Designing for new digital rights

Our digital rights are changing. In May 2018 the European Parliament will introduce the General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR aims to improve how services handle our data online. With these new rights come new opportunities, which is why we’ve published a collection of prototypes and product sketches responding to them.

Thinking by making

I’ve been at IF for a few weeks now. In that time we’ve had discussions around the kind of services that might emerge from the GDPR - what it might mean for us all as consumers and how as designers we can help people consider the benefits it may bring.

The first thing I’ve learnt about the team at IF is that they like to ‘think by making’. It was this philosophy that drove us as we set out to develop digital prototypes that aim to help others consider what kind of services may emerge from the new rights being afforded to us.

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Thinking by making - early sketches of Guardian for digital identity and Home privacy settings (Photo: Ian Hutchinson / IF)


Over two week long sprints we pulled apart the eight peoples’ rights set out in the regulation. A process that involved talking, sketching and quite a few post it notes. Iterating through sketches, building clear concepts, we then set out to build low fidelity digital prototypes, developing them through discussion and feedback - making, thinking and then making again.

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Building and developing low fidelity digital prototypes (Photo: Georgina Bourke / IF)


The final prototypes are responses to our new rights. They explore what it means to be able to minimise your location data, object to your house being photographed by services like Google Street Map and take control of what happens to your personal data when you die.

You can browse the prototypes on their dedicated microsite. We want you to engage with them and consider what other potentialities our new digital rights may hold.

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The prototype Home privacy settings imagines if you could object to services like Google Street View using images of your house (Photo: Jim.henderson (Own work) / [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Considering the implications of change

One of the more interesting rights provided for people is the right for data portability - empowering people to migrate their data from one service provider to another. This could take the form of a user taking their five star UBER rating to another similar service. Or, simply taking your online supermarket basket from supermarket to another. The opportunities and challenges here are vast.

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The GDPR provides for the right to data portability. Portable shopping list imagines how consumers could be empowered by being able to migrate their data from one provider to another with ease. (Photo: Georgina Bourke / IF)

Next steps

The GDPR will have far reaching implications. The rules that it sets out affects any service that has European users. Its global reach makes it hard to ignore. Our prototypes tell small stories, imagining what may be possible. They are starting points, to provoke thought.

Without this sort of exploration and play, I worry that the changes the GDPR brings will simply be a matter of compliance for most service providers. We’ve seen what happens when design patterns are mass adopted out of compliance. 2011 saw the introduction of an EU Directive that set out to make consumers aware of how information about them is collected and used online. The outcome of that particular Directive is familiar to a lot of us - cookie banners.

The challenges that the GDPR bring should not automatically be about compliance and adopting the lowest bar. It should be viewed as a design problem. To think big about and design for better services.

Take a look at the prototypes, visit the project page and let us know what you think by email, or find us on Twitter.

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