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
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.