“You are going to pick the most meaningful objects to you, because those are the true objects that truly reflect the true story of who you are and what your personnel narrative is and the story that you are telling to your self and no one else, because that is the only audience that matters.” –Rob Walker (Quote made in the movie “Objectified”1)

The Meaning of Physical Objects Compared to Digital Objects

The relationship between digital and physical mementos made me think in a different direction when Elliott my thesis advisor asked: “Your little sheep: what if you kept photos of your sheep on facebook?” I always thought about the object as something that carries data or memories, but what happens if the object itself is digital but maintains the same meaning as a physical object. So I wonder if there are digital mementos and how do they become such thing? During my research I recognized how one participant mentioned that he would scan his artwork and his sketchbooks because he wants to have a digital collection of it. He mentioned that his artwork is “pretty important” to him, because he gave some of his artwork away as a gift and he said “the scans are all I have left of the work I have done”. This example shows how ownership and a story (to remember) attached to it might affect the importance of digital mementos. This brings me back to the two big questions I am facing in order to design meaningful legacy: The What and the Why?

It is important to know what one wants to inherit to the next generation but it is also important to be aware that this next generation probably wants to know why this was bequeath to them. There is a big connection between the story of things and the actual things, and by things I do not only mean digital data but also physical objects that are connected to the digital. Further research in that direction took me to already existing web services like Tales of Things, StickyBits and Itizen. Like local based social networks these services focus on giving a voice and a meaning to physical objects in our world with the intent to build a social network around them. I agree with Richard MacManus that there might be no value in forming a social network of strangers around an object.2 Nevertheless, I believe that there is a rich value for ones family, close friends and surely the next generation to hear those stories to better understand beloved ones.

In order to answer the question how digital data is becoming meaningful I compared the properties and benefits of digital and physical objects. More information on that topic can be found in the book “The Digital Afterlife”3

Business Canvas

The business canvas helped being aware of the whole system. In the following exploration the “Business Model Canvas” from the book “Business Model Generation”4 is used:

Customer Segments – Goal is to create a service that outlives its owner in order to be inherited with a reflection of the owners identity. With this intention in mind I am looking at two groups of people: 1st the collector, the user who is actively building a legacy and 2nd the heirs, people who inherit the legacy. The second group can be the heirs but also start their own legacy which makes them collector as well.

Value Proposition – The value proposition is divided into three areas: control, data storage and accessibly. The value delivered is control over your digital legacy. It solves the problem of being in charge to delete and save the right data. The data then gets stored online and we provide accessibility to the user at all time. That solves the problem of old hard drives, CDs and flash drives that are not working anymore.

Channels – Customers will be reached through web sales, which is a direct channel between the service and the customer. The channels are Awareness, Evaluation, Purchase, Delivery, After Sales. Looking at the channels I realized that Awareness (How do I bring people to think about their death?) and After Sales (What is a good way to make people maintain their legacy?) might be the most difficult phases in my intended service.

Customer Relationship – Trust must be a very important goal that the service should reflect to the customer. Transparency is a way to make the service trustful. We also need to create a safe environment, because the user is giving us meaningful personal data. We imagine that the customer interacts with this service in a self-service manner with the help of automated assistance.

Revenue Stream – By looking at the market context we saw that most services offer both a monthly subscription and once in a lifetime fee for data storage. We could also provide different channels to materialize the users legacy. Examples would be a book, letters, apps etc.

Key Resources – The most important asset required is the online storage (we need servers) with a save security system in order provide privacy.

Key Activities – The web site acts as a key platform which needs to be continually developed and maintained. For that reason the key activities are platform management, service provisioning, and platform promotion. We also need to work in web standards to ensure easy, affordable access to the site at any time and device.

Key Partnership – We intend to partner with existing social networks, location based networks and companies that are dealing with data visualization.

Cost Structure – This business model is value-driven, it is important to focus on a personalized service.

Stakeholder Ecology

After gathering the data from research and the business model canvas I synthesized it into a ecology map. This map provides information about design opportunities and solutions for the stakeholders.

Content Strategy

In order to start with the ideation phase I synthesized the research in ideation principles. These principles will guide through brainstorming and help generate as many concepts and as rapidly as possible. I used Dan Saffers method of ideation and design principles which he discussed on the Johnny Holland Magazine5

Pain Points

I conducted 4 pain points in the service. First, the entry point. It is hard for people to think about death, even more so if it is the own death. The service has to be design with an easy point to enter. Second, the users need to maintain their digital stories on a regular basis. But it is important to not only maintain those memories. They need to be curated. The user should be able to grow a legacy with data that is personally important and is telling a story. Further generations should be able to understand the digital legacy. Last, the user needs to be able to create meaning, because only with lasting, curated stories a meaningful legacy for the heirs can be created.


Future Proven – A service design experience will be created which will enable the user to save, curate and inherit data. The service should reflect that the user will have a long-lasting experience with the service and that this experience can potentially live for at least the next 100 years.

Meaningful – This service should easily enable the user to define meaningful data. Future generations should not only understand an individual better but also connect with their ancestors. How can digital data become meaningful to somebody? First, by telling a story: If the data provides context through a narrative it is easier to understand and enables others to connect. In order to tell a story the data has to be edited. And second through memories: Assets are getting important to somebody if he/she can connect a special place, person or an event with it.

Media Independent – Since the customer is having digital data on different platforms, gadgets and software it is necessary to let the service live on a media independent platform. The customer needs to be able to store very different data through a various period of time at the service.

Physical Object – Very often the things that are meaningful for people and that get inherited for that reason are mementos. Objects that often don‘t have a financial value but are connected to memories. A potential approach for this service is to connect the digital data to a physical object that then can be inherited.

Design Principles

A set of “rules” that guides through the upcoming design decisions. I established them before having a concrete concept but I already know I want these principles to be important in my work. Those principles are high level strategies that should be reflected in most of the parts of service.

I will create a service experience that is designed with the intent to outlive the owner to be inherited to heirs. The service carries on a reflection of the owners identity and allows to learn, explore and share.


  1. Gary Hustwitt, “Objectified”, 2009 []
  2. Richard MacManus, “Op-Ed: Objects Aren’t Social”, last modified April 19, 2010, http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/objects_are_not_social.php []
  3. Evan Carroll and John Romano, “Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy? (Voices That Matter)”, New Riders Press, November 25, 2010, 16 []
  4. Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, “Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers”, OSF, 1st edition, September 1, 2009, http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/downloads.php []
  5. Dan Saffer, “Design for Interaction: Ideation and Design Principles, Johnny Holland Magazine, last modified on September 10, 2009, http://johnnyholland.org/2009/09/10/ideation-and-design-principles/ []