Meet our Near Now Fellows: Sarah Gold

How design can have an impact in privacy, security and trust

Posted on 14th March 2016

Written by Mathew Trivett

As one of our current trio of Fellows partnering with us in developing their work, we caught up with Sarah Gold on her recent visit to the Near Now studio. With the launch of IF at the tail end of 2015, we asked Sarah to share an update on the progress of her new London-based studio and Fellowship experience to date.

Joining designer Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad and artist Erica Scourti as Near Now Fellows in September last year, Sarah is building new digital tools that put people in control of their privacy and personal data.

Sarah T Gold

Sarah T Gold

"I began IF for different reasons. I wanted to work collaboratively with other designers and developers. I wanted to demonstrate how design can have impact in the areas of privacy, security and trust. Too often these issues are understood as technical issues, but they cannot be solved with just more technology. We need to focus on making these issues legible and start solving them by prioritising design methods. That’s what IF is trying to do — to help build brilliant technologies that empower people."

The Alternet [1: Tamper proof hardware for a mesh network; 2: Alternet operating system]

The Alternet [1: Tamper proof hardware for a mesh network; 2: Alternet operating system]

Following an ambition to explore privacy — recognised during her Masters project with the design proposal for the Alternet, a telecommunications network, controlled and owned by its users — interest in Sarah’s work has grown around her research on personal data, trust and security.

Sarah recently finished working with Government Digital Service as part of the team discovering how different technologies, like Certificate of Transparency, could be used to make trusted, canonical sources for Government data.

Sarah also speaks about the opportunity for civic institutions in the internet age, the need for open design standards and the potential for decentralised technologies.

Talking about how she hopes to use the creative and funding support from Near Now available, Sarah says, “Since I made the application for my Fellowship lots of things have changed for me, I guess — life has happened.

"The Fellowship is an opportunity for me to explore difficult questions: how do you help people in positions of power to understand design as a crucial part of how we solve some of the most difficult issues of our time — like privacy, or how can we fund technologies that cannot or shouldn’t be ‘owned’? The businesses cases for these things are becoming clearer every day.

"But what is already clear to me, is that we need a greater balance in what tech we make. We need to start prioritising technologies made outside Silicon Valley, and help them to scale so they can be as big as those from the valley. We need to prioritise technologies that empower us as individuals, that don’t spy on us or deceive us."

“Software is Politics” — Richard Pope

Bringing together a mixture of designers and developers at IF, Sarah is aiming to balance skills within the studio. She says, “I think that in a lot of cases design only refers to a surface level of visual communication or aesthetics, but we know that design means much more than that. Design can and should be considered throughout the ‘stack’ of a technology. But unfortunately designers and developers often work in silos apart from one another and that is when we have problems.

"There is an increasing awareness that, as Richard Pope says "software is politics" — that designers need to be engaged in code and how software is built to understand and influence the politics of what they build."

Adding business acumen to her creative portfolio, for Sarah, the Fellowship offers the chance to carve her own future path. She says, "The Fellowship is an opportunity for me to set some goalposts for myself rather than necessarily let other people around me shape where my goals might be. Sometimes what you do next is shaped by others and not yourself, whereas the Fellowship is an opportunity for you to put out a piece of work in the public domain that acts as a calling card for the future."

See IF’s work on Data Licenses as part of Somerset House’s exhibition, Big Bang Data, on until 20 March 2016.

Sarah Gold is a multidisciplinary designer. Her practise focusses on ethical technologies and people. She is founder and director of IF, a creative company working on the future of the internet.

She is co-founder of WikiHouse Foundation, a FRSA, a CoLAB Associate and Near Now Fellow. Sarah is acts as a Tech For Good advisor and co-facilitates the Personal Data & Trust Design group.

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Mathew Trivett