Networks in Crisis, all in once

My work for the Networks in Crisis brief had maybe an even weirder timeline than the Spaces of Production one.

When the brief came out, I didn’t even think of working on it because I was in the middle of something else – to be honest, I can’t even remember what. However, just a few days before the presentation date it turned out that I had been assigned to a working group that was relying on some input from me, so I did have to come up with something. Fortunately, I had quite soon an idea that seemed promising to me, and, relying on my part-time privilege to make me get away with presenting some half-sketched thing and be able to say it was just a work in progress and I wasn’t even really required to present, I quickly put together some material and went for it.

There’s not much to say about this first partial presentation that isn’t in it already. I did some sketches, looked for images on the internet, and then put everything together into one slideshow.

The presentation went really well but everyone agreed that the project wasn’t completed. A few months later I carried on with it.

The first thing I did was to recapitulate my work so far in a diagram to see in what directions it could further evolve.

big diagram(the wavy line in the middle marks the end of history, and the stuff to its right would have been the further development of my work, while the stuff to its left is more or less an abstract of my previous work)

I had been reading some comics by Chris Ware in the summer and I was mesmerised by his narrative diagrams, so I absolutely wanted to shamelessly rip him off. In some ways, you can see that in a part of my work for Spaces of Production too.

The diagram didn’t help a lot though, I kept struggling with the idea of an infrastructure-based project, while researching on and about the internet and doing crappy networky sketches.

The more I learned, the less my ideas seemed to make sense and the more I realised that I didn’t know enough about what I was working with. I really needed to focus my work somehow. Fortunately, Terry [Rosenberg] appeared to me in a sort of desperation-induced vision, and his soothing but authoritative voice suggested: “from programme to project, from project to programme”. So I finally began concretely asking myself questions about what I wanted to achieve with my work and what its final shape could be.

Doing research about the issues I wanted to address, it turned out – what a surprise! – that I’m neither the only nor the first person doing work about security and anonymity on the Internet, and that there are indeed a few working and almost-working applications out there to implement some of the concepts I was trying to develop. Also, I had promised to myself at some point that I would become a communication and graphic designer, so I couldn’t help but ask myself why I was trying to propose alternatives or improvements to something that I didn’t have a massive technical insight into and didn’t fall within the field of my work anyway. I began to see my role as one that facilitates processes and divulges knowledge more than developing products.

That’s how I decided to create a campaign to distribute and publicise software for online anonymity. In fact, the first idea was to design a CD with a collection of open-source programmes (for the very practical reason that they are free to be redistributed) and an information sheet attached to it, but I soon realised that some of the steps I was taking in the design process would be easy to reproduce – at the end of the day, I was compiling a list of programmes that were freely available on the Internet, and designing a package that I myself wanted to be able to create with just a regular digital printer (because that’s what is available to me at the moment). Hence the idea to shape the whole campaign as an open-source project – a work that anyone could reproduce, modify and redistribute; an ongoing process in which my role as a designer would be that of kick-starting it, creating the conditions for it to develop and spread by itself.

I began working on the packaging by folding paper, trying to figure out how to make a CD case out of an A4 sheet without cutting or measuring anything. When I reached a satisfying result, I began to sketch a part of the diagrams I had created before on it, trying to design a set of icons that would explain how the software in the CD works and create some sort of narrative about online security issues.

The reason for the CD to exist in the first place was that I wanted to have an object, something that can be passed from hand to hand, having a base on a real-world relation without resorting to online distribution. At the same time, it wouldn’t be functional to pack all the information about the campaign into it, and although I wanted to avoid making it the centrepiece of the project, a website is indeed (!) a very useful enhancement for the campaign: not only does it present the project in a more accessible way, it also serves as a “repeater” in itself, making the other materials for the campaign easily available. The third “leg” of my work is a series of flyers that do nothing but mention the website’s URL, providing an “outreach” tool. The flyers are also downloadable from the website in vector format, making it easy to reproduce or edit them.

The finished work is on hidedontrun.info.ms – or at least its designed artefacts.

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