Part IV of a blog series about privacy, and how we can raise awareness through a universal privacy label.

Our final phase of research consisted of compiling and analyzing pre-existing visual communication systems and privacy awareness products. The aim was to see what works best when communicating complex ideas such as privacy implications.

This post provides an overview of our design process in developing a visual, universal privacy language based on our research insights and ranking system.


Before delving into the design process of our universal privacy system, it’s important to revisit why we began this project in the first place. In CLEVER°FRANKE’s smart technology initiative Sensor Lab, we’re eager to push technology to its boundaries, exploring new possibilities along the way.

Both countries where our offices are situated, the Netherlands and the United States, are among hundreds of countries around the world home to an ever increasing number of “smart cities” which collect just as much personal information about us as online services, but often with even less of our awareness or control.

There’s an overt problem today online and offline with how, why, and where our personal information is collected, processed, and used. Provoked by the current state of privacy, or lack thereof, our goal is to simplify privacy implications in the same way that Creative Commons has simplified copyright licenses or energy labels have simplified appliance energy ratings.

How can we design a standard, actionable, and universal way to inform a general audience about data collection usage and privacy?

Establishing Design Guidelines

Having looked into already existing products which aim to address the online side of things, let’s not forget the four key takeaways we established when analyzing already existing privacy awareness products:

  1. The simpler the better More people are able to grasp a complicated concept when it’s communicated in the simplest way possible

  2. Avoid further complicating the problem Many of the solutions don’t empower users to take control of their personal data any more than without them

  3. Provide a meaningful value Labels like those for energy appliances have proven successful because when people shop for new appliances, the energy rating is one of the many other factors like price that influence their decision

  4. If it works, it works Laundry labels have proven successful because of clear industry and consumer incentives rather than legal compulsion

The only additional criteria is that since we’re aiming to design for both online and offline spaces, the form will need to be vibrant enough to stand out in an urban environment yet modular enough to be implemented digitally.

With these five principles clearly articulated, we held a design ideation workshop to quickly brainstorm concepts.

Initial Privacy Label sketches from an ideation workshop.

Initial Privacy Label sketches from an ideation workshop.

We had many concepts ranging from straightforward ones, explicitly visualizing our ranking system to ones more abstract, which similarly to Creative Commons, encouraged users to learn a new system to fully understand. We decided on developing two versions, one on each side of this spectrum.

After much debate, we determined that the best mediums to communicate our ranking system across digital and physical environments were a website, browser extension, and sticker design. Since others had already tried to address the online part of privacy awareness, we primarily focused on the design of sticker labels for physical environments first.

Designing the Simple Label