Do a quick Google image search for “hacker,” and you’ll find a hilarious (and hilariously inaccurate) collection of stock photos. In one example, a man in a black windbreaker is chipping away at a keyboard with a hammer and comically large nail. In another, the hacker’s face is invisible—shrouded under a hood, illuminated only by glowing red eyes. The corniness of these images has become a running joke online, but it belies the seriousness of our privacy—and the way it can be compromised.
In light of this, the global design company Ideo has announced a “cybersecurity visuals challenge.” This contest aims to “reimagine a more compelling and relatable visual language for cybersecurity,” according to the website. Designers of all backgrounds are invited to submit proposals for more accurate (and appealing) stock images, in order to shed light on the danger of data breaches. The hope is that visuals, which represent the reality of cybersecurity, will make the knottiness of data privacy, as a topic, more accessible for a public audience with varying levels of understanding.
The timing couldn’t be more fortuitous. In today’s climate of online oversharing and algorithm-based advertising, privacy has largely become something of the past. Granted, in some ways, we opt in to this boundary-less space and may even see our vulnerability as a necessary evil. After all, we choose to engage with the World Wide Web—maybe because we need information, we want to increase our visibility, or both. And even before we expose ourselves online, we compromise our privacy when we buy computers and cell phones designed to invite technology into our homes.
But the visual iconography of privacy rarely accounts for such nuance. Ideo’s competition stands to offer a corrective. Submissions for this (re)design contest are being accepted through August 16. The company has announced that 25 short-listed contestants will receive $500 and a mentorship period with in-house designers; once the final winners are announced October 24, up to five winners will each receive $7,000 prizes for their contributions. And, in an effort to repopulate the public domain, these winning visual creations will all be available via free licensure on Creative Commons.