On my radar: A designer way of death

2013-03-10 10:00

New trend will change perceptions about the ways in which families honour and celebrate the lives of their loved ones.

In the wake of the yearly Design Indaba, noticing how things are designed is brought into the spotlight.

It was therefore with great interest that I came across a just-launched, international design competition called Design for Death.

Designboom, an online architecture and design magazine, launched the competition last month in collaboration with the National Funeral Directors’ Association, the world’s largest funeral service group.

While the competition may raise a few eyebrows, its brief illustrates how fast our world is changing.

This global design competition aims to “catalyse the international creative and design community to rethink and reimagine deathcare for the future”.

“Design for Death will challenge and change perceptions about the ways in which families honour, remember and celebrate the lives of their loved ones.”

The competition accepts entries in two categories: eco/green deathcare, minimising the environmental impact of funerals and burials (“Be radical” is the request); and wrappings of mortality, the design of coffins, urns, hearses, and so on.

This kind of out-of-the-casket thinking puts my trend radar on high alert and I have subsequently discovered that death is becoming quite a trend.

The Eco brief in the design competition is not surprising, as we have been pondering what to do with our earthly remains in a world where space is becoming scarce.

One solution is the Bios Urn, invented by Spanish product designer Gerard Moline.

This biodegradable urn is made from coconut shell, compacted peat and cellulose, and contains the seed of a tree.

Once your remains have been placed into the urn, it can be planted and then the seed germinates and begins to grow.

The urn’s selling point is that you can “turn yourself into a tree in the afterlife” and you even have the choice of the type of tree you would like to become.

So far, so good. Death and functional design is a somewhat logical concept, but when you start mixing death with technology, that’s when things really start to become interesting.

The ubiquitous QR (quick response) code has leapt from marketing and advertising into the afterlife.

Ever Me is a concept from a South African company that aims to “provide an innovative new approach to honour the memory of loved ones by preserving their life stories”.

It is rather clever.

The company places a QR code on to your tombstone.

Family, friends or curious passers-by are then able to scan the QR code with a smartphone, which unlocks a multimedia tribute to the deceased.

This tribute can include anything from a simple obituary or biography, to a photo gallery and even a prerecorded video message.

If the deceased was a die-hard self-promoter, the QR code can even be placed on a nearby bench or tree to lead strangers to his or her final resting place using GPS coordinates, which can also be embedded into the digital tribute.

This brings a whole new meaning to “the afterlife”.

But technology and good design aside,

I get more than a little concerned when death becomes entertainment.

Currently on DStv’s TLC channel is a programme called Long Island Medium.

The star of the show is a brassy Long Island resident called Theresa Caputo, who just happens to speak to the dead.

The show tracks her daily movements, which inevitably include giving complete strangers “messages” from their dearly departed.

Her information about the lives of the departed is always spot-on, which (understandably) freaks the recipients out.

There are tear-jerking moments aplenty, which pulls this show back from the edge of distasteful and ensures it’s just morbidly fascinating.

But a new reality show on TLC (yet to be screened in South Africa) is probably one of the most bizarre in the genre.

It seems we’re starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel to feed our rubbernecking tendencies.

The Best Funeral Ever is a journey into the surreal world of one-upmanship and bragging rights for the dead.

One of the funerals featured on the show was that of Willie “Wolf” McCoy’s final sendoff.

This singer-songwriter was one of the voices in a jingle for a Chili’s Baby Back Ribs commercial – apparently one of the most memorable commercials in the US state of Texas.

McCoy was buried in a barbecue-shaped casket, along with a fountain of BBQ sauce, and pallbearers dressed in aprons and chef’s hats.

Chocolate fountains now seem so passé.

The funerals take place at the Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas and chief executive John Beckwith Jr has defended the reality show as well as revealed his secret weapon: a team of professional mourners who help get the tears flowing.

“A mourner can make or break a funeral,” says Beckwith. “This family has one time to celebrate their loved one’s funeral. We must get it right.”

Forget bridezilla, brace yourselves for funeralzilla.

South Africa’s Aids pandemic has, ironically, elevated funerals to social events, so I’m sure it is just a matter of time before we start televising flashy funerals instead of high society weddings.

The Best Funeral Ever, South Africa. It’s not that far-fetched.

»?Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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