OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Legacy Conversation Pieces

Conversation pieces about mortality

Photo of Tim de Roos
8 6

Written by

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

Legacy is a combination of a sculpture and a wearable to remind people about the finity of life.


As a 22 year old you do not get confronted with mortality or death. Last year I got confronted with mortality in my family, this sudden impact on my life made me realize I never thought or spoke about it with anyone. Death is a part of life and (at this point in time) everyone will be affected by it and, eventually, die themselves. So why don't we talk more about it? 

The product Legacy offers a safekeeping to put valuable information that can be accessed by loved ones in case of death. The input can be both practical (what happens with my body, what would I want at my ceremony or even passwords to social media) and/or emotional (a personal letter to your loved ones, something to pass on).

We could put all this info in a binder, put that binder in a drawer and never look at it again, but the truth is that your personal situation changes, you might want to add, change or remove something completely. If you are not reminded somehow, it will be forgotten, get outdated and still remain a taboo subject.

This is why we designed the combination of a sculpture which doubles as a safe, and a ring (or other piece of jewelry) that doubles as a key. This way you are secured that only you are able to acces this information whilst you live.

Image title
First design sketches

The Sculpture
The sculpture is egg-shaped, this non-religious form has no hard edges and is thus soft to the touch. We chose the egg because it is also clearly not a sign of death but one of life (and maybe even of prosperity/fertility). In nature it is where genetical code is passed on to the next generation, in our design it is where lessons learned of life can be passed on to the next generation. For our first prototype we would like to make the egg out of stacked and sanded poplar wood, a relatively cheap and easy material that has a light color.

Size mockup

 The egg is slightly slanted and has a diagonal cut that seperates it to acces the inside. On the inside we still have some designing to do, we are really curious what people would like to place inside the egg. It should have enough space to put in everything that is needed. However we want to design it in a way that it can not be used for other purposes (e.g. a piggybank). 


The Wearable
The wearable prototype is a ring. A small piece that can serve as a key to open the egg. For the first prototype we imagine a numerical combination lock, the sequence to open this lock is engraved on the inside of the ring. The basic design of the ring is that it is not a complete circle, just like life it will have a beginning and an ending. Further designing is needed to create a professional look. Our first prototype has been made using polymer clay according to some basic design sketches.

Rings example

For future designs we might be interested in locking the egg with an nfc-chip lock, so when you touch the egg, whilst wearing the ring on that hand the egg wil automatically unlock. In the sculpture could also be placed a small vibration element (the same as in mobile phones), this element will activate once a year to remind you to update your information. These technological extra's are not viable for the first prototype. This also goes for possible other materials as seen below.

Material mockups

Our team consists of 2 master-students from the HKU (University of the arts Utrecht) with a network/connection to REshape Innovation Center, the RadboudUMC, DELA and Hart van Hout. Ofcourse we are looking to create more opportunities and collaborations!

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

We would like to place a cultural probe with a group of people, giving them a wooden box and the assignment to place in it what they would like to leave behind for their loved ones.

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

For our first prototype we are looking to make a prototype with basic interaction, for this we need people with the following skills: Productdesigners, 3d modelers, design-researchers and craftsmen (mainly with wood) For further development we want to make a more high-end product, for this we need a material guru, an interaction designer and perhaps IT developers to expand features into digital solutions.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am currently finishing a masters in Crossover Creativity at HKU (University of the arts Utrecht). As a product/service designer I have had experience with design based research. My partner, Lotte Rensen (also HKU master) has experience with innovation within healthcare and pallative care.

This idea emerged from

  • A student collaboration


Join the conversation:

Photo of James Senior

Hi Tim and Lotte, this is so very good. 

First, I love the concept of a special vessel for mementos of mortality, or objects that serve as an index or pointer to some of your thoughts about death during life. You probably know all about the objects called Memento Mori from aesthetics, but if not look there for inspiration as well. One of my dear friends who died last year from Cancer collected Mexican death dolls during his life "to remind me of what's really going on here" he used to say with a laugh :)

The egg shape is a nice choice of universal form - it tends to represent life, creativity, or fertility as you mention - and so in a way nicely reframes dying as an "end". However, the egg is definitely *not* non-religious, quite the opposite - for example, ostrich eggs are often suspended in Coptic churches and tombs, and eggs are used for Easter festivals in Catholic cultures (e.g. painting eggs as a Spring rite in Poland). Sacred objects like eggs are charged with meaning, and there is plenty of anthropological research around objects and cultural significance that varies by place and custom. Try Cooper's encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols to begin, so that you ground your design decisions in research You might also find inspirations for other forms as well - what else could this be? A chair is a standard form, but has had many iterations. How does your egg fit in with the long history of egg-like objects? 

