2021 Reflections

As we enter our third year of a global pandemic, many of us are still in survival mode - reflection doesn’t always seem like a priority. However, as our team looks back upon 2021, we feel gratitude for our health and the impact we are able to have despite all the challenges we’ve faced collectively. We are where we are because of the community of support surrounding us; our partners, our funders, our board, the Human Centered Design Community, our growing community Slack, and more. 2022 is already bringing exciting opportunities and new partnerships, which is possible through the shared resilience of our community. 

Colored text reads: ‘2021 in numbers: 40 workshops, 30 projects wrapped, 200 research & user chats, 135 new slack community members, 65 total projects, 31 community calls"

2021 in Summary

2021 was quite a year. In the news, we saw new attacks on cybersecurity; the FacebookPapers revelations, and new developments in privacy. In our orbit, The Open Technology Fund reopened, and we were selected again for their newly named Secure Usability and Accessibility Lab - a partnership we value deeply, which connects us with open source project teams working on internet freedom around the world. Internally, our organization engaged in a deep, reflective refresh of our identity - soon, we will roll out a new name, logo, website and brand identity. 

In reflecting on the many projects we completed this year, and the partnerships we fostered - some key themes emerged: 

Challenging the Status Quo

Over the last year, we had the opportunity to work on projects that allowed us to challenge the status quo at the intersection of policy and design - specifically around issues of consent, harassment, and deceptive design. The work we engage in builds interventions that support the most in need, like the Online Violence Response Hub - and also allows us to reflect on why problems exist at all, and the role of design in combating them. We also critically analyzed industry norms, such as deceptive design patterns, and how they affect user experience in tools like YouTube - and engaged in policy conversations, such as bringing light to why designers should care about the ACCESS Act. With the launch of Limits to Digital Consent - co-produced by New Design Congress - we exposed how ongoing attempts to incorporate informed consent into data-driven systems fall short of their stated goals.

Our ongoing work with Reset has included efforts to counter Big Tech’s influence –– from supporting coalition building and activism with People vs. Big Tech and their People’s Declaration, to education and capacity building for law makers through the Recoding.Tech resource repository.

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

In much of our work, there’s always a question of who is being served, who’s involved in shaping the direction of a project, and the inherent power structures that are upheld or dismantled as part of a project. This year we had the opportunity to bring a DEI lens to our design work with PREreview by specifically thinking about how the design of the interface could enable the DEI mission of the project — How do we represent individuals & expertise, how do we codify moderation and user/participant protections in ways that align with the code of conduct and the platform goals? Through a partnership with CHAOSS, we’ve been exploring how the health of open source projects relates to DEI by joining the DEI Audit committee. In addition to the traditional DEI frame and meaning, we’re also thinking about how design and supporting design contributions can be a DEI effort - both by bringing more diverse voices into a project through engaging with end users for feedback and onboarding designers contributors.

Strategy & Infrastructure

2021 brought opportunities for strategic programmatic, evaluative, and design interventions in infrastructure. How we build interventions — data infrastructure, apps, and programs — easily gets as complex as the problems we are trying to solve. Core to what we do is ensuring practitioners, designers, researchers, activists, and funders are informed, resourced, and empowered. As an ecosystem and community, we all benefit by reflecting and sharing what we’ve learned in working to align a project’s strategy, mission and vision with infrastructural interventions.

Building on our portfolio of ecosystem analysis leveraging human-centered research, we supported two evaluations with Mozilla to assess, understand, and reflect on how the Mozilla Fellowships & Awards Program and Mozilla Open Source Support Program serve their grantees, fellows, and the larger ecosystem. Building on our past work with Superrr on the Roadwork Ahead project and our evaluation work with funders, we launched a project to build a Digital Infrastructure Funder’s Toolkit, supported by a grant from the Digital Infrastructure Fund, which will be a critical resource to help the funding community with tools to effectively develop sustainable funding models for digital infrastructure projects. We worked to put Connect Humanity’s vision of digital equity for all into action by designing a usable, strategy-aligned website that will serve as a platform for grantees and funders working on digital equity infrastructure around the world.

Interventional infrastructure introduces technical, communication and design challenges. While working with the eQualit.ie team on Deflect, we explored sustainable infrastructure from a lens of pricing models, transparency and onboarding, modeling ways internet freedom work can be resilient in our economy. Supported by Reset.Tech, we continued our work with Mozilla’s Rally project, working to develop privacy preserving data infrastructure to enable internet scale social science. Our New Design Congress team members supported the Algorithmic Transparency Institute to develop a cohesive design system for their flagship disinformation research tool, Junkipedia, addressing the complexities of data infrastructure interventions in the mis-/disinformation ecosystem.

