- 18 March 2022
- 3 minutes
Dan Garrett began investigating end of life services as an MA/MSc Global Innovation Design student. He’s now CEO and co-founder of the disruptive start-up, Farewill.
- 18 March 2022
- 3 minutes
Long before co-founding Farewill, Dan Garrett (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design, 2015) had his sights firmly set on studying at the RCA. ‘I remember picking my GCSEs, having to choose between art and science subjects because of the way the blocks worked out and thinking, “Why can’t I do both?!”’
This dilemma planted a seed. Growing up in London, Dan was aware of the prestigious art schools in the city but it was the RCA’s approach – its marriage of art, design and science with practical applications – that piqued his interest.
Before applying to the RCA, however, his path would lead him to an undergraduate degree in Engineering at the University of Oxford, where he specialised in structural engineering – while planning his next move. ‘For a long time I was obsessed with the Innovation Design Engineering programme at the RCA, then the year I finished my undergrad was the year the Global Innovation Design programme launched. Getting to study in New York and Tokyo, as well? I mean, come on! I had always wanted to study a subject that was solving real-world problems and Global Innovation Design ended up being the perfect fit.’
“I had always wanted to study a subject that was solving real-world problems and Global Innovation Design ended up being the perfect fit.”CEO, Farewill
Ready to apply for postgraduate study, he recalls spending hours fretting over his portfolio, not knowing what to expect – or whether he would be accepted at all – with his switch from structural engineering to the RCA’s design-focused programme. In the end, he needn’t have worried: Dan was awarded a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Scholarship for students moving to the RCA from a science background.
His cross-disciplinary background would come into play while studying within the School of Design. The opportunity to take part in a design challenge with students from other Master’s programmes was a pivotal moment for Dan. ‘I was put in a group with the most high calibre people – it blew my mind a little – and we had six weeks to design a mobility solution for the GB Paralympic Team.’
The solution his team came up with was Bruise – a smart injury-detection system embedded in a wearable suit. Starting from a conversation with Paralympic sit-skier Talan Skeels-Piggins, the design addressed the difficulty of detecting injury experienced by athletes with reduced or no sensation in parts of their bodies. The project was shortlisted for the prestigious James Dyson Award in October 2014, and featured in Design and Violence, an interactive exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, alongside a written piece by Talan Skeels-Piggins.
This experience of addressing a tangible problem in a fixed timeframe shaped Dan’s outlook during his remaining time at the RCA. If, in just six weeks, his team of four could present a solution to a very real problem and that solution be appreciated by the person it’s designed for and acknowledged by industry, then what else was possible?
It was while Dan was studying abroad in Tokyo at RCA partner institute Keio University that he first saw the glimmer of another opportunity. Working in a residential home, he realised that design for end of life care was geared towards physical aspects – like comfort and mobility – but completely ignored the emotional aspect and practicalities of preparing a person for death.
“The opportunity to work on design projects with other students at the RCA really opened my eyes to seeing design problems in the world around me. Farewill is definitely a legacy of that approach.”CEO, Farewill
Back in London, he identified a huge gap in the market. ‘Think of the funeral director on your local high street and it’s all quite Victorian – funeral care in the UK hasn’t changed for 150 years. And it’s expensive. You lose a loved one, and you’re dealing with all the emotional repercussions, the grieving process, and then you’re set back on average over £5,000 too.’
Believing he could build a better service (and astonished that such a universal industry hadn’t been modernised yet) Dan threw himself into research, making a habit of attending funerals, noting what makes a good one – ‘the best funerals are where everyone comes together to celebrate that person’s life’ – and became a qualified will writer.
His final project at the RCA would be an early iteration of Farewill. As co-founder (alongside Tom Rogers) and CEO, Dan treated the firm like he would a design project, making ‘designers, behavioural psychologists and branding experts’ the foundations of the company.
Since 2015, Farewill has quickly ascended to the summit of funeral offerings in the UK – with their affordable, emotionally fine-tuned approach to will writing and direct cremation winning multiple awards. Taking cues from the funerals Dan attended during his research, Farewill’s online model encourages people to talk more openly about how they want to be remembered during the will-writing process, and provides a dedicated online memorialisation space for those grieving to celebrate their loved ones.
Disrupting one of the last industries to be brought into the twenty-first century, Dan’s time at the RCA helped him identify an opportunity to rid end of life services of its antiquated image, and provide a simpler, friendlier and modern offer. ‘The opportunity to work on design projects with other students at the RCA really opened my eyes to seeing design problems in the world around me. Farewill is definitely a legacy of that approach.’
Backed by a number of notable investors, including the founders of Zoopla, TransferWise and Headspace, Dan is building a business – and team – that’s shaping the future of funerals in the UK.