Friday, 10:00am
5 January 2001

To share or not to share …

Designers are uniquely placed to navigate the ethical issues of our increasingly connected world. John Ridpath looks at two speculative projects – a labelling system and a circus – from Clever Franke

Data-driven design agency CLEVER°FRANKE has been tackling the world of privacy with two related projects: Privacy Label and Cirque du Data, writes John Ridpath

Wouter van Dijk, lead designer on Privacy Label, observes that when artists approach the topic of data, they tend to portray a ‘dark future’ via ‘design noir’. Unlike artists, he believes that designers should meet the challenges of technology with solutions rather than criticism: ‘designers need to move beyond “all data is scary”, and look forward to how it can be applied – it's here anyway, it's part of our daily lives’.

Privacy Label proposal. Design by Clever Franke. 

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Privacy Label is one such solution (and the winner of Gold and Jury prizes at the 2019 European Design Awards). Taking inspiration from such initiatives as the European Union energy label, CLEVER°FRANKE hope to create a universal visual language around privacy. Labels are designed to be displayed anywhere data is collected: from physical shopfronts and CCTV cameras, to websites and subway ticket barriers.

Each ranking is calculated by answering a series of fifteen ‘yes or no’ questions, grouped into three privacy categories: collection, usage and control. Each ‘yes’ answer contributes towards the total score, represented with a letter (from A to F) and colour (from green to red). A radial bar visualisation encloses the letter, with each filled bar representing a positive answer. The visual effect of this design is that better scoring labels appear more closed and protected.

Privacy Label shown on an automated turnstile in the Netherlands. Design by Clever Franke.

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Privacy Label shown on a website. Design by Clever Franke.

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Smart cities are a perfect use case. In these connected urban environments, cameras and sensors are embedded in public spaces, promising benefits in transportation, public health and sustainability. In an attempt to bring more visibility and control to such spaces, the Privacy Label team is currently seeking a public trial with local government departments in Amsterdam and Utrecht.

In the meantime, CLEVER°FRANKE has found a novel way to take data awareness to the smart city. 2019’s Cirque du Data saw a ringmaster, clowns and other performers bring data privacy to a big top. The circus-themed show was designed for a weekend of performances in Leidsche Rijn, an in-development smart neighbourhood in the west of Utrecht.

Cirque du Data, organised by Clever Franke. 

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Cirque du Data, organised by Clever Franke.

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During the show, audience members were asked personal questions such as ‘do you volunteer?’ and ‘do you watch pornography?’. Sharing (or refusing to share) this information publicly, and seeing how others responded, proved to be an enlightening experience for the audience. Anyone using a smartphone will passively answer 100s of similarly personal questions in the course of a single day’s browsing – often without a sense of awareness, control or ownership.

Futurist and Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly has argued that ubiquitous surveillance is ‘inevitable’. Data collection and processing are, in his view, an inherent feature of the internet’s character. Today’s designers have an opportunity to address the problematic outcomes of this trend. As CLEVER°FRANKE’s work demonstrates, data privacy is about more than cookie pop-ups and impenetrable privacy policies. Our relationship with tracking technology has the potential to be simple, transparent and, one hopes, more symmetrical.

Cirque du Data, organised by Clever Franke.

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John Ridpath, writer, technologist, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.

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