Sofia van Oord: Mastering Death

Sofia van Oord, why are you here with us at Reframing Studio?

I started studying Industrial Design at the Delft University of Technology because, like many others, I was good in technical subjects in high school. It turned out that these were my least favorite subjects during my Delft studies. As a result, I recently changed my direction and interests.


And where did that lead you?

I ended up in the Design for Interaction department at Delft, where there is not much technology going on. I was attracted to the research approach, and a mindset that is more about ‘what should be done’ instead of ‘how can it be done’.


Most designers prefer a place in the spotlight that is aimed at exactly at this ‘how’: at ‘beauty’, ‘ingenuity’, ‘flashiness’…

That’s true. But as I said, I have changed. I am much more interested in what I consider to be ‘the basics’: things that affect all of us. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ for instance: we all know that sitting is bad for us but we do it all day long. I am interested in teasing out the design project in a sentence like that.


Does Reframing Studio pursue answers to that sort of question?

Absolutely. Reframing Studio has pushed me even further in finding design questions in mundane things. For example, I am looking at how to change the behavior of railway passengers on platforms in the ‘Platform Safety’ project. Not simply by designing safer ramps, signs, tiles or staircases: these have long been a topic of ergonomic and design research. But by designing the ‘Behavior’. I would have never considered that as a design topic, but now I am really enjoying it.


What do your ‘designer’ colleagues at the bar think of that story?

Look, if I were a master at drawing and an artist dreaming up shapes I probably would not have ended up at Reframing Studio. But the fact is, that now that I am here, I am even more convinced that I can become a great designer. I think it is a shame that something like ‘Platform Safety’ is not considered a cool project. I can see the beauty in its relevance.


What fantastic thing are you going to do next?

For my graduation project I am getting involved in the Death Market. I have personal experience in arranging a funeral, and my impression is that there is not much new going on in that field. Someone arranging a funeral is facing a battle between emotions and a multitude of questions that need decisions. This has always been the case of course, and the solution has always been to sell highly standardized and ritualized offerings that usually leave the bereaved feeling that they have paid too much for something they could not fully appreciate. In their brochures, undertakers boast about how personal and caring their services are. But I feel that they are exploiting us in our moments of weakness. Just look at their cheapest offering, the ‘technical funeral’. All they do is get rid of the corpse, and the cost is €2500,00.


Is your client the one under that tombstone?

No, I want to design for the people who have to arrange the funeral. They, and not the deceased, are my ‘users’. My product and its potential for interaction will need to be compatible with their emotions and expectations. And this is where I will innovate: New Media for instance has not touched anything in the funeral business. Sending printed cards is standard, and an entire industry has emerged that is able to print 300 cards in just one day. But why is that considered acceptable whereas a Whatsapp is not? I want to investigate that sort of question.


You will soon be a Master. You will have made yourself a name in the funeral business. Will Monuta and Dela line up to beg for your services?

I don’t think that the big players in this field will feel that their interests have been addressed. That’s fine with me because I’m probably done with death after this project. It is not intended to be a stepping stone in my career. I think someday I may start my own company. But first I will travel for a few months. And then I will see. I usually don’t plan ahead for more than a year!



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