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Fade to Black : Post-Humous Consolation Messaging [Updated July 29 - added personas]

Finding final purpose in easing the mourning process for your surviving loved ones

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

My idea is a service that tackles the problem of the dying perceiving themselves as a burden to their loved ones. It addresses the problem by challenging them to record a series of messages to their loved ones aimed at alleviating the pain of mourning following their death. The messages are delivered one, seven, and thirty days after death. This purpose-driven exercise becomes a source of fulfillment for the dying, while also easing the transition for those who survive them.

How it works:

1. Once death is expected within 6 months, the user begins recording video messages using an iPad or iPhone. Video messages are required to maximize the immersion and impact of the message. The user also designates a family member to be the agent who notifies the service when the user has passed away (to trigger the messages to be sent).

2. The user records a Day 1 message, a Day 7 message, a Day 30 message, and indicates in his last message that this will be his/her final message. It encourages them to stop worrying about him/her, and to take care of themselves.

3. When the user passes away, the designated family member will notify the service of the event by clicking on a link in an email

4. The surviving loved ones begin receiving messages from the user after their death, and some of the pain of mourning has been alleviated through the encouragement of their passed loved one. 

Conducting user research

My original idea was to create an all-purpose post-humous messaging system that allowed users to create messages at any time to be delivered for any occasion after they've passed. After conducting some research with potential users of various age groups, I gathered some insight that helped me refine my idea:

  • Users speculated it would be challenging to stay motivated to keep writing messages to loved ones across a long window of time, especially if they are far from death
  • Users felt forced to think of death too frequently, and possibly too early in their lifetime
  • Users don't want to be in the lives of their loved ones indefinitely; they want their loved ones to move on without them
  • Users are concerned with being a burden on their loved ones, and want to relieve that burden as much as possible. Meanwhile, those taking care of the dying feel guilty for not being able to do more. 

Pivoting on the idea

Given these findings, the last one in particular, I adjusted my original idea to target the user need of relieving burden on loved ones. I narrowed the scope of the service to be solely about this single purpose, and also reduced the timeframe for the messages to be delivered within a few months of its creation. The benefits of this system include:

  • It gives the dying an opportunity to be helpful rather than needing help (reducing the burden on their loved ones)
  • The exercise forces the dying to confront mortality, accept it, and record that feeling concretely, confirming its realness
  • As a result of the acceptance, the dying may develop a better attitude, mend/improve relationships before death, and reach closure on things that otherwise would've been left unaddressed
  • Builds more intimate relationships with loved ones
  • The family appreciates the direct encouragement to move on and come to terms with death.

Research process thus far:

  • Interviewed 3 potential users: ages 29, 52, and 82
  • Interviewed 1 hospice volunteer


Original idea below:

It's 5 years after your grandfather Nathan passed away, and you just got engaged to the love of your life. You update your social media profiles with the news. Out of nowhere, a video message appears in your inbox, addressed from "Grandpa Nate". With bated curiosity, you open the message, and a recording of your grandfather speaking begins playing. He congratulates you on the beautiful occasion, and begins to recount the story of him proposing to your grandmother, how ecstatic her reaction was, and the rosy (but not without challenge) 52 years of marriage came afterwards. He leaves you with some advice that he learned the hard way when he was a newlywed, and wishes you and your fiancee a beautiful wedding day. "Until next time," and the recording ends.

Listening to the elderly endlessly enumerate unsolicited advice, while generous, can be taxing. It is necessarily difficult to connect with their experience if you yourself haven't had the same experience yet. But if the same advice were delivered when it was appropriate in your own life, the impact and meaning could be exponential.

These messages are pre-recorded and centered around specific life milestones, which can certainly be customized: one's first kiss, first love, engagement, marriage, divorce, buying a house, traveling to Africa, starting grad school, entering retirement, battling cancer (the list goes on...). These event-driven messages are then delivered (in the form of a video recording to your email, or through a dedicated app, or through Facebook messenger) automatically to you when you update your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram with the relevant event - when you post about your engagement, marriage, child birth, travels to Africa, etc. For example, when you post about getting married, your grandfather's pre-recorded message about getting married will be automatically delivered to you.

This delayed, but more meaningful interaction with loved ones will hopefully leave the dying with a stronger sense that their hard-earned wisdom will indeed be heard by their loved ones, and not just go over their heads. This method of wisdom-preservation could in-turn increase one's sense of usefulness, strengthen relationships with loved ones, and create meaning in one's ending life. And for those who survive them, can develop a deeper relationship with their loved one, even after they've gone.

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

Observe significant life events that your friends have posted about on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, and if you have experience with that event (i.e. having a child), send them a video recording of yourself describing your own experience, and the things you've learned from it. After they've viewed your recording, ask them how felt about this "surprise letter". It would be even better if you could record an elderly loved one of theirs, instead of yourself.

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

What other technology platforms could we adopt to improve the delivery of messages, the impact of messages, and trigger detection (of life events)?

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm currently a UX designer at an industrial technology company, and have a background in human-computer interaction. I've worked on consumer applications (maps, payments, e-commerce) and industrial (networking, IoT).

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

I like the fact that the messages are given at the right time instead of all at once. How do you envisage the user journey for the grandpa but also the family members receiving the messages? I like the use of Facebook. I am wondering if there are any other sites this could potentially be integrated with. 

Photo of Dov Sugarman

Hi Kate Rushton . Have you seen Our platform has this functionality and in fact we can even release a message based on a specific geographic location! The integration to Facebook remains a bit elusive, but we are working on it. We would love your input/feedback into our idea on the openideo challenge.


Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Dov - nice website!  My only critiques are cosmetic. This is just my opinion but I would personally remove Independence Day and Thanksgiving so you can target more countries outside the US, e.g. Canada, Australia, UK and so on. Maybe experiment with different quotes (I like the Steve Jobs one but it does not resonate with me), and maybe alter the contrast between the text and the background image. But, I really like the simplicity and usability of the site. It is very intuitive to me and easy to use. It would be interesting to see how senior citizens respond to the site. Have you undertaken user testing with the older generation?

Photo of Dov Sugarman

  Kate Rushton SafeBeyond - An Ongoing Communication Platform 
Thanks for the input Kate! Currently we are targeting a younger population, but are very interested in seeing how older people react to the service. We have not undertaken user testing and would love to find a good environment like a retirement community with whom we could implement some sort of a pilot. Any help in that regard would be very welcome!

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