Building responsible user experience (UX) into the world’s technology is easier said than done. At Simply Secure, we believe that this goes beyond the work itself, it’s also about supporting the community of practitioners trying to build more responsible technology. Starting with a dedication to privacy, security, transparency, and ethics, we engage user experience designers, researchers, and developers to hone their skills through workshops, mentorship and coaching.

Why pilot a residency?

For the last four years, we have held convenings as part of our program, Underexposed, which have created space to hold conversations on the challenges of technology and design, with topics ranging from privacy and security to transparency and ethics. Although the convening model can foster valuable new ideas, this year, we wanted to experiment with our model and instead try something that would provide more time and space for practitioners, while still creating the opportunity for a dynamic and diverse collaboration. With this in mind, we decided to pilot a residency model. A residency, would allow us to pilot working with a small group, for a longer period of time, and create a structure to allow them to work collaboratively and have access to mentors and experts for support, advice and feedback. We envision the residency as a replicable model that can create a supportive environment and structure needed to work on these hard problems.

In our community, one of the challenges we have identified is that many projects don’t have a team member who focuses on the user experience at all; or if they do have someone whose focus is design or user experience, that person tends to work as a team of one on many different projects or needs for a given project. For the fellows, the goal was to provide the unique opportunity to get a full week to focus on one of their projects, to have the support of the other fellows, mentors, and Simply Secure staff, and to develop a community to allow that support to extend beyond the residency. Additionally, we hoped to:

  • Support building user-centered design practices into key projects in the community.
  • Provide education and resources for designers and developers on how to build tools that support and protect users’ security and privacy.
  • Connect designers and developers with users who can contribute time and resources towards testing, giving feedback, and help with co-designing.
  • Raise visibility of the fellows’ work.
  • Help leaders in the space form peer-support networks.
  • Share the learnings from the model itself.

Underexposed 2019

For the pilot in January 2019, we hosted 11 fellows for a week-long residency in Berlin, Germany. All of the fellows applied through our open call, which invited practitioners in the space to propose projects in the areas of ethical technology, responsible AI, civic technology, and internet freedom. In the 3-week application period, we received 52 applications, representing 12 countries and 8 regions.

During the residency week, fellows had time for user research, independent work, lectures, critical discussions, and design critiques. We invited leaders in the space to facilitate sessions on a range of topics and hold time to work one-on-one with fellows on their projects. The week culminated in a public event at the Mozilla Berlin office with over 70 people in attendance, where fellows presented their projects, the progress they made during the week, and their plans for next steps with their work.

Overall, based on feedback from the fellows and mentors, the residency model seems to have been successful in providing them a supportive environment to make progress on their projects or pursue new ideas that came from the activities of the residency week. In the months following the residency, the cohort of fellows are still collaborating with each other and the mentors remotely — chatting about design challenges, sharing ideas, discussing opportunities to reconnect or collaborate in the future. Going forward, we are thinking about how to expand on the pilot to host more residencies and prototype different aspects of the residency model, e.g. length of time or diversity of the cohort projects. Interested in exploring more?

Thank you!

Underexposed 2019 would not have been possible without our financial and in-kind support from a number of funders and community organizations. Underexposed 2019 was supported financially by the Open Technology Fund Community Lab, Ford Foundation, Internet Society, and KeepSafe. Wikimedia Germany donated their community space, WikiBär, for the full week to the program, Mozilla Berlin hosted for the public event on Friday evening, and StickerMule provided stickers. Some fellows were also able to leverage existing support from Mozilla Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation to enable their participation. Thank you as well to volunteer Emma Callahan for her support throughout the week, and all of our mentors: Nasma Ahmed (Digital Justice Lab), Vincent Ahrend, Cade Diehm (Tactical Tech), Sage Cheng (Access Now), Elio Qoshi & Anxhelo Lushka (Ura Design), and Bernard Tyers.