Cybersecurity - a designer’s perspective
16th Nov, 2021#4
Cyber security goes beyond protecting your digital assets!
The unique part of cybersecurity is that the more you know about it, the less secure you feel. This can limit your digital experience and even cause anxiety because you constantly feel exposed to invisible threats.
Design and user experience make a substantial contribution to making online security and privacy easier to understand and manage. Visual cues and certain types of interactions with websites, apps, and other digital products teach us what a safe experience looks and feels like. With these habits formed, we can identify when something goes amiss so we can spot the threat and act with caution.
Today I’m joined by Lucian Grofsorean, brand strategist and brand designer who developed the visual identity for this podcast. I’m very glad to have Lucian as a guest in his very first podcast interview. He’ll share with us his perspective on Cyber Empathy as an industry outsider and the inspiration behind the inspired designs that he created.
In this episode, you’ll learn about the challenges Lucian encountered while trying to integrate empathy and cybersecurity, two notions that, at first glance, seem to have nothing in common. You’ll also get to hear about this important topic from an outsider’s perspective. Lastly, you’ll hear about a real-life story on a cybersecurity breach and the impact it had on the targeted company, as well as its users.
In this episode, you will learn:
The challenges faced when trying to combine cybersecurity and empathy into a coherent and appealing visual identity (04:12)
The inspiration behind the podcast’s brand design (06:34)
How empathy goes a long way in every company (11:08)
How adding extra layers of security to a platform impacts the users (15:58)
Resilient Perfectionist building transformative brands for solopreneurs. Harnessing the power of digital psychology. Helping personal brands sell with confidence to their ideal client.
[01:30] Andra Zaharia: People with an outsider’s perspective bring a ton of value to any industry. And I found this particularly to be true in cybersecurity, where we tend to get caught up in the things that we already know and get stuck in that echo chamber I was telling you about in the first episode, where knowledgeable people talk to one another, but the message doesn’t get through to everyone else in the world. So, I wanted to take a chance and talk to Lucian Grofsorean, a brand strategist and brand designer who I worked with to develop the visual identity for the Cyber Empathy Podcast. We’ve previously worked for redoing my entire visual identity. We’re actually building it from the ground up because it didn’t have anything coherent or professionally made up to that point. So, we worked on my website and a bunch of other assets. And I talked his ear off about what I do and the values behind it and the principles and what I’m trying to achieve. Lucian is the kind of person who is deeply interested in connecting with the people he serves. On a personal level, he’s a curious mind, he’s very into psychology – and we have that in common – and he is the kind of person who will go to great lengths to understand the context that he’s working with. So, I wanted to get his opinion on what it was like to create the visual identity for this podcast; the elements that he looked at; how cybersecurity greeted him; and what the elements that caught his attention were. I find that Lucian is a very empathetic person, and it’s very easy to connect with him, to talk to him, to work with him. So, I hope that he will go on to have many other projects in this industry because he brings nuance, he brings that kind of visual interpretation of abstract elements that feels very human and relatable. And I think that we need a lot more of that in cybersecurity, in privacy going forward. So, I’d like you to meet Lucian and listen to our conversation to figure out how cybersecurity looks like from a designer’s and brand strategist’s perspective when you’re just looking from the outside in. Enjoy.
[04:12] Andra Zaharia: Hey, Lucian. I’m so glad we’re talking today, finally, about the podcast that you baptized, I guess, with a visual identity and gave it a form when it was still just in my head. I just wanted to share that I love that we’re having this conversation. First of all, because we share similar principles, and we share this obsession, I’d call it, about really speaking to people’s pain points and really trying to help them and trying to get a nuanced message across in a very empathetic way because that’s our main topic here. Today, basically, I wanted to get your perspective on what it was like to work on giving the Cyber Empathy Podcast a visual identity; how things look like from someone who’s not in the industry but had to work to understand how to create differentiation in this space, which is something that’s difficult to do, but at the same time, quite the challenge. So, what was it like to work on giving Cyber Empathy a visual dimension? Such an abstract concept. It packs so much. So, how did you go about it?
[05:25] Lucian Grofsorean: Hello, Andra. Thanks for having me. This is my first podcast, by the way. So, if you don’t hear anything from me, at some point, it means that I just fainted from anxiety or something. So, just bear with me if I’m quiet for 30 seconds, I can get back on track. Talking about your podcast branding, it was a really interesting project for me because we already had, like, we started with the branding that you had for How Do You Know?, the previous podcast. And there were basically two challenges here; one of the challenges was to build on that already existing brands, like, try not to trail too far away from it. And the other challenge was to somehow find a balance between the idea of cybersecurity and empathy because if we talk about them, they’re at opposite poles. When you think of cyber, you feel something like the Terminator. You have this idea of something dark and not something very friendly. And then on the other side, we have Empathy. So, I think these were the main challenges that we had to overcome to reach the final result that you have. And I hope one that you’re proud of.
