5 Rules When Designing Obituaries

5 Rules When Designing Obituaries

As a designer, you have the opportunity to work on various projects that can range from business cards, flyers, books, large format posters and everything else that you can put your creative work on to be shown.

Most of my projects are fun to work on and many stretch my imagination. But there is one project that is very difficult to not only design, but it is also hard not to get emotionally involved. That project would be obituaries.

The first obituary I did was for my nephew Darius. His mother’s only wish was to make it the best work I had done. And for us at that time it was…still is in many ways. Adding a collage of pictures and basketball inserts made his obituary almost as unique as Darius himself.  I had immersed myself into the design and didn’t even grieve until I saved the files to a CD for the printer. Once the CD ejected…I lost it. Learning to separate or withhold emotion during that time was a cornerstone in the process of dealing with the loss of a loved one when speaking to families during the gathering of information.

Since obituaries aren’t your normal design project, the regular rules of consultation to product delivery don’t apply. Understanding the difference, I have rules that are general, yet heavy in meaning, when asked to celebrate a life of a loved one, via program, for many people to view and keep as a memorial.

In no particular order:

  • Be Patient – You must always remember you are dealing with families that are very emotional. The best thing is to take as much pressure off the process as possible. The initial consult can be the longest because the obituary for most families is low priority and they may not be prepared when you meet. Patience is key.
  • Use Templates – Having two or three mock obits ready to present to the family will help expedite the decision making. Because this is a time-sensitive project, the less you have to design the better, but leave room to be flexible with possible changes. You have to remember they could have chosen to go with the funeral home or another designer.
  • Don’t Be A Hassle – If you practiced patience during the initial consult, you more than likely compiled all the information needed to at least prepare a draft for the family to review. The point is to not call your contact constantly. Of course the family can and will call you often, but again…patience.
  • Don’t Let Money Become An Issue – The laborer is worthy of his hire, but in many cases the profit margin may be slimmer than other projects. Again, the obituary is a low priority and if costs are going to be cut, it will be there. When you discuss price, many families think you can go to your local copy shop and do it themselves. It may not be a bad idea to have a quote from other sources to show your savings.
  • Count This An Honor – A family has chosen you to create a lasting positive image of their loved one. Don’t take that lightly. Create a story with the pictures they give you and decorate the obit according to what you see in the loved one’s life. Let what you design for families become more than an order of service. Let it become a visual memorial of who the deceased was and not what lies before them.



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