Jonathon Thompson

Faces in the stages of Grief

Bachelor of Design Craft Illustration Print Moving Image Narrative Storytelling User-centred

Exploring The Facial Expressions of Kübler Ross Grief model

My focus during the last year of my 3-year Communication Design degree was on visual storytelling. Our creative collective ‘Comboys,’ initially wanted to collaborate and explore the growth we encountered while navigating the freelance design space. Reflecting on the opportunities lost during the lockdowns, I turned towards a project that explores the Kübler Ross model on the stages of grief through facial expression. The work is inspired by the multiple lockdowns and dedicated to the tragic experiences of 2020, the pandemic causing a loss of life, relationships, opportunities, time, and money. The project depicts the cycle through a frame-by-frame animation along with a set of five booklets that portray the faces of each emotion within the model; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and, Acceptance.

The model of grief is based on Kubler Ross’s book: On death and dying (1969). Aiming to refresh and revive it in a more contemporary approach, the booklets are of interest to anyone who’s been through these challenging times, and suffered a loss. It is relevant to say here as well, 2020’s events enabled me to connect with a broader range of people due to the shared struggles of a pandemic.

The work situates itself within the illustrative and expressive field, acting as a visual memoir of the feelings of 2020. It is a personal observation and feeling-driven project, heavily influenced by direct experience. The scrapbook style blends traditional and digital techniques, and focuses on developing my illustrations that have taken inspiration from Western Comics and Japanese Manga.

Stages in the Faces of Grief, considers user experience. Aimed at creating an emotional response from viewers and readers. A unique face, font, color, shape, and line quality is used to represent the characteristics of each emotion. Each stage shows words connected to the feeling, these verbs directing the actions and movement of the facial expressions. The scrapbook style formed unique graphics. To engage users, I used each of the graphics throughout the animation and interactive booklets to connect and complement each face.

After reflecting on the unexpected year, I intended to highlight this transition from calm to chaos in both outputs. This inspired the book’s white exterior, with the deckled edges hidden from the slipcase. However, once opened, show dominating and profuse spreads. I established certain grids on the cover pages and interior to control the chaotic style. The animation aims to show transition through contrast, starting small, building anticipation, then shifting into a direct and rapid experience. I solely focused only on facial expression, no accessories, hair, skin tones, etc. this hopefully allowed the faces to relate to a larger audience. The varying style of each emotion meant clear rules to create coherency in the narrative, allowing the story to flow for the audience.

The project became an outlet for me to depict the story of 2020 through faces. It takes an expressive approach to an old model inviting people to learn more about the physiatrist Kübler Ross. It Further allows people to experience relatable emotion’s through a lively animation and interactive booklets.