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

The Cuckoo's Egg

Misplaced trust is the beginning of every bad bedtime story about 'the cyber'.

Photo of Ivana
15 12

Written by

Sketch 1 (1,500 characters)

I research the topic of information warfare. I don’t think we yet understand how to best recognise this threat; it has crept into the most trustworthy aspects of our everyday business. The bird is mistakenly rearing a grenade in a nest of its own eggs. This represents the act of misplaced trust. Information Warfare elements (my PhD topic of research) are often masked as trustworthy elements of our online information space, which we willingly incorporate into our networks, or accept in good faith as part of our decision making processes. The dangerous outcome of this misplaced trust is analogous to the metaphor of the cuckoo, which will soon outgrow its starving parents, and kill all the other young it finds in the nest. Some birds in the wild are evolving to recognise the difference between their own eggs and those of cuckoos. Can the public adapt as quickly to the challenge of information warfare elements that have found their way into their day-to-day online lives?

Sketch 2 (1,500 characters)

To continue building out this concept, I am working on a zoo of surrealist cyber-animals and children in a dark Wonderland world as metaphors for the activity that daily take place in ‘dark woods’ of the internet. But I’d like to present these pictures as part of a graphic ‘story’ about children lost in the woods, and not just stand-alone images. Nature offers many beautiful analogies that are readily recognisable, and the child in the fairytale supplies a values-driven genre that is immediately understood. The other sketches build on these concepts: ‘sounding out the threat’ – is technical solution and education enough to protect the public? And ‘Gretel knocking’ – into whose houses do we think we’re entering safely online? I’ve also included another example of a finished product of my ‘threat art’ titled ‘crafty foxes’, just to provide you with an idea of my work. This forms part of a bestiary of mythical threats of the information age that I intend to publish.

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

Technical education alone will not be enough to provide the public with an awareness of their online safety. I know this from professional experience – there is a big gap between what people say they are concerned about, and what kind of action they actually take towards their online safety and privacy/ Compelling visuals should be part of this public education and I keep returning to the idea of the cautionary tale for this reason.

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

I am a 1st year PhD student at ADFA-UNSW here in Canberra, covering the topic of cyber security. In a past life (many moons ago!) I also undertook a BA in Fine Arts at ANU, Canberra Institute of the arts under the direction of the well-known illustrator Petr Herel, specialising in illustration and artist's book-making. When my PhD is complete, I plan to publish illustrated books on cyber security for a more mainstream audience, and picture books for younger readers new to the concepts of personal safety online. I have children and worry about how to teach them future-proof concepts of online safety all the time. It's my 21st Century mother's version of 'if you go into the woods' warning! Cybersecurity researcher Bruce Schneier is the inspiration for the dark style of art I've approached this topic with - while studying cybersecurity at university some years ago, he proposed in his newsletter, to create new visuals along the lines of Edward Gorey's work, and the idea has stuck fast.

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

I am a cyber-security researcher and a professional artist. I've been building a body of art and infographics to illustrate cyber security issues, to publish with my own research. So it was pretty exciting to discover other people doing the same. I'd like to join in! The art style I've chosen is a departure from current trends in online cyber-illustration, too. It's not just cyber-art content that needs changing, but style. Using the the 'bad bedtime story' metaphor, my cyber illustration includes children and animals in a dark Wonderland, with a hat-tip to Edward Gorey's 'Gashleycrumb Tinies.' The bedtime story metaphor allows me take on the didactic tone of a traditional cautionary tale for children.


Coming soon, to a Wordpress near you.

What is your experience with the field of cybersecurity?

  • I have considerable experience and/or knowledge in the cybersecurity field.

What best describes you?

  • Other

How did you hear about this OpenIDEO Challenge?

  • Other

Location: City

Canberra, Australia.

Location: State / District


Location: Country

  • Australia

What opportunity areas are you covering with this final portfolio? (250 characters)

Trusthworthiness, and Internet of Things.

Final Portfolio (1,500 characters)

Here are our lives online, delivered as a children's bedtime story. Once upon a time, we ventured into the strange, hyper-connected wonderland of the internet. But dangers await the over-trusting child, here. Be careful of what you click on! Be careful of what you swallow! Things are not always what they seem...

How would you summarize your final portfolio in 100 words or less? (650 characters)

This is a concept of personal online security in the guise of a cautionary children's bedtime story. Strange beasts and supernatural elements collide with the everyday. A vintage style of children's book illustration brings to life new threats, while reminding us that the story of trust is as old as time.

Briefly describe your imagined use case for the work in your portfolio. (250 characters)

I'd like these images (or these sorts of images) to complement publications designed to improve digital literacy. For both younger readers, and also for the business sector, which is what I'm focusing on in my work at the moment.

What was the most useful feedback that you received? (1,000 characters)

The feedback received here influenced the reworking of the original cuckoo idea, and also my consideration of how people make sense of cyber-themed visuals. Even when drawing on new ideas, they need to be grounded in the familiar to link them to a conversation. So, my heartfelt thanks to all who provided feedback! I responded to lovely suggestions of adding circuitry from fellow artists, and I grew the original cuckoo concept into a serial after our mentor discussion, which was really helpful!

