Product Designer & Researcher
This was an academic project in which I worked together with Alice Gilmore. We both took the role of user researcher and digital product designer.
Following the loss of a loved one, people need tools to help them reduce the stress and emotional pain that arises from communications with companies and banks, which are required to settle their loved one’s affairs.
It takes time to emotionally process losing someone you love. Having to sort through their affairs while processing your own grief is stressful and has a very negative impact on the grieving process. This is particularly acute when the loss is tragic or unexpected. One interviewee said that the most painful part of the process after his relative died was having to repeat the story of his death over and over again over the phone to companies and receiving their condolences, even though he knew they were not really sorry.
“I literally googled 'what to do after someone dies'”
As we began to ideate, we began to wrestle with the idea and limitations of a digital tool. Not to say that an analog solution would be better, but we had a hard time imagining any of our interviewees browsing the app store for an app to help them right after they lost their loved one.
Similarly, if we took the planning-ahead route, we couldn’t imagine anyone downloading an app to plan for their own death. So that made us start to think about the problem more broadly. Specifically, we starting thinking about all the things that someone would need to know about after a death and how a re those items are being managed while this person is still alive.
This brought us to the Intuit suite. Intuit has two relevant products. The first is Mint, which is a digital platform that collates all your financial accounts and allows you to see them on one dashboard. The second is TurboTax which allows you to file your tax return, but embedded in a tax return is all sorts of financial information. It can tell you about sources of income, property owned, insurance paid and investments.
Once we fleshed out our concept, we went back to our interviewees and talk about this idea. We validated that not only would they find value in a solution like this one for managing their deceased relative's belongings, but also they really wanted to have a tool like this one to put their things in order in case something happens to them.
We first used paper to discuss the flow and experience of the product together. We defined that there will be two different flows: one for the person who is still alive and doing their taxes, and gets prompted by a message that suggests to sync accounts to leave affairs in order in case something happens, and another flow that would start after the person passes and an Executor comes take care of their affairs.
In this flow, the initial user is prompted to choose an executor while completing their tax return through Turbo Tax. The user chooses an executor, and syncs the information from TurboTax and Mint. She can also sync information manually by entering her bank's login information, and adding other things such as insurance policies, pensions, of government benefits.
After this, the Executor would receive an email and she can either accept or decline taking this role. If they choose not to nominate an executor, they would be prompted again the following year. If an executor is chosen, the initial user would be prompted to review their choice annually.
Following their loved one's death, the executor would log in to the platform using the credentials he established when he received the email telling him he was chosen to be the executor. In order to gain access to the deceased party's account, the executor would have to upload a certified death certificate, provide the deceased person's social security number and verify their own identity by uploading a government issued form of identification.
We tested this flows with 6 people that had gone through a process of sorting affairs for another person. One of these interviewees was also the manager of a funeral home, and she could give us valuable feedback on how to set a correct tone and voice throughout the product.
After these tests, we decided to change many things of our initial prototype:
In addition to being thoughtful about language, we also wanted to make sure our aesthetic choices were appropriate for situation. We decided to use a reserved color palette and to rely on typography for visual interest. We also used typography to convey a sense of officially and security, as user testing informed us that security was a primary concern for all users.