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Terra Natural Funeral Services


Overview

I was tasked with designing a new “End of Life” experience that appeals to a niche market. Customized funerals have an increasing demand, from a small touch (such as close friends wearing tennis shoes to my grandfather’s service, because they raced in triathalon’s alongside him) to more specific desires, such as a cremation in one’s own backyard (something a close friend of mine truly wants!) With an increasing demand to reflect the individuality of the deceased, how can we redefine the concept of an end of life ritual?

For my project, I created an eco-concious funeral planning service, focusing on a niche market of individuals who care deeply about their environmental impact both during life and after their passing. I sought to combat the negative stigma associated with natural decomposition and make eco-concious alternatives more accessible, allowing for an individualized ceremony that reflects an individual’s values as well as meets the desires they have for a Green Burial. 

Death is as personal as life, and your ceremony should be able to reflect that. I created a streamlined, simplified, transparent, eco-conscious process for planning a funeral ceremony that can be customized to make it your own while encouraging conversation, support, understanding, and information about eco-friendly alternative options.

Challenges

Green burials satisfy a niche market of individualism. However, they are also a solution to the environmental and financial conerns that come along with conventional funeral practices. (You can read more on this below!) But, another problem comes to light alongside Green Burials: discomfort with and lack of awareness of them. In reality, natural decomposition freaks people out.

That said, one of the main challenges I faced was how to position green burials as a trustworthy, accessible, suitable alternative to conventional practices. 
Timeline
6 weeks


Tools
Illustrator
Indesign
Photoshop
Procreate
Sketch
Figma
Visual Studio Code


Roles
Research

UX Design
Wireframing
Web Design
Branding

Assumptions

  • We have a societal fear of death. We do what we can to preserve bodies as they were in 'life' and want to avoid death and decay because we don't have answers and we simply don't understand it.
  • We (as a society) follow conventional practices because it's what we know and therefore what we're most comfortable with. We choose between burial or cremation because those are the options we know to be available. 
  • End of life ceremonies around the world greatly vary and are often a celebration of life.
  • People are seeking more sustainable alternatives and are concerned about the environmental impact of traditional practices and the results of these on their body after death.


What’s Wrong with Conventional Services?

Conventional ceremony practices include embalming the body, and utilizing a funeral home for transportation and care of the body, which is placed in a steel-lined wooden casket and lowered into a concrete or steel vault. In order to produce these, a tremendous amount of materials and land are utilized. Because of embalming, more than 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde are put into the ground along with dead bodies every year in the US. And, cremating one corpse requires two to three hours and more than 1,800 degrees of heat — enough energy to release 573 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

That said, one of the primary issues with conventional services is the environmental impact. 


So, What are Green Burials?

The Green Burial Council defines a green burial as, “caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.”


Research Process

I started the project by researching the current state of the industry and trends. After deciding I wanted to pursue something focused on Green Burials, I dove deeper into what green burials are and attempted to get a cohesive idea of how they work, how they’re viewed, and their impact. This led to some more specific research questions that I sought to answer in order to effectively move forward with my project and meet the true needs of the market. 

Research Process: Interviews

Upon interviewing 5 individuals (whose characteristics are laid out below) I was able to get a more comprehensive view of how Green Burials and death are perceived. These conversations wound up being very conversational, which led to a lot of stories and experiences shared regarding death, the funeral industry, and their personal desires for their end of life ceremonies.

Individual 1: Age 48, Female, Married, Progressive, Washington
Individual 2: Age 48, Male, Married, Progressive, Washington
Individual 3: Age 50, Female, Single, Neutral, Florida
Individual 4: Age 69, Female, Widowded, Neutral, Florida
Individual 5: Age 28, Male, Single, Conservative, Washington

Ultimately, I learned that...
We want a space for ourselves
Something to make our ceremony our own
Comfort in talking about it is different than sharing with family
People are far more comfortable with death than I expected


Research Highlights: Caitlin Doughty

While researching, Caitlin Doughty’s TedTalks, Youtube videos, work practices, blogs, interviews and even the organization she started stood out dramatically. I was enthralled by what she had to say, and her insight and knowledge about the funeral industry was extremely enlightening.

Terra: An eco-friendly funeral planning service

After research, interviews, and compiling information, I started to build my service and analyze how it could effectively fit into the market and meet user’s unique needs that aren’t currently being met.

