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Typographic Obfuscation: Communication for Privacy and Protest

This talk presents stories of creative obfuscation for communication from the past, present, and future. Examples include speculative typography that utilizes augmented reality, biotechnology, machine learning, and techniques created by non-experts that engage multiple senses like voice and gesture. The non-expert demonstrates the breadth of human ingenuity for primal need and desire, often against much larger powers, and shows how subversive design and unsettling systems can be done by anyone. Throughout history, humans have always necessitated methods for hiding their secrets and maintaining their privacy. Their methods of concealment have evolved with time. Despite more advanced technologies and even the utmost diligence, no secret is ever totally safe; unless kept in the depths of one’s mind. However, a speculated future indicates that not even our thoughts are secure thanks to technology, via surveillance capitalism. In the past, we obfuscated physically with materials through redaction, the wearing of masks, and the hiding of physical objects. In the present, we obfuscate digitally with false personas, filters, altered data, and encrypted messaging. In the future, the author uses design fiction to speculate that we will be internally surveilled to the very root of our DNA. As a result, we will obfuscate our bodies as well as our physical and emotional states. Analysis of our methods of secrecy within the silos of past, present, and future allows for a deeper understanding of our evolving human boundaries. In the present day, we struggle to understand technologies power on the fabric of our lives. If we look ahead 100 years, what are the ethical considerations of emerging technologies? If we imagine the collapse of democracy and a future society lived in a panoptic spectacle, how would we communicate privately and freely?

This presentation will feature research for a fellowship with Design Incubation to co-author a book. The book will have a call for submissions.


Heather Snyder-Quinn

Assistant Professor of Design DePaul University

Heather Snyder-Quinn is an Assistant Professor of Design at DePaul University, Co-Director of The Design Futures Lab, and Co-Chair of Speculative Futures Chicago. Using design fiction to challenge technocratic power, she engages with the ethics of emerging technology, including AR, AI, and IoT. Since 2016, she has exhibited at Typeforce, The New Media Caucus, SIGCHI, UCDA, CAA, AIGA, RISD, Design Incubation, Design Principles, and Frans Masereel Centre. Additionally, she received the Society of Typographic Arts 100 Award in both 2018 and 2019 for her experimental publications. Her latest work is "mariah" is a site-specific augmented reality app that narrates stories of historical injustice.