This online experience wants to help people talk about death

Designed by London studio The Liminal Space, Life Support aims to help relatives discuss death and dying with their loved ones.

Online platform Life Support has been launched with the aim of providing practical routes into important and often taboo conversations around death.

The self-initiated project has been created by London studio The Liminal Space, with government funding from Innovate UK (which was started this year to drive innovation).

While a vaccine may be in sight, 2020 has seen a heightened awareness of death and dying across the country and around the world.

The mobile-first website shares personal experiences, offers advice and provides insight from experts. It deals with such topics as talking to someone with Covid about death, having a dignified death and also talking to children about the topic.

Going “beyond the headlines and statistics”

The Liminal Space director Amanda Gore tells Design Week that the aim was to “help people take steps into these difficult but essential conversations with loved ones, whatever their age or state of health”.

“Beyond the headlines and statistics, people are still not comfortable talking about death with their friends and families,” she adds.

According to the studio’s research, a fifth of people are thinking about death more since the outbreak of Covid while 80% of people are more likely to be thinking about death rather than actually talking about it.

Life Support works by scrolling and swiping, either on a desktop or on a phone. As the experience begins, people are given facts about death and information about the site.

The first two signposts are: “I don’t know how to talk about death” and “I want to know what dying looks like”. As people click through, they are presented with slideshows of information and personal stories about dying.

Throughout, these stories are woven with insight and audio clips from relevant experts, such as palliative care physician Dr Kathryn Mannix.

Avoiding “sugar-coating” death

A significant challenge was finding the right tone of voice, according to Gore. The studio worked to find a balance between being engaging and “sugar-coating” the topic, while also not appearing too “muted”.

“We did not want to appear flippant of overly positive at a time when people are feeling more anxious about death and are less able to see their loved ones,” she adds.

The user experience was another challenge for the multi-disciplinary studio. People had to be able to navigate the topic in a way that was “approachable, accessible and building a sense of agency”.

Last year The Liminal Space worked with The Academy of Medical Sciences on The Departure Lounge, an exhibition held at the Lewisham Shopping Centre. Incorporating classic airport tropes, the installation sought to examine the idea of death as a journey – with suitcases filled with people’s end of life experiences, for example.

Gore explains that the studio took learnings from this – specifically the way people chose to engage with the installation – and “translated” it to an online experience. “It created a way for people to meander, explore and discover,” she adds.

Many of the stories that were collected for The Departure Lounge have been used for Life Support.

A design system that resists clichés

The Liminal Space was keen to avoid visual clichés related to with death so that people could engage with the content “without the weight of these associations”, Gore says. Instead, the site uses a bright colour palette along with clean lines and simple shapes.

Bubble shapes are used throughout which was an attempt to “create the feeling of drifting through the site”, she adds. It also encourages “personal exploration with a sense of movement”.

Blue and orange have been chosen as they provide a “gender-neutral palette” which hopefully appears to all ages, according to Gore. These tones build throughout the experience to “give a sense of progression”.

“We liked the idea that things start in black and white but get filled in with colour as your understanding and confidence grows,” she adds.

There are also downloadable tips throughout the journey to support real-life conversations. Gore says that the studio wanted to ensure that these were “beautiful enough” for people to share them with family and friends.

“While the experience itself is digital, these conversation starters are intended to help you take the conversation offline,” she adds.

You can visit Life Support here.

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