Online platform to curate your digital legacy
For MFA Design and Technology Thesis project, I designed a web platform that provides people with more control over creating a meaningful artifact in their digital legacy.
Parsons School of Design
MFA in Design and Technology Thesis Project
Sept. 2016 - May 2017
Today, we unknowingly leave behind digital footprints every day. Our photos, videos, comments, posts and tags continually shape our digital identities. What becomes of all our data? Chances are our digital selves will continue to live on.
Beyond Me is a web prototype that allows people to curate personalized messages within an immersive webVR landscape for loved ones to visit. I chose to realize this prototype in webVR to provide a deeper, emotional engagement through the sharing of voice messages, photos and other digital media.
I researched how we deal with death legally, socially, ethically and technologically. I looked into healthcare systems, insurance, social media, funeral homes and legal structures.
Insights from Research
1. Current post-death ecology is mostly catered towards bequeathing physical assets, not digital.
2. The few companies specifically dealing with digital assets provide a regimented system that doesn't account for the emotional experiences of both the person passing and the bereaved.
To help narrow down my ideas, I researched precedents across the spectrum of design research and business. I realized it's important to create a platform that is long-lasting and has flexible designs. Hence, I decided to create a digital platform instead of a physical object since they are easier to adapt with evolving technologies and difficult to lose access of. (If you lose the physical object, you lose access to the whole digital archive.)
I user tested with paper prototype to understand what kinds of content people want to share with their intimate group of friends and family.
Insights from User Test
1. People want to be able to have full curation of their memory archive instead of social media suggesting content.
2. People want to experience something poetic and beautiful instead of viewing the deceased's flat photos.
High fidelity Mocks
Taking the experience beyond flat photos in webVR
Based on the series of questions that the users enter, a webVR environment is created for their loved ones to visit. As an example, I created one for my own brother, Robin.
User Test 2
Challenges & Learnings
We live in a culture where conversations around death is tabooed. It was a big challenge to encourage users to confront mortality and think about their own deaths. Admittedly, my thesis project does not solve all issues around digital legacy. The prototype is mainly focused on triggering memories through abstract landscapes for loved ones to visit. Ideally, the prototype would leverage more existing digital assets such as social media, music playlists, or emails that you shared with friends and families. If there is a way to aggregate media from many different digital accounts, Beyond Me could lessen the burden for people to manually input so much content.
My hope is that sharing my learnings could potentially spark conversations about digital legacy and motivate people to develop systems that engineer death into the digital world in a way that respects privacy and remains flexible to the endlessly evolving technological landscape.