UX-Research project exploring thanatosensitivity in the context of creators’ digital commons contributions
10 Weeks (2022)
Motivation and Challenge
Technology is now part of our lives, making us authors of large databases. But what happens to all these data when we die? Thanatosensitive design accounts for the end of life in digital systems, including ways to handle our digital legacies. Google, Facebook, and Apple now all offer options for deciding on the fate of our files, emails, and photos. However, people might create online content relevant beyond their private lives, such as contributions to digital commons. This project explores what happens, or should happen, to these contributions when their creators eventually die.
The deliverable is a guidebook containing concepts in the form of wireframes and sketches which are clustered into five themes. These concepts have been shared and discussed with stakeholders and participants, opening up for a continued, collaborative process. The guidebook further consists of guidelines for thanatosensitive research into other relevant digital commons platforms.
A fieldtrip into uncharted territory
As there is little to no research on thanatosensitivity in the context of digital commons communities. So, in this project I explored trails leading from existing work on digital legacy to digital commons platforms. I further considered how creators’ contributions feed into a cultural digital heritage.
The design process structure, connecting research questions (RQ) and design activities (Xs). Detailed elaboration contained in the thesis report.
Programmatic Design Research
My design process was inspired by programmatic design research (Bang & Eriksen, 2014)*. I structured my design activities according to the following three phases.
*Bang, A. L., & Eriksen, M. A. (2014). Experiments all the way in programmatic design research. Artifact: Journal of Design Practice, III(July 2015).
Beginnings: Identifying openings
I conducted iterative literature reviews. First, to get an overview of current research on digital legacy, then to compare my findings to existing insights. As such, they acted as a basis of ‘What is’ to explore ‘What if’.
To gain additional insights into the problem domain, I contacted the authors of digital.danach, a blog educating readers on the topic of digital legacy. They recommended focusing on individual solutions which led me to work with chosen design cases.
I further discussed the topic of digital legacy with a focus group by visiting a Death Café, a social franchise providing space to discuss death as a general topic. The conversations pointed me towards online creators as potential target group.
Perform: Gathering Insights
Interviews with Open Source creators
I interviewed four open-source software creators active on GitHub, inquiring about their contributions as potential digital legacies. The gathered insights were further deepened during workshop sessions.
Interviews with creators on the FMA
I also conducted interviews, organized by Tribe of Noise, with four creators active on the FMA. As one of the most important insights, the interviewees emphasized their online contributions as central part of their legacy, affording planning and stewardship.
Workshops with Open Source creators
Building up on the insights from the interviews, I held four workshop sessions with individual creators active on GitHub. The workshops consisted of four activities and lasted for around 60 minutes.
Participants first outlined connections between their motivation for contributing to open-source projects and leaving a legacy. The findings show that leaving a personal legacy is less important than passing on valuable projects for further use.
Then, participants followed-through a card-sorting activity, creating a hypothetical digital legacy plan that included their GitHub account. Overall, participants seemed inclined to plan for their GitHub accounts and projects if they believe their contributions as important significant enough.
For activity 3, participants created a mind map presenting challenges for two different scenarios. Here, three central thanatosensitive challenges emerged:
1. Loosing account access or source code
2. Knowledge is lost
3. Software becomes untrustworthy
The last activity built up on these challenges, asking participants to create flowcharts with potential approaches for solving these problems. In sum, various stakeholders need to take pre-cautions well in advance by planning for others to take over, providing access and detailed documentation.
Intersections: Implementing knowledge
As a method for qualitative analysis, I created affinity diagrams for synthesizing the interview and workshop results.
Creating Annotated Portfolios
For bringing together all insights I’ve gathered, I created annotated portfolios (Gaver, 2012)* with design exemplars for each case. As these are first approaches instead of definite solutions, I left them as rough sketches. These ten sketches are clustered into five themes.
*Gaver, W. (2012). What should we expect from research through design? Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 937–946.
Collaborative Process: Opening Discussion
In the spirit of digital commons, I shared the sketches on two separate Miro boards with participants and stakeholders from each design case. On the GitHub-board, participants from the workshops and interviews commented on the various concepts, opening an impromptu discussion forum. On the other hand, I walked the CEO and the community researcher of Tribe of Noise through the FMA-concepts, personally discussing the ideas.
Outcome: The Guidebook
Report of Interview & workshop results
The project report presents insights from the various conducted activities, illustrating differing perspectives on the problem domain.
The annotated portfolios are clustered into five themes, representing the most important insights for both design cases.
In addition to the annotated portfolios, I summarized overarching insights from both cases into a set of guidelines. These guidelines are starting points for exploring thanatosensitivity in other digital commons communities.
To continue this project, I will first opt for a more diverse selection of participants regarding gender and cultural background. Insights from both design cases can be deepened e.g., facilitating workflows for documentation or prototyping potential memorial pages. Moreover, I would explore additional digital commons platforms, continuing to frame this area for thanatosensitive research.