Design & Usability

Design & usability remain a cornerstone of our work at Simply Secure. We continued this portfolio of projects through essential partnerships - with the relaunch of the Open Technology Fund and the Secure Usability and Accessibility Lab; our coaching relationship with the Prototype Fund; Internews UX Fund; and Amnesty International. We provided usability and design support for security-focused projects - such as PhishDetect, RiseUp, Snikket, Mailvelope, and Filezilla; for global projects aimed at protecting and empowering the disconnected and under siege - such as Awala and Mapeo; and coached over 20 projects working on civic tech, data literacy, data security and software infrastructure through our partnership with the Prototype Fund in Germany.

Building Resources

In line with our educational mission, we devoted much of 2021 to resourcing our community of designers, researchers, activists, and technologists with the design and strategy tools they need to help change who technology serves. Decentralization Off the Shelf (DOTS) - a collective project hosted at Simply Secure - launched their Pattern Library which aims to better equip the community with knowledge to build usable decentralized applications. The DOTS team hosted workshops to co-create and train on usable decentralized design, and published a report on the barriers to adoption for web monetization. We wrapped up our support of the OpenDOTT program with a series of workshops in partnership with Max von Graffenstein on UX and Privacy Policy. In partnership with USABLE, our team started a set of resources which are aimed to help ensure at-risk users have a voice in the design and development of open source privacy and security tools.

Participating in the Community

2021 was another year without travel, replaced by all virtual conferences and community engagement. Although we missed having face to face time to collaborate among our team and across our community, the pivot to virtual enabled us to be in more places, connect with more of the community, and build new partnerships. At MozFest 2021, we held a Zine Making workshop, hosted an Human Rights Centered Design (HRCD) UX Design Clinic, and engaged with the community on the Mozilla F&A Evaluation. We presented to and workshopped with global audiences at 2021 State of the Onion, the Internet vs. Democracy Forum, FOSDEM, FOSS Backstage + UX Clinic, Remote Design Week, UX Y’all, and the TU Delft Panel. 

With support from the Sloan Foundation, we co-published a report on remote collaboration with Caroline Sinders that analyzed the needs of different academic communities in digital spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As part of the Human Rights Centered Design (HRCD) community, we participated in Monthly Calls and engaged with the community as part of the RightsCon 2021 HRCD track. Important topics we explored as part of HRCD include accessibility for right-to-left languages and design & imposter syndrome. As members of the SustainOSS working group, 2021 found our team hosting and participating in the Sustaining Open Source Design Podcast, and contributing to the 2021 Sustain Report. In 2022, expect to see us engaging in the community even more under our refreshed name + identity.

New Design Congress

The New Design Congress is Simply Secure’s inaugural fiscally sponsored project, and 2021 was an ambitious and busy year. Starting from a research focus of infrastructure as power, New Design Congress’ work expanded to new areas of research, including digital identity, ownership, comprehension and connectivity. 

Drawn from New Design Congress provocations, Backchannel is a collaboration with Ink & Switch to co-design and prototype an alternative and resilient digital identity paradigm based on relationships rather than usernames and accounts, building in resistance to social engineering attacks and phishing campaigns. Published in Components, The New Pornographers is a New Design Congress supported data-driven research report that looks into the prioritisation of exploitation of lust and aesthetics over functionality and user agency by consumer tech reviewers and Big Tech. Aesthetic Flattening, co-authored by RMIT’s Jaz Choi, introduced a term for describing the limits to consumer computing hardware and the insufficient interaction models of modern platforms and tools, leading to a form of context-collapse experienced by users as a result. 

NDC launched Underscore, an inclusive collection of open platforms, co-operative tools and public spaces, designed for community collaboration, moderation and data ownership. Underscore is responsible for hosting all of New Design Congress’ publications, livestream and internal collaboration processes, and has begun inviting aligned organisations to participate and publish together. The Para-Real: Finding the future in unexpected places, an ongoing livestream series, was introduced to widespread attention as part of broader research into economics and ownership, delving into economic solidarity, platforming communities and subcultures.

And finally, New Design Congress has been working on a (yet) to be announced prototyped software tool for navigating and understanding spoken testimony, created in response to broad colonialist criticism of tools and civil society. 

Looking Ahead

Keep your eyes peeled for Simply Secure rebrand - soon, we will have a new name, logo, website, and brand identity that better communicates our theory of change, growth and practice. [See our posts about the process!] This has been quite a journey, and we’re thrilled to share our energized look and feel with the community in 2022.

Want to know what else 2022 will bring? Join our community slack, reach out, and follow us on Twitter to find out!

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