Privacy breaches and security threats are global crises that affect our wellbeing. Privacy is a human right for all people, from activists in repressive countries struggling to organize to Fortune 500 executives hoping their dating habits don’t damage their careers. When our personal communications, medical information, financial transactions, online behavior, and physical-world activities using connected devices are vulnerable to surveillance, society suffers.
Recent security threats have shown that personal data may be more liability than asset, and the need for user empowerment has never been greater. User experience (UX) design plays a critical role in empowering people to protect their privacy by controlling their data. Current UX models for privacy polarize into two groups. Passive experiences are easy to use but offer users low or no control. Active experiences are difficult to manage but offer high control. New UX design forges a path between passive and active engagement with security interfaces. A human-centered design approach to security can bring together what’s desirable to people, possible with technology, and viable in a business and regulatory context.
Ame Elliott shares examples of UX design for secure communication tools, with a focus on open source efforts, and explores principles broadly applicable to personal communication, business transactions, and government and nonprofit projects. These examples illustrate how UX design can chart a path between the perils of surveillance and the pain of hypervigilance that arises from managing an overwhelming array of controls.
Ame Elliott is design director at nonprofit Simply Secure, where she cultivates a community of user experience designers working on open source secure communication. Previously, Ame spent eight years at IDEO San Francisco, where, as design research lead, she delivered human-centered tech strategy for clients such as Acer, Ericsson, and Samsung, and was a research scientist at Xerox PARC and Ricoh Innovations. She holds eight patents and is the author of numerous publications, including a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology. Her design work has been included in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and recognized with awards from the AIGA, IDSA/IDEA, the Edison Awards, and the Webby Awards. Ame holds a PhD in design theory and methods from the University of California, Berkeley.
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