OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Make it snow

Less is more: a less photorealistic view of encryption and privacy

Photo of Robyn Hwang

Written by

Sketch 1 (1,500 characters)

Visual strategy

The challenge in depicting data is that it can be about almost anything, which is why I think we've resorted to using literal 0's and 1's floating in space.

So I used an analogy that's long been used to describe digital artifacts: nature. We talk about branches and roots, clouds and even the "web." It makes sense: most people are familiar with these things and can visualize them intuitively, so they give an immediate sense of the structure and essence of a thing.

Hexagons make sense for a couple reasons:

1. They're not squares or circles, which are already heavily used in icons and tech imagery, but they are geometric enough to be integrated easily into those places.
2. They're commonly found in nature, like in beehives and in carbon molecules, the building blocks of matter. Similarly, data can be considered the building blocks of the cyber world.


1. Help people understand data better by anchoring it to a relatable human figure
2. Help people understand how data can be protected with encryption
3. Zoom out to see how all our data combined can provide another layer of insight

Next steps

I see this visual language being applicable to different forms of visual identity: icons, illustrations, diagrams, self-contained narratives, and more. I would love to explore those different areas to see how we can build out a design system to support more use

Sketch 2 (1,500 characters)

Visual strategy

This is inspired from pixel art and digital art. It's used well in games, movies about games, or animated movies. These are deliberately less realistic than hyperrealistic superhero movies — the type to show drugs/spider bites/venom/superhero juice literally shooting into the hero's veins — but no less impactful. Theater is also a useful analogy for allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps without requiring the minute details.

Next steps

Because it's a digitally-inspired aesthetic, I think it would fit well into the cybersecurity world. It would do so without resorting to fear-mongering, and by being an extremely flexible way to express complex ideas. Again, I would love to explore effective ways to expand upon this idea for many different use cases.

What have you learned through this sketching process? (1,000 characters)

Among other things, we're trying to make cybersecurity visuals less cheesy and visually overwrought with literal interpretations of bits and bytes. Because of that, I found it helpful to think about other times I've found visuals to cross the line. I realized that sometimes it's nice to sit back and let your imagination to fill in the gaps.

Tell us more about you. (1,000 characters)

I'm a product designer working on software products. My day job includes some visual design, but I've also gotten interested in illustration as a hobby.

One of my biggest sources of inspiration is Broadway musicals — as I alluded in this UI exercise [1], it makes magic by combining a dozen different artistic mediums (composition, lighting, sound, costumes, choreography, set design, etc.) and doing it live every time.

I’ve also long loved comics as a form of entertainment, storytelling, and creating “aha” moments. I was a political cartoonist at my college newspaper, created some “design economics comics” for fun [2], and continue making comics when words alone don’t cut it [3].


Why are you participating in this Challenge? (750 characters)

Like most Americans, I've been a victim of data breaches and I've read about privacy concerns and potential doomsday scenarios. But none of us have much choice but to use tech if we want to continue to participate in society. From talking to friends and family, I also know that most people have less background to understand the tradeoffs involved.

So I’m trying to learn more about cybersecurity, but I have also found that the imagery is usually stale. However, I've read some great articles with illustrative metaphors and clear explanations, so I agree that there is a space to connect that expertise with visual expertise, and bring understanding to a greater audience.



What is your experience with the field of cybersecurity?

  • I have never worked in cybersecurity before but am excited to learn more and get involved.

What best describes you?

  • I’m a professional visual creator affiliated with an organization.

How did you hear about this OpenIDEO Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)

Location: City

San Francisco

Location: State / District


Location: Country

  • United States of America


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tristan Spill

Hey Robyn Hwang – I really like sketch 2! It conveys a lot of info without wet explanation. Also it feels grounded in a familiar Mario 2D game world. It gives space for intuitive magic without having to get bogged down in detail. There's emotion, surprise and progression. Well done! I want to see it animated so I can hear what it sounds like. :) The visuals work well too: Cloud = internet, Snowflake = unique pattern etc. Sublime ... Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase, without passing through the intermediate liquid phase.

Photo of Dima Boulad

Super that you mention the reference Tristan Spill !

View all comments