[06:34] Andra Zaharia: Definitely. And I love that you mentioned this contrast because, to me, I’ve been working in cybersecurity since 2015. And what I love most about it is the human aspect and the fact that that’s basically 90% of everything that happens in the industry when it works. And when it doesn’t, it’s because there’s no human connection and people talk across each other, but not to each other, they don’t truly connect or resonate with each other, which is why I wanted to build on the topic of how do we use empathy in cybersecurity so that we tell more persuasive stories so that we build better products so that people don’t feel like the Terminator is chasing after them when they hear anything that’s kind of prefaced by “cyber.” So, in terms of that contrast, when you started to imagine what this might look like and what the visual cues would be, what did you come across? What struck you about, let’s say, cybersecurity, in general, from your perspective, from your experience as a branding specialist, and as someone who is very perceptive and receptive to symbols and to everything that they carry with them?
[07:50] Lucian Grofsorean: Honestly, this was the first time I approached a project regarding cybersecurity and created the visuals for it. So, I started with a blank page. I had no idea what it’s about. So, then I started doing some research like I always do. I started looking for platforms where you have a lot of visual creativity and people have already posted stuff like Pinterest or Dribble, just so I have a direction in which I will then go. I saw a lot of posters, I saw a lot of interesting TV shows like Mr. Robot, for example. And I saw a lot of design there in that direction that felt like hackers – you see these numbers going down you, you see the dark side of it. And on the other side, like, searching for empathy stuff, when I started searching for empathy, I saw a more friendly approach, more pastel colors, for example. So, I tried to find suggestive visuals from each side and find a good mix. It’s hard to find a good balance, but I think we achieved it here. And something that struck me when I saw these visuals, it led me to think about Blade Runner, because I’m a big fan of the Blade Runner series. And it sort of reminded me of that, because if you think about it, the cybersecurity space is like this dark place. Like in Blade Runner, you have these dark buildings, everything is gray, everything is cold, people going on the street and they’re all upset. And then you have these neon lights that bring some color and they bring a bit of humanity to the entire place. And that’s what led me to think about mixing the font with that pink color, just to remind a bit of those neon lights that you see in Blade Runner. So, I got some inspiration from there. And I think this is what led me to this final result.
[09:43] Andra Zaharia: Plus, I just want to mention here that you sent me the visual and it was perfect from the first try. It integrated so much of it and reminded me of this kind of, let’s say, retro vibe that’s associated with the hacker culture. I loved the colors, I loved the contrast, I loved how it had a lot of intent behind it and plus the wave element behind the visual in the background that reminded me of electronic music, which I love. It was just a perfect mix from the first trial. I was like, “This is perfect. It doesn’t need anything else.” It is perfect. It’s perfectly balanced. It’s not too much. And it brings that light, I guess. Because that’s what I’m trying to do here, I’m trying to shed a light on cybersecurity and what it’s actually like from people who actually work in industry, and who pour a lot of themselves into it, not just from a technical perspective, but from a human perspective. Because, to get humans to act proactively, that is one of the biggest challenges we have as a society. And this is not just true for cybersecurity, it’s true for medicine, it’s true for so many other areas such as environmentalism and so on. So, it was very interesting to see how you approached this and how you managed to combine these two worlds. And I was wondering if your personal experience with cybersecurity or online security in any way helped you, particularly, with this project.
[11:18] Lucian Grofsorean: Well, to be honest, before having my own agency, I also worked in other places. So, I did some stuff before also, and I did not fall from the sky. So, even in the companies I’ve worked in before, companies with hundreds or thousands of people, I believe that you need to show empathy in order just to have the employees implement things that you want to implement or that need to be implemented. People already have a lot of rules, like employees, they must follow strict rules, depending on the department they take part in and so on. When you come in and you impose something to them, I don’t think that the conversion rate would be as high as you think. And in order for them to adopt those measures that you want them to adopt, I think you need to show more empathy and be next to them and explain to them in a more human way – I think that’s the word – what are the consequences of not following these new rules; but I wouldn’t call them rules, these new measures, just something that needs to be taken into account. And another thing that, in my opinion, is very important, I like people who rule by example, who lead by example. If you are the person in charge, you should definitely do what you preach. Practice what you preach – this is something I learned from you. And without shame, I’m stealing this quote. But you should lead by example. Because if you start doing mistakes or if you don’t implement what you’re saying, the people below you, I don’t know how they’re going to take it and I don’t know if they’re going to care too much, to be honest. Because that’s the thing: people – I don’t think they care if they don’t see the others from management doing the same thing. And this is the first step that you can take. And after that, you can maybe implement it in a way that’s not all at once, maybe taking people to some small steps and implementing all the measures step by step. So, for me, if I were an employee in a company that wants to implement some cybersecurity measures, this is what I would like to see. I would like to see, first, people from a higher level taking the first step, then I would like to see these measures explained to us, explained what are the consequences if we don’t apply them, and take it from there.