How have your concepts evolved since the Ideas Phase? (1,000 characters)

This is a stronger portfolio than the original submission. It references feedback from both artists and mentor. The most noticeable shifts are in the inclusion of text, and circuit board motifs, to better ground the work in a concept.

How have you been able to incorporate technical accuracy into your concepts? (1000 characters)

I work in a field that deals with technical accuracy, so I came to this challenge with a slightly different perspective. I wanted to illustrate a concept of human behaviours within this risk environment. From where I sit, it is much harder to define online security anomalies than it is to define online security events. So it's an environment of risk, with systemic drivers, rather than a few technical mechanisms that I am trying to illustrate.

How do your concepts expand the conversation on cybersecurity? (1000 characters)

These concepts grow the conversation on cybersecurity beyond the lab, and beyond the research facility to every person's living room. Everybody owns online security. I would like to see digital literacy conversations even more mainstreamed than they are at the moment. And I'd like to see the continued strengthening of partnerships between all concerned: educators, business people, policy makers, and of course, techies.

If you were provided with additional time and resources, are there additional ways that you’d wish to reimagine the visual language of cybersecurity? (1,000 characters)

If I were given the time and the resources, I would illustrate an entire book called the 'The Art of Cyber War'. It would be a homage to the classic ancient Chinese text 'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu. It would re-imagine online warfare techniques in as poetic and as strategically-minded a fashion as the original. The original used graphic metaphors to simplify sometimes complicated ideas. I believe the same can be done for 'the cyber'.

Commitment to Creative Commons License (CC BY 4.0)

  • Yes, I ensure that my portfolio is in compliance with CC BY 4.0.

Attachments (1)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ray Lagesse


I love that you integrated traditional art into your digital work :) Keep it up.

Photo of Khanh Tran

I really love your illustrations! I think it's rare to see fairytale illustrations nowadays, especially for younger kids who are glued to their screens. I would love to see if this could be a bigger project :)

Photo of Tiffany Baker

I loved the way your illustrations turned out! Great work Ivana!

Photo of Dima Boulad

I'm so glad to see the progress of this idea and the sketches into your final portfolio @ivana .As the review team is going through all submissions, I would like to take this chance to thank you for your participation in this Challenge and your dedication to this important and complex topic. Watch this space as we announce the top picks!

Photo of Aswin BeHera

Really like the idea of the Zoo of Surrealistic Cyber Animals. It makes me think of the Pandora's Box, where in this case the Box is equated to the Zoo.

One should take great care of the animals in this zoo, monitor and regulate, so they remain subservient but at the same time also function as a repository for the average public to witness. Great!

Photo of Ivana

Aswin BeHera What poetic advice! I very much like idea that these themes would persist across a world building exercise (more animals, more functions) and not just in a single frame.

Photo of Aswin BeHera

Yes. Let people project their understanding of a cyber threat or computing mechanism towards specific animals. And let them create their own layer of understanding around this topic. Much like Minecraft, opens up myriad possibilities.

Photo of Mai Arollado

Hi Ivana,

I find your work original, incorporating hand painting in this modern topic has a touch of irony into it. I also like the metaphor and using the egg has a strong visual impact.
I was just thinking on how you can be able to incorporate some modern/ cyber iconography? say for example, for the nest you can make it like connecting circuit?

Good luck! and you're doing very well! cant wait to see your finish artwork!

Best regards,Mai

Photo of Mai Arollado

I dont know it you can consider this, just a bit on idea:

Photo of Ivana

Hi Mai Arollado, it's so nice of you to stop by! Yes, I've been wondering about different ways of grounding the work into cyber iconography since William mentioned it. This is definitely a direction it needs to go in next, and the connections to the nest are something I'm contemplating.

As for the hand drawn touch - that was inspired by Bruce Schneier a few years ago when he wished out loud for an Edward Gorey gothic-style of illustration for cybersecurity. I just haven't gotten it out of my head since!

Photo of Ivana

Great link Mai!

Photo of William Pugsley

I like the idea od Cuckoo's Egg, as a visualisation of something you cannot trust, so I think you have the "security" bit covered, but I am missing the "cyber" bit. Maybe the animal could be some IT brand, maybe these could be Android's eggs? Or something like that? Or maybe the granade could have something more cyber about it?

Photo of Ivana

Hi William Pugsley thanks so much for stopping by! Yes, the avoidance of cyber-tropes is deliberate. This work is already attached to an existing body of research on cyberwar that considers techniques of warfare as old the 36 Stratagems. So, no hoodies, no Matrix-style binary waterfalls, and no beams of ‘ergs’. My cyber-researching colleagues especially dislike 'ergs'! (Possibly even more than hoodies). How do you feel about seeing more than standalone images - say, in a serial/comic format, where the storyboard captures the connection between people and technology?

Photo of Dima Boulad

Ivana, I absolutely love this! Ivana 

Photo of Ivana

Thanks Dima Boulad, that's so nice of you to say so!