Try using styrofoam, or corrugated cardboard if you are more environmentally friendly, to sculpt many different forms. Get those lo-fi prototypes into the hands of users - ask them to take them home as part of your ethnographic cultural probe. You will get user data beyond just what gets put inside, but the usability of the vessel itself, and possibly even contextual issues like size and balance and other properties. 3D printing achieves the same end if you have the budget. Do all this conceptual work before you get stuck into consideration of final material (wood etc.).

The strength of this idea I think is in the "vessel on a mantelpiece" - much like an urn or a pyramid - something to bring death into daily consciousness, rather than as a security box or safekeeping thing. However if that's where you need this to be, then rethink the ring as the access object. Wearable technology is fun but hard to get right (Misfit's Shine is a best example of elegant design and practicality - wrists rather than fingers seem to be the place for wearables at the moment) Keys are traditionally held in lockets (necklaces with egg-shaped droplets on them) - perhaps there is continuity there. Also, you say that you want people to have a place where "lessons learned of life can be passed on to the next generation." Why would those lessons need a lock - is security central to your concept? I would make the lock/key as an optional feature (maybe the Legacy "Pro" model has a key?), and concentrate on the vessel itself. 

Really, Really Great! Keep going Tim and Lotte :)

Photo of Tim de Roos

Hey James!

First of all thanks for your amazing, and lenghty reply! 

I have not heard of memento mori, I will definitely read up on the subject, seems really relevant.

Ah yes, the egg shape, perhaps we should rephrase that. It is more of a universal accepted symbol I suppose. For instance we could have chosen a lotusflower, but that has a strong cultural feeling to it, where an egg is more open to interpretation for different cultures but is almost always a positive symbol. I feel it is also hard/near impossible to choose a form that has no other meaning or interpretation in any other culture whatsoever, but that's an assumption. The symbol encyclopedia is definitely something I will try and get my hands on! Haven't heard of it before and would be a valuable asset to my humble (design)book collection!

I love the idea of using styrofoam! I have a bachelors degree in urban design, so I know a bit of modelmaking using styrofoam. I did not connect those dots yet. How would you reccomend finishing off styrofoam? I feel the bare material might not be exceptionally nice to the touch or the eye.

For the wearables I'm aware that we need to make some steps on what and where, however the important thing is that it is not meant to have an interface or be very technological. I especialy love what Daan Roosegaarde did with the carbon rings for example.  But yes I definitely think that multiple options for multiple styles or preferences would be nice.

As for the key, I myself am a pretty practical man, so I would perhaps enclose personal information or letters meant for my loved ones but also passwords to my social media accounts so they can be removed. I'd be honest in saying that my personal social circles are more or less from the same cultural background, so I'm really curious how and what other people might use our idea.

Making a difference in versions, as I said with the jewelry, I think that would be awesome it's a thing to keep in mind when designing.

Again thanks so much for reaching out and taking time to reply! I'd be honored to keep in touch with you. You could connect with me throught LinkedIn if you want to,, or just keep a nice comment string going here!


Photo of Mansi Parikh

Fascinating idea Tim! I love how well you've laid it out in a way that it is easy to connect the dots between your thought and the final manifestation you have come up with. I think having a "Legacy" will be a fantastic inheritance to pass on to future generations as well. It keeps the history of the family alive. James Senior has provided some great inspiration! Thanks James! Looking at the other side of James' idea about Momento Mori, I would recommend also looking into archiving memories of moments from life. For that you can take inspiration from StoryCorps ( to create a national repository of stories or recordings from moments in people's lives which you would want to leave for your family. Maybe Legacy could hold stories passed on through families over generations creating a beautiful family archive and away for people to truly connect with loved ones' memories.

Photo of Tim de Roos

Hello Mansi!

Thanks so much for your comment, it really means a lot to me to get enthusiastic response from others. I'm going to watch the ted-talk right away!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas!

Kind regards,


Photo of Mansi Parikh

I hope it helps. I think you have a great idea. Keep an eye on some of the submissions by other members on the platform as well. You never know what might spark some inspiration and collaboration. 

View all comments