would be to alter it to indicate we are experiencing the definitive death of a loved one/ and (3) third, we have just experienced a death within the last days, weeks and perhaps three months.... And we're in the midst of that early phase grieving process. Somehow having one symbol with three variations could extend even more compassion and cultural space for the enormous differences between the three....there must be an elegant design response to this, don't you think?

Photo of Erika Díaz Gómez

Hello Gary.

Thank you very much for your feedback. It has brought to consideration key points on our process.

Our idea is based on creating a movement represented by a symbol, in which people perceive death in a more humane and empathetic way. We believe that, by doing so, the whole end of life experience will be more accepting by society and seen in a more gradual way.

Following this thought, we believe the process of attending palliative care will be seen as more valuable into the process of dying and because of that, we think we could expect a change of perspective on the presumptions of this type of care.

Your suggestion on considering a more complex family of symbols for representing different stages into the process sounds very interesting although we have some considerations about it.

First of all, in order to design a symbol that reaches the most population possible, we believe we need to concentrate efforts into delivering one solid message that comes across easily an clearly, don't you believe that by creating another layer of content we might loose focus on the cause of rethinking death in itself?

Although we understand your point as being very empowering on the 3 different stages, we believe we need to be very careful when delivering one message only.

Because of that we have thought on a way of bringing your point across and maybe designing also a secondary visual system that could target specific groups maybe as a second part of our solution, once we have reached the fist goal.

Another way of solving the problem you have presented could be a slight variation, not in shape but maybe in use (let's say something similar to the act of lowering flags).

Thank you again for your feedback, we will love to continue rebounding thoughts with you,

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Erika Díaz Gómez

We are very happy, thank you for the featuring. We really look forward to develop this idea further.