Design Principles We Share with Funeral Directors

In 2021, we conducted foundational user experience research with funeral directors. We asked them how they provided practical information during their arranging meetings. Interestingly, we found that many of their strategies paralleled the kind of user experience principles we’ve applied in our software design. In this blog post, we highlight some of the principles that we see both in our work and in the work of funeral directors - particularly within the arranging meeting, when professionals are tasked with delivering practical information clearly, concisely, and compassionately.

Setting expectations 

During the arranging meeting, bereaved families often have a lot on their minds. In response, funeral directors anticipate questions and set expectations right away. Telling families what will be discussed can provide reassurance that their questions and concerns will be addressed. By opening the floor to pressing questions right away, funeral directors can put the executors' minds at ease so they’re able to focus on the information being provided.  

Initial stages of estate settlement can also bring up lots of questions. That’s why Cadence’s clients are offered an intake phone call with an Certified Executor Advisor who can orient them to our software & general process, and answer any questions they may have. If users prefer not to have an initial call, that's fine too - our software provides a brief orientation that helps users know what to expect. 

Breaking down information  

Any educator or designer knows that breaking down information is essential to understanding. In our research, we found that Funeral Directors were wizards at breaking down information into bite-size pieces.

Cadence's software is organized so that information about each estate settlement task is presented in its own window, saving users from a feeling of getting overwhelmed. Presenting information about one thing at one time can be an effective strategy for reducing procrastination.

Making instructions easy-to-retrieve 

Some funeral directors encourage executors to bring an extra support person to the arranging meeting. This ensures that what one person forgets the other can remember. At the funeral home, there will often be notepads and pens at the ready as well, so that family members can take down pieces of important information. 

Cadence also understands that taking down information yourself can be helpful in remembering it. That’s why for every form and step we provide, we make it possible for users to add notes to themselves.

Recognizing the effects of “grief brain”

In the immediate days following a death, bereaved family members often describe being in a sort of “fog.” Funeral staff recognize this and accommodate it by showing compassion, listening to people’s stories, and ensuring that they don't overload people with information. We heard over and over again about the importance in maintaining a balance between providing enough information (so families can act on it) without providing too much information (so they don't get confused). 

Cadence's software is similarly set up to pair compassionate support with digestible information that will not overwhelm an already-taxed mind. 

Meeting the executors’ needs first, but knowing others may want to help

Sometimes there will be multiple decision-makers involved in arranging a funeral, even if only one is assigned as executor. In these instances, funeral service professionals sometimes need to triage or mediate between different family members to ensure that the executors’ choices are prioritized, while others are able to contribute where they can (for instance, by taking notes or taking care of one or two practical tasks).

When it comes to estate settlement, the executor is certainly the person who does most of the paperwork, signs most of the documents, and has the most responsibility over the estate - but other people might lend a hand, whether by printing off forms or helping the executor interpret form submission instructions. Our software allows families to appoint a primary decision-maker but make it possible for other family members to be part of the team.

Using visual cues

A couple of the funeral directors we spoke to mentioned giving families a tour of the building as they provided information. By creating a visual link between the information and a place, families might remember it better. In fact, this is an ancient memory trick, called the method of loci. 

While we don’t have a brick and mortar building executors can visit, Cadence uses visual hierarchies and icons to help executors quickly and easily retrieve information. By organizing information into a personalized roadmap, our users get a sense of what the process looks like and where they are within it. Users can see the big picture, navigate between tasks, monitor their progress, and retrieve information and documents easily. As one of our partners said, our platform is itself a link in the chain, but we also provide a view of the entire chain.

If you’re a funeral home who - like us - sees the value in design that centers the user experience, we encourage you to book a demo with us today