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Redefining the Future of Cemeteries in Savannah through an extensive contextual research based on applied ethnographic methods.

Skills : 




Ethnographic Research


Scenario Development

Team Collaboration

Process Facilitation

Intangible Prototyping

Location : 


Duration : 

Team : 

Savannah, GA, USA


Mar 2015 - May 2015 (Research + Potential Solutions)


Self + 3 International Designers

Picture Credits (Shannon Vanderhill & Self)



The goal of our project was to conduct an extensive contextual research based on applied ethnographic methods in order to understand the Culture of Cemeteries in Savannah. Varied tools and methods were used for design research to understand cemeteries holistically by collecting data, synthesizing information, analyzing it and generating insights that can redefine the future of cemeteries in Savannah.
We were a team of four design managers working collaboratively for 10 weeks. My role was to understand the existing tools and synthesize the secondary and primary research in graphic visualizations. Defining the insights and creating value frameworks from affinity diagramming to lead the ideation process. Leading the concept development and prototyping phase for user testing.
My Learning Experience
First time exposure to Ethnographic Research.
Learning research tools, methodologies and its application.
First experience as a Research Lead and Project Manager.
Process Facilitator and Managing the Process book.
The project is graphically presented using 6-steps D.E.S.I.G.N Model process.
Discover phase required to get fluent with the topic based on secondary research. We implemented Popular Media Scan, Trends Matrix, Offering-Activity-Culture Map and Complementors-Competitors Map to visually represent the secondary research.
D.E.S.I.G.N Model
Offering-Activity-Culture Map
Offering - Activity - CulturE MAP
(O.A.C Map)
Cemeteries function as an ecosystem and never in isolation. We wanted to understand that system in terms of what cemeteries offer, what activities occur and why. Hence we chose to utilize the offering-activity-culture map to understand how offerings and activities are linked to culture and resonate with all the users and stakeholders involved directly or indirectly.
Competitor's Map
Complementors and Competitors Map
After understanding cemeteries as an ecosystem holistically in the previous model, we wanted to deep dive into the business landscape and understand how the system works. With the shift in trends around the culture of cemeteries, it was more important for us to understand the competitors and complementors of cemeteries.
Examine phase was to keep on track and updated with the scope, nature and time constraints of the project. Research Plan, Observation Plan, Observation Questions from AEIOU framework, Observation Working Wall and User Journey Maps.
Working Wall
User Journey Map
DESIGN Model-01.png
Observation Working Wall
Based on the Research Plan, Observation Plan and Observation Questions. We visited 8 cemeteries and pinned the floor plans in the center of the wall. We connected the cemeteries to a map of the city of Savannah to give their location. As per the Observation Questions, we started placing our observation data points pertaining to the cemetery around the plan. 
User Journey Map
Using the shadowing method, we mapped 12 user journeys to understand customer behavioral patterns. We aspired to understand what motivates and triggers a user to visit a cemetery. It gave us a good understanding of legal and illegal activities occurring in cemeteries. The time spent by a user in cemeteries. The engagement and interactions they are participating knowingly and unknowingly.
Solidify phase was to zoom in and get out in the field to interview the cemeteries users and experts about their experiences. User Definition Matrix, In-Person Interviews, Interview Tools, Affinity Diagramming and creating Value Frameworks.
User Definition Matrix
Interview Tools
Affinity Diagram
Value Framework
DESIGN Model-01.png
User Definition Matrix
We mapped a 2 x 2 matrix to define our user group after spending days in the field to know the different types of users. We defined the matrix dimensions as personal vs. professional and nature vs. culture. It gave us a perspective to choose people to interview that are most relevant to our research topic as we moved on to the interview phase.
Interview Tools
The objective was to plan ahead and be consistent with the interview outcomes. We created a rough interview script with questions that we needed to answer. We formulated guidelines that each team member had to follow. These guidelines also had prompts and probes mentioned to utilize in case there was lull moment. A card sorting activity was designing to make the interviewees comfortable and be more open and interactive as we asked them questions. 
Affinity Diagramming
This method helped externalize and meaningfully cluster our secondary research, observations and interview data points into singular data points. Taking a bottom-up approach, first, we analyzed and compiled into single observations.  We then clustered for a deeper message rather than the keywords and then moving on to a holistic but a single key finding. We understood the culture holistically and were equipped to set on the final task of pulling insights. 
Value Frameworks
The framework to the left shows the value of cemeteries to their visitors. The cemeteries are a part of life in Savannah and they reflect the culture of the city surrounding them. As such, the role of the cemeteries has shifted over time. Visitors go to the cemeteries to engage, and this is the core of the framework. Surrounding the core, are the three drivers that represent the ways that visitors wish to engage with the cemeteries. They go to connect, admire, and learn. 
After affinity diagramming all of our data we were able to draw deeper insights that can inform the future of the cemeteries. By gaining a deep understanding of the data and insights, we developed 8 concept ideas that have a potential for implementation.
DESIGN Model-01.png
Imagine 01
Imagine 02
There is an opportunity for people to retract their own footprint on the cemetery. 

How might we create a system of exchange between visitors and the cemeteries?

How might we create awareness around the impact of people on the cemeteries? 

How might we engage the community in the preservation of the cemeteries?

How might we create a sense of guardianship among visitors and Savannah residents?


1           2

3          4

An exchange program.
Visitors get to walk through the cemetery and other perks if they contribute to its conservation. For example, trash pickup.
A lesson plan for Savannah classrooms.
The cemetery could create lesson plans about cemetery history for teacher’s to use in local schools. The children would learn about the historical people and events in Savannah’s history.
A photography book.
The cemetery could create a coffee table photography book collected from the photographers that come through the cemetery. Profits could fund conservation.
A picnic in the cemetery.
A mass picnic could be held in which locals would come, eat, and engage in simple preservation activities under the supervision of the Historical Society.
There were a total of 8 conceptual ideas. For more ideas, please refer the process book below.
Go phase was not tested as this was an ethnographic research
intensive project only.
DESIGN Model-01.png
Nurture phase was not executed as this was an ethnographic research intensive project only.
DESIGN Model-01.png
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