Developed as an exploration of personal experience with end-of-life, ‘Constellations: Exploring the family experience of death & dying’ sets out to explore how families — however we choose to define family — experience the dying and death of someone we love. Through a series of interactive questions, the survey explores how we relate to one another when someone we love is dying? What helps us cope? What makes the experience more difficult? How do we experience grief as individuals and as a family unit? What is unique in how we each experience loss and where might there be similarities in this most human experience?


‘Constellations’ is a participatory installation, that invites people to make a series of selections based on their experience with the death of someone in their social circle. Prompts aim to capture the experience individuals have, being a family member or close friend to a person dying: their relationship to the person dying, others within their network during the end of life period, supportive influences, compromising influences, the level of preparedness the individual and family felt as they moved into the end of life and after death.

People are invited to connect their responses through a single thread, resulting in a tactile snapshot (or map) of their experience. The analog format generates live-data throughout the Festival, culminating in a collection of contributions, revealing patterns of commonalities and anomalies about how end-of-life is shared among family members. People are invited to attach a written anecdote to their thread, providing context to the story that emerges from their responses. ‘Constellations’ provides a discreet way of sharing deeply personal experiences that can otherwise be difficult to share in a society that does not always want to talk about death.

What emerges is a tactile expression of the universal human experience of end-of-life.

Constellations was part of the 2019 Design TO festival, featuring the ‘Death and Dying’ series that explores the theme of end of life through the lens of design and art. Through participatory and observational experiences, the Series invites you to think about your relationship with death and dying as an individual, a member of a family and social network and as a human being in society. The ‘Death and Dying’ series is a collaboration between OCAD University’s Design for Health graduate program and TABOO Health.

Constellations is a project by designers Karen Oikonen and Kate Hale Wilkes.

Karen Oikonen

Karen Oikonen is an Innovation Designer with The Moment. Equal parts designer and researcher, Karen has led projects in design research, service design and participatory design. Her work in health care has focused on exploring experiences with death and dying, co-designing hospice services, supporting communication in home care and improving patient and family experience of cardiac surgery. Karen has a Bachelor of Interior Design from the University of Manitoba and a Masters of Design in Strategic Foresight & Innovation from OCAD University. She teaches design research at OCAD University and design thinking in the YSDN Bachelor of Design program at Sheridan College. Her blog Death, Dying and Design looks at death and dying through the lens of design.

Contact Karen at

Kate Hale Wilkes

Kate is a Toronto-based innovation designer, working at The Moment, an innovation and design consultancy. Passionate about meaningful collaboration, Kate is always keen for opportunities to leverage diverse perspectives to tackle complex problems in pursuit of compassionate and impactful solutions.

Kate’s interest in the death, dying, and the end of life period is rooted in her own experience navigating her mother’s illness and death in 2015. It was during this time that Kate was struck by the paradoxical uncertainty and clarity that became prevalent throughout her mom’s decline, combined with a tough but enriching grief journey.

Contact Kate at