We’re all going to die–but how many of us have given real thought toward how we want to be remembered? Do you want a nice simple tombstone? An urn where your family can keep your remains? What about a grandiose mausoleum, or even sculpture by a famous artist?
While most of us might be happy with something simple or nothing at all, the design studio Smorgasbord is launching a service with the cheeky (and quite literal) name “Over My Dead Body” that makes custom memorials. When you’re still alive, Smorgasbord’s designers work with you to come up with a concept, then either design it or match you with the right artist or design studio. Once the memorial is finished, the studio stores it until your days on Earth are over–at which point the studio will deliver it to your next of kin.
The studio’s custom memorials hearken back to the bygone era of elaborate mausoleums, which the wealthy would use to commemorate their power and influence in life. It also feels appropriate for an era fueled by social media, where appearances are everything. After all, your Facebook page can live on after you die, and some tech companies are catering to clients who want “digital afterlives.” Meanwhile, the growing Death Positive Movement suggests that we should all be free to discuss and plan for our deaths more openly.
For OMDB’s client liaison director Morgan Tucker, who grew up around a funeral home, the service taps into her own philosophy about death: It’s inevitable, so don’t sweat it.
Tucker is excited by the idea that planning a memorial might help people think more positively about death. “We need to be realistic about it but we can also accept it and have some fun with it,” she says. “I’m hoping that through this project, people can really open up the process of coming to terms with a life they’ve lived, accepting it, and wanting to remember their life in a beautiful way.”
Who would be so focused on their legacy they’d commission an artwork to memorialize themselves?
“This is for people who are alive and kicking, who are living large, and they’ve got the foresight to sit down and plan an edifice or memorial, whether it’s physical or digital, for a time when they leave,” says Dylan Griffith, the founder and creative director of Smorgasbord. “I think it will appeal to the famous or people who have the funds to bring something special to fruition.” While he doesn’t have a specific cost estimate because the “sky’s the limit,” Griffith imagines that OMBD’s service would be far more expensive than a conventional headstone–and far more than that if you really want Damien Hirst to build your mausoleum.
Griffith first had the idea for OMDB when he was walking around the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris in 2010. “It struck me that in the 19th and early 20th century, people really cared a lot more about how they were remembered,” he says. “You have endless rows of fantastic tombstones or sculptures or mausoleums. They’re very considered. It struck me that there should be an opportunity to revisit that attention to detail.”
OMDB already has two clients: a pro surfer, and a chess master. For the former, Smorgasbord is designing a simple surfboard out of marble. The studio is still discussing options with the chess master.
Whether or not the studio’s bet on mausoleums being back is a good one, Griffith says that designing the branding for OMDB and working on each memorial is a helpful creative exercise that keeps his designers’ creativity flowing.
It also works for the studio as a business model. “We’re setting this up as [a] satellite company that [runs] alongside the main studio,” Griffith says. Smoragsbord has launched two other such companies in the past: One for Korean soju, and one for skincare. In each case, the studio does the branding work and runs each side hustle internally with a team of freelancers. The team treats each product or service like another client, which limits the risk of a new venture while diversifying the agency business model to something less reliant on outside clients.
Only time will tell if OMDB will be popular. After all, people’s ideas about death and memorials are in flux today, with more people choosing cremation and some choosing natural burial, where body decomposition is encouraged. At the same time, it’s easy to imagine some of today’s public figures planning grand mausoleums where the plebeians of the future can pay their homage.