In the Event of My Death

For my mother’s 70th birthday celebrations, my sister-in-law, Naisha, put together a book of family photos ranging from my mother and father’s childhoods right through to the present day. The tools like iPhoto’s books and other services make this remarkably easy apart from the considerable time it took for Naisha to gather, scan and lay out the photos. We all looked through the book over and over again, rediscovering the joy of having photos in your hands.


For a while now, I have been thinking about two issues in the event of my death and posted some musings about them on the IxDA list back in 2008. The first issue is what happens to all those passwords I have in my head and/or safely stored in my 1Password app if I get hit by a bus? I can share my master password with, say, my wife, but if she dies with me, then all the domain name registrations for my family and clients, e-mail accounts, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, banking, etc. are lost. There seemed to be an opportunity for a service that handled all of this easily.

The second issue is one of an enormous personal archive. As I was searching for photos to give to Naisha, I discovered that I have 19,500 photos in Lightroom, which amount to around 43GB. What’s going to happen when I’m 70? Given that my digital photos start from around 2001, if I carry on creating photos at the same rate, my grandchildren can expect to be sifting through around 63,000 photos and that doesn’t include what will no doubt be a proliferation of video too. I have over 160 articles that I have written, not including my blogs plus all sorts of other collections of documents that might be a useful research resource (my collection of research papers and eBooks is around 4.5GB too).

It doesn’t make sense to me for most of that to simply disappear, especially the web-based material. So one option is to will all of my intellectual property to the creative commons. This all sounds good, but what about all the personal photos of me with other people who might object to them being public? Should I care once I’m dead? (Or, rather, should I care in advance of dying?). But there is another issue, which is how to make all those files useful to my children and grandchildren.

Entrustet seems to be a service that is half of what I was thinking about.

It has a service called Account Guardian to which you entrust your various online account details. Once your death is verified, the details get released to your Digital Executor (a trusted friend, family member or, I suppose, a lawyer, but who trusts them?). There is also an Account Incinerator, which does the opposite – it deletes certain accounts and information on verification of death before your friends and family get to have a look. And there is the possibility to set up an heir to your accounts, so you can nominate your grandson to take over your Twitter name, for example.

Potential problems with the service begs the perhaps unsolvable questions: Should I entrust all that information to Entrustet and do I really trust the person I nominate as Digital Executor?

The latter problem is solved by Entrustet requiring proof of death, so my trust of the executor is a moot point by then. I wondered if some kind of nuclear missile launch key scenario would work better, where two trusted people have to bring together the two halves of a digital key to unlock the account.

The trust-of-Entrustet is more problematic – I have no relationship built up over time with Entrustet and I have no idea whether they’ll still be around in 40 years time. The dotcom industry hasn’t got a great reputation for long-lasting brands. I probably wouldn’t trust Google (although I already trust them with plenty of log-in details). I might trust Agile because I already have trusted them with my 1Password details.

It still doesn’t solve the other half of my problem – who is going to sift through what will probably be a few terabytes of files by the time I croak, assuming I die of old age? Maybe there is a service opportunity for a book to be automagically created once a year of your best photos, blogposts and tweets based on something like Flickr’s interestingness. A kind of physical, cross-media version of Photojojo’s Time Capsule.

(Entrustet link via Crackunit via @mattonlymoore)

Come and Study in Luzern, Switzerland!


If you are interested in studying service design or product design, textiles or animage and living amongst some of the freshest air around, we’re currently taking applications for the Master of Arts in Design at the Hochschule Luzern.

The Masters is built out of two branches, Animage (animation, illustration, image) and Product Design Management, which has the major tracks of Products, Textiles and Services (which is the one I lead teaching service design).

You would need to be able to understand spoken and some written German at least, but many of the courses are taught in English (or a mixture) and most of the staff speak good English (plus French and Italian too – such is the benefit of the Swiss language mess cultural diversity).

Of course, I’d love to see some more service design students as we’re building up this new area and we’re also interested in taking on people moving across from other disciplines.

