In 2020, we embarked on a community-oriented design process to help shape what’s next for Simply Secure. Our goal: a new name and tagline; a new brand and visuals; and a clearer articulation of who we are as an organization.
Throughout the process we chose to learn from and have an open dialogue with members of our community. We’re here to serve a need in the world – so it was essential to find a name and distill our mission in a way that resonates with those we support (and who support us). We also have so many brilliant minds in our network – people who understand visuals, words, and stories, as well as us and our work. A community-oriented design process allowed our team to leverage this expertise and creativity, and ultimately design our brand in a way that aligns with our values. Though the process remains ongoing, we’d like to take a moment to share how far we’ve come.
Assembling an Identity Committee
Una Lee of And Also Too is a key partner in this work, and has helped us to frame our process, using elements of co-design to structure our community collaboration. After conducting an initial community survey about our name and branding, we convened a committee of 10 people to help us dig deeper into the survey results as well as the opportunities/challenges of how we present our organization. We chose these individuals based on their diverse expertise and divergent points of view; we knew they would both support and challenge us.
- Allen “Gunner” Gunn
- Antonela Debiasi
- Eriol Fox
- Jochai Ben-Avie
- Julia Kloiber
- Kirstie Whitaker
- Niels ten Oever
- Peter Bihr
- Sage Cheng
To each of our Identity Committee members, we want to say: Thank you! We wouldn’t be where we are today without your insight and advice.
Moving beyond “what do we do?” to “who are we?”
Simply Secure was founded eight years ago with the goal of making secure communication tools more accessible for everyday people. Since then, these tools have finally begun to receive the attention they deserve and, alongside our community, our organization has grown in size and expertise. Yet we’ve also grown in vision. In working to democratize human-centered design principles, our team has increasingly sought out opportunities to further transformational justice and digital equity.
Unsurprisingly, this expanded vision has expanded our scope of work as well. The name Simply Secure no longer feels representative of all that we do – little of our work is simple, and security is about more than just tools. In line with this, one of the more compelling findings from our identity survey was that many respondents feel that they are only seeing the tip of the Simply Secure iceberg – they know that we do a lot, but the entire breadth of our work remains at least partially obscured.
Yet as we convened to answer the question “What do we do?”, we soon realized we also had to answer an even more complex question: “Who are we?”
Café Simply Secure: “Would you like wireframes with that?”
Between November 2020 and February 2021, we held two series of workshops with our Identity Committee and the Simply Secure core team to help us better articulate who we are. In one exercise, we asked our participants to write a review for Simply Secure by pretending that Simply Secure was a restaurant. Our goal was to have participants disassociate from tech and design to see what lies at the heart of who we are.
A word cloud shows the descriptors that were the output of the “restaurant review” exercise.
The output of the exercise was the above collection of unique descriptors. Given that we work on technology, the prominence of the top phrase “down to earth” surprised us! Our “café” isn’t a trendy fast tech hub, but rather a welcoming place that puts people at ease, and helps them connect and learn. This essential feedback confirmed that our identity could focus more on people – and not just tech itself. We also explored various other metaphors through a succession of brainstorming exercises in which we identified images, words, and principles that described Simply Secure. These metaphors helped reveal additional fundamental aspects of our identity and role within the community, as part of a complex, emergent ecological system.
As our process continued to evolve, we sought out even more specificity regarding what we should emphasize (or avoid) in formulating our new identity. Through a series of interviews, our Committee and Board Members shared with us what they think we do well, and where we should use caution in describing ourselves.
- Openness is one of our calling cards. From early projects focused on security usability to more recent service and organization design work, our openness and transparency is key. We’re at our best when we make the results of our engagements as available and usable as possible.
- We’re strategic, pragmatic doers, not a “consultancy.” We heard this word a lot, and in some ways, it helps people understand that we offer services that help tools, groups, and organizations improve. But “consultancy” also has capitalist and extractive associations that don’t match our values or way of working. We also do so much more than just consulting – we snap into action, and we blaze a trail for others.
- We excel at centering the human element in technology. We heard several times that we are good at listening to, understanding, and supporting the human needs within tech projects. Without devaluing these critical qualities, it’s important to note that they are also frequently gendered traits, and our team has always been majority female-identifying. While we value these qualities, we need to ensure that both our empathy and our overall competence are emphasized as skills.
- We need to be careful when using the term “design.” Many of us are designers, and many of our methodologies are drawn from design disciplines – service, product, UX, transition, and social design. Yet like “consultancy,” the term “design” carries different connotations for different people. For some, design means visual art, which isn’t one of our core areas of work.
These insights, along with many others, proved invaluable as we moved closer to arriving at a new name, tagline, visual identity, and refreshed understanding of our organization.
Our exploration into community-led design
For those considering embarking on a community-based design approach to a branding project, we can offer a few observations on what we’ve learned so far.
- You will learn an incredible amount about yourselves as an organization. The insights we’ve gained from our committee, and even from our own tough internal conversations, have helped us grow and develop. We’re not just building our new name and visuals; we’re learning who we are, and clarifying who we want to be.
- The process will take longer than expected. One of the contributing factors is the increase in communication. Being transparent and open about your process means consistently framing progress, requesting feedback, sharing debriefs, and providing updates. You should probably factor in at least twice your usual communication overhead (and likely even more).
- Coming up with a decision-making process requires self-awareness. Every community is different, and existing groups already have power dynamics and decision-making processes in place. Before selecting a new decision-making model, you’ll first want to look at how your group or community currently makes decisions. Even after selecting the best, you’ll also have to remain flexible: any process you settle on at the beginning is almost guaranteed to change (but that’s a good thing!).
- It’s hard to predict what twists and turns the process will take. We originally asked our Committee to take part in a series of three workshops before February. Our process evolved into one workshop, one interview, another workshop, and numerous rounds of asynchronous feedback over email on proposals and even videos. And we’re still not quite done!
We’ve truly enjoyed and grown from this process. And we know the “Simply Secure” that comes out on the other side will be all the better for it. For your next design process, we encourage you to consider a community-based approach of your own! If you have questions, we’re happy to share.
From here, we are iterating on our name ideas; asking for feedback from the team, Board, and Committee; and developing a short list to share with a lawyer for trademark and legal review. In the next installment, we look forward to sharing our new name and visual identity with you!