Re-designing Death

As Smart Cities across the world adapt to new technologies that focus on the individual, isn’t it time we talk about how this transition will impact current practises around death and funerals?

We will explore this theme during our upcoming innovation workshops, which are part of the ongoing Age Friendly Smart City programme. These sessions are open to residents, service providers and independent technologists. Our goal is to create a friendly, open and inclusive space for participants to discuss important issues that will continue to shape the development of the programme. There has been a lot of positive interest and curiosity about the Re-designing Death workshop, so we thought we’d share some insights from the facilitator — Cori Moore.

Illustration by Virginie Gailing, co-designer of Re-designing Death

Cori, how would you describe your day job?
I’m very interested in understanding people’s behaviours and helping them express themselves. Wittgenstein said, ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.’ This is what I want to overcome. Very often, people find it difficult to verbalise their thoughts and reactions and so I endeavour to find new ways to create a dialogue.

What’s the story behind Re-designing death?
I work with a marketing research agency in Berlin. We are an eclectic bunch — designers, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists. This is where the Re-designing death movement was born!

One evening, after work, the conversation took a rather interesting turn and we started comparing our experiences with death. We were all quite appalled about how out-dated the death industry is. So we decided to start a little research project to make this process more human-centric.

It is remarkable how many cultures across the world embrace death, yet it remains a huge taboo in western culture.

We reached out to anthropologists, morticians, colleagues and friends and started a conversation about death. As our community grew we realised we were definitely onto something. During our research we explored different cultures across the world. It is remarkable how many of them embrace death. In western culture we don’t accept death into our lives. It is a huge taboo. This is why things are stuck.

Increasingly, The British funeral ceremony pays tribute to the deceased’s life instead of mourning their death src: BBC

At our first drop-in workshop during Berlin Design Week, we noticed that complete strangers were happy to share their experiences. Nobody was crying or scrambling for the door. To be honest, we didn’t expect this. It was an important lesson! Given the right setting, people are happy to talk about death, the first step in overcoming the taboo.

Why do you want people to talk about death?
Accepting death can be empowering and liberating. At the moment we tend to hand everything over to others and in return, get a checklist of tasks to complete. There is a lot we can do to make the experience personal and meaningful. I believe it is important to take our mortality into our own hands so that we can free our family and friends. On the flip side, it’s equally important to give someone a fitting commemoration of their life.

With the ubiquity of social networks, we need to consider
what happens to our digital afterlife

The other thing is that people assume that traditional means gloomy and dull. That doesn’t have to be the case. For example, if you consider the 19th century practises in Great Britain, there were many traditions, which have now been lost. I don’t think we need to bring them all back, but we do need to re-imagine death and funerals so that current practices aren’t disconnected from the way we lead our lives in the 21st century. For example, with the ubiquity of social networks, we need to consider what happens to our digital afterlife. In fact, Facebook now allow users to select a friend or loved one to curate their social media account in the event of their death.

Facebook Memorialization Request src:

In the context of the Smart City project, as cities across the world change and adapt to new technologies, it is absurd to assume that this will not affect practises surrounding death. But nothing can change unless we bring death back into our lives, where it belongs.

What happens in the Re-designing death workshop?
The workshop starts by looking at the current state of affairs with regards to deaths and burials. We also look at different sources of inspiration to explore the alternatives. We use this information to design a funeral for a fictional character. This is both a playful and poignant approach to educate, inform and challenge stereotypes. From previous experiences, such as when we ran the workshop at the RE:PUBLICA conference, I can say that participants will be pleasantly surprised. They will realise that it isn’t as gruelling and depressing to think and talk about death.

If you’d like to attend the Re-designing death workshop, please click here to book a free place. You may also want to look at Dying Matters, a coalition of 30,000 members across England and Wales, which aims to help people talk more openly about death and bereavement, and to make plans for the end of life. The coalition was setup in 2009 by the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC).

I am interested in the context & values of our Digital Identities.

I am interested in the context & values of our Digital Identities.