[13:42] Andra Zaharia: Yep, that makes perfect sense. And unfortunately, even though many things related to online safety and privacy sound simple, when you get to practicing them, to actually applying them, the dynamic gets very complicated, simply because they’re so abstract and they’re so difficult for us to grasp and to actually place ourselves in that context and understand what kind of emotional impact they have on us because that’s only, honestly speaking — and you know this better than most people because you work with this — is that emotional triggers are the ones who lead us to change – change our perspective, change our habits – lead us to do something to avoid something. Your entire work is focused on making people feel something, not just see something but interact with something, to have an experience, to understand and convey nuance and emotions and people’s personalities, which I thought that that’s what made the process of working together not just for the Cyber Empathy Podcast, but for my entire website, and the entire range of assets that we did together for my previous podcast. It was all based on this mutual understanding and this mutual curiosity of understanding how the other person works, what works for them, what their context is. And the entire process that you have is based on these deep questions that will get you to sit with yourself and gain some clarity, which then aligns beautifully. Because when you see the end result, obviously, the entire effort is worth it.
[15:24] Andra Zaharia: So, I just wanted to mention this because, to me, my mission – not just with this podcast, but in general – is to get people to see behind the myth and to see behind the cyber some things, and see the human value and the human quality that’s behind it. And there are many contributors to this, including yourself. Even if you don’t work in the industry, you’ve already made a contribution by creating the visuals for this podcast and a bunch of other cool stuff that we’re going to do together for it. So, this is a wonderful perspective. As a one last thing, I wanted to ask you if you could share with me a positive experience that you had with something related to online security of privacy, whether it’s a product, or a conversation, or what did it look like for you and what kind of emotional experience you had with that?
[16:18] Lucian Grofsorean: So, I think a good example here – I don’t know if it’s a good example, but it’s my example. So, my example here would be Binance. They’re this cryptocurrency platform where you can trade and you can even keep your digital assets there. I know they’ve been hacked before, but I think that every platform has been hacked. But I like the way that they responded to this. Because just like in every other process that you do, it’s not going to be perfect from the start. But the fact that they went and got feedback, and they realized what they had to do to improve themselves and improve their product, that means a lot for me as a client of theirs. And the fact that they went and added some extra steps — they can be annoying, I know, but I know that at some point, they added an extra step, and I think they have three steps right now. So, if you want to log into the account, you need to solve this puzzle. And then you have some passwords that you just have like one minute to enter all three of them or else you’re going to be locked out. So, I think this is a really good way of preventing attacks. Of course, they’re still going to happen. But for me, as a user, it shows me that they’re going in a direction that they always want to improve themselves. And I think that’s super important.
[17:34] Andra Zaharia: That’s a very cool example. Because I know that for most people two-factor authentication, getting the code, and putting it in, and doing all these jumping through hoops – like you said – it can be very annoying. But what motivates you to go through all of these hoops and say, like, “Hey, I’m going to spend my time on energy on this because I know it serves me.” So, I like that you emphasized that. I like that you showed that you’re willing to trust them and to be there with them, even though they had a security incident like many people have and every company can have at some point. And many have, and we don’t know they had because it happened maybe at a time where they didn’t have to report it. But let’s not get into that. So, the fact that you’re willing to spend this time and energy because you know what the outcome is, I think it’s super important. Did it ever happen to you to have an account compromised or things like that, so you understand the value? Or is it just something that you’re inclined towards proactive action?
[18:37] Lucian Grofsorean: It actually happened to me a couple of years ago, and I lost some stuff in that account. But the whole platform was affected back then. And everyone who had any assets there, they were affected directly. So, then I decided to look for other platforms that, at least, I know that they have the resources to go further and investigate everything that’s happening. So, even if they added this extra step, for me, it was important because it showed me that they’re willing to make improvements. Even for me, for example, at some point, I’m going to deliver a project that maybe it’s not 100%. But if the client tells me, “Hey, I don’t like what happened.” I’m going to go in, and I’m going to make the changes so the client is happy. And that’s what it’s all about in the end. Because I don’t think people that are trying to do the perfect thing from the start are the ones who win, but those that fall down, they get back up. And that’s super important for me. And it’s not only about platforms but for people in general. And for the people I work with, I like to see them, give feedback, that’s why my whole process revolves around feedback. And as you said, we had this result with the visuals for your podcast. The result is the way it is because we went through the brand strategy sessions, we had that solid base that you’re always going to have that’s based on your brand values on what you believe in, and what you want to transmit to your customers. So, once we have that in place, we have that solid base that’s there, and we just build on it. We just build higher just like a skyscraper.
[20:09] Andra Zaharia: Oh, yeah, that is so, so true. I feel that it’s so easy to work with you, first. This was a super helpful experience. You talked us through the fact that you had the security incident that affected you personally, that you know what that feels like, but you’re still willing to invest the time. You didn’t give up like, “Hey, this doesn’t work, so I’m just not going to do this anymore.” But you persisted. And the fact that you’re focused on continuous improvement, which is based on listening to the other person and adapting to them, I feel that is one of the kindest things that we can do for one another. So, I was really glad to hear your story today. And thank you for trusting me to be the first person who interviews you on a podcast, and to the fact that we’re able to do this together and to tell the story. To me, it was like a very, very happy moment.
[21:04] Lucian Grofsorean: Thank you so much for having me, Andra. It was great. And who knows? Maybe we’re going to do it again in the future. Thank you.
[21:10] Andra Zaharia: Definitely.