Having taught in a variety of places over the years, I can safely say that the advantages we have are that we’re a small school with great teaching staff. The small class sizes make for much closer teaching and attention, the studios are lovely and the location in Luzern is really pretty impressive:


(Image source: Juan Rubiano on Flickr)

More information is available in German here and English here. We also have a microsite in a mix of English and German.

If you’re interested, all the application details are there in English or German, or you can get in touch with me directly and I’ll pass on your details.

Not More Products – Uncovering Local Networks

I spent a day last week with Lavrans and Ben from Live|Work putting our brains together for a project we hope will help spread lots of ideas about service design. During our discussions, Ben mentioned a piece he’s just written for the Live|Work site about their involvement in The Big Rethink, an Economist / Design Council conference discussing the future of business. The disappointment is evident in the opening sentence, “Not more products, please”. Ben quotes Hugo Spowers from Riversimple who points out that, “less unsustainable is still unsustainable.”

Not more products, indeed. I had forgotten how bombastic London advertising is until I spent a couple of days there again. It leaves you either drooling at every shop window feeling poor or leaves you feeling like a vegetarian locked in a slaughterhouse storeroom.

I’m just about to run a six-week project with my students in Luzern called “Undesign Your World,” based loosely on Tibor Kalman’s plea for designers to make a difference. Put simply, how can you develop a service that means people use less, not more? How do you create virtuous systems that encourage positive behavioral change (like the Swiss rail usage? In this post credit-crunch time most governments are exhorting the populous to go out and buy stuff to help get the economy back on track. It’s hard not to feel this is like asking us to plug the ever widening crack in the dam with our finger.

Serendipitously – and via the magic river of Twitter – I found out about the service in the video above called NeighborGoods. It might be an awful pun, but it’s an excellent example of post-product thinking. Of course, the examples in the video are all people borrowing products and I’m not advocating no products, ever. It’s clear we’ll still need things. But it is an example of servicing a need for doing something, rather than a need for a product. You don’t need a drill, you need holes in the wall.

It’s also a brilliant example of using a global network to reconnect at the local level. There are experts and people with interests (and, yes, products to be borrowed) all around us, but most of the time city life makes us oblivious to that. We might have 500 Facebook friends from across the planet, but we often have no idea if someone really interesting is living next door. My experience of living in a small town in Germany is that I know most of my neighbours and have done for some time. And it makes a difference on both a social and practical level.

So far it’s US-based, but they have plans to ‘be everywhere’. will live or die by its community and hopefully it will be self-managing enough to avoid it getting choked up with spam (I already saw an offer of a dog on there, ‘slightly dented’ – UPDATE: the dog post is from one of the NeighborGoods team). I also wonder if they will take it the obvious next step and have categories for people offering services.

I leave you with this quote from Buckminster Fuller quoted in Allison Arieff’s NY Times article:

“Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time.
Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time.
Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time.
It’s time we gave this some thought.”
— R. Buckminster Fuller

It’s time indeed.

Creative Waves – COTEN – Call for Participants


When it comes to thinking about higher education designers – or perhaps just design academics – seem to suddenly forget everything they know. We teach the value of ethnographic research, 360º stakeholder input, co-creation, yet throw it all out the window when it comes to designing curricula and the institutional structures they are housed within.

To have a crack at tackling this, I am running a new collaborative online project called Creative Waves – COTEN (the COTEN part is short for ‘co-creation 2010’), which aims to take a service design approach to higher education. It builds upon over a decade of successful online creative collaborations bringing together world renown designers and thinkers together with students, experts, practitioners and academics from all over the world. The project will also have a line-up of special guests such as Arne van Oosterom and John Thackara with more to be confirmed.

An army of politicians, bureaucrats, auditors, managers and administrators have failed to offer an innovative vision for higher education – we invite you to apply your most innovative thinking to the problem. It is free to take part, but places will be limited. The deadline for applications is April 30th 2010 – please see the COTEN web site for details.

If you are involved in higher education or some other networks, please pass on the links and information to your students. It’s important that we get a mix of practitioners and students on the project to get a fully-rounded view of the issues. And please blog and tweet the project far and wide!