Terra supports eco-conscious individuals in planning environmentally friendly end of life ceremonies that represent the individuality of each person, and how they wish to rest after their passing.

Who We Are: Our Guiding Principles
  • Remain empathetic to the consumer and topic
  • Aim to change the dialogue about death while being understandable and approachable
  • Provide a solution that gives ease to the planner
  • Make all aspects personal and user focused
SWOT Analysis
Initial Whiteboarding (COVID Style) Brainstorm Session

Who Are the Users?

I identified two primary user groups: 1) individuals looking to plan their own service in advance and 2) individuals planning a service for a loved one who has passed away. Both of these groups brought new problems to light that encouraged me to refine and edit my service in order to meet their unique needs. Some of these varying characteristics and needs can be seen in the user personas shared below.
Persona One: Individual Planner
Persona Two: Joint Planners
Persona Three: Loved One Planner

Designing for Trust

Lack of awareness leads to assumptions and unanswered questions...Is it even legal? What can and can't we do? Are bodies going to be buried in the same spot as mine? Won't the bodies be discovered by animals? And on top of that...you aren't a local funeral director, so how can I trust you with something so important to me?

In order to establish this level of trust, despite being a primarily online service, Terra offers interaction with a personal planning guide. Users are then able to ask questions to an individual, rather than an automated chat service. Additionally, Terra has contacts and connections around the United States that users can utilize to help the service run smoothly.

Copywriting, tone, and approachability are also essential in establishing a trustworthy, empathetic nature for the brand.

Business Plan

Consultation (30 Minutes, Free): Chat with someone, ask questions, learn more!
Planning Advisor ($2,000): Immediate or Advance Planning
  • Users are paying for their time, resources, discounts, expertise, and having someone on their side to help them through the planning process, ensure they are aware of all options and help everything run smoothly. Users will still be responsible for outside fees such as death certificate, casket costs, funeral home costs, burial site costs, etc.
For individuals planning ahead: The planning advisor will leave a detailed plan with their family. For an extra $300, they can set up a payment plan in which they will be able to put aside money to pay for their funeral service through a revocable trust.

The Customer Experience

  • Complete consultation with planning advisor
  • Build a detailed funeral plan
  • Burial Site? Casket Selection? Service Plan? Memorial Selection? Death Certificate? Transportation?
  • Share document with loved ones
  • Set up a payment plan to cover expenses in advance
  • Prepare body & burial site*
  • Participate in personalized service
  • Receive memorial & select grave marker
  • Visit conservation land

*All burial sites are on conservation land

Branding

With the need to design for trust kept in mind, Terra’s brand needed to be refined, simple, authentic and down to earth. The design elements are inspired by nature, just like the natural burial process that Terra promotes. However, a challenge faced when designing the brand assets was avoiding the fear of death and decay. This required that although colors and elements be earthy, they should NOT be reminiscent of decay or deterioration, leading to my use of elements that are more comforting and serene instead.

The brand's tone is authentic, organic, and sustainable.

The selected colors are earthy, vibrant, and avoidant of 'decay'. The illustrative elements are natural, inviting, simple, and intimate.

Logo Selection

My professor acted as the client for this project. I would pitch to him on a weekly basis, providing invoices and updates on my progress. He also played the role as a client in the branding process. I showed him various logo options, which he selected for further exploration. Once the final two logos were pitched, he selected which to move forward with.
Final logo design selected by ‘client’
Round one of logos
Round two of logos

Web Design

The website itself serves as an informational touchpoint that provides visitors with more details both about Green Burials and the services that Terra has to offer. The visitor is encouraged to complete a consultation, and upon doing so would primarily be in contact with Terra representatives by phone and email from that point forward. That said, the site needed to elegantly and effectively provide answers to user’s primary questions and concerns about Green Burials and not only Terra’s offerings, but also their credibility. This resulted in a content heavy site that was organized in an engaging and digestable structure.

When I started this project, I was still using Sketch. However, with Figma’s rise as the industry standard, I decided to transport my wireframe to Figma and continue work there. A few months after this project ended and upon my graduation from SCCA, I wanted to further develop my Front-End Development Skills. After completing a few additional online courses, I began building out the wireframe.

The final web design is still a work in progress, but I’m happy to dive into in more detail if you would like to learn more about the process and see the progress of the project. (I’m finally diving into Javascript, and hope to add some exciting touches to the site!)