Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge

How might we reimagine a more compelling and relatable visual language for cybersecurity?

In partnership with
Let’s reimagine the visual language of cybersecurity by elevating more representative imagery.
Let’s reimagine the visual language of cybersecurity by elevating more representative imagery.
We're looking for:

Visual creators from diverse backgrounds eager to apply their skill set to this important work.

Eligible countries include: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States of America.

Learn More +

The Opportunity

All participants receive access to resources and community support.

Up to 25 shortlisted contributors will receive mentorship from a cybersecurity expert and $500 each.

Up to five winners will receive $7,000 each

Learn More +

What's Happening Now
Participants were welcome to submit solutions to the Beyond the Bag Challenge through one of three submission channels. Learn more about each channel.

The Challenge

Too often, visuals in the cybersecurity space reflect surface level understanding influenced by sensationalist media. We see pictures of locks, white men in hoodies, or green 1s and 0s that do little to convey the reality of this complicated, critically important topic.

With this Challenge, we hope to elevate imagery that better represents the cybersecurity space in an accessible and compelling manner.

Challenge Journey

1. Ideas

Jul 25, 2019

Aug 16, 2019

2. Review

Aug 16, 2019

Sep 4, 2019

3. Refinement

Sep 4, 2019

Sep 23, 2019

4. Final Submission

Sep 23, 2019

Oct 4, 2019

5. Final Evaluation

Oct 4, 2019

Oct 22, 2019

6. Top Ideas

Oct 23, 2019

Dec 31, 2019

Current Phase
1. Ideas
The Ideas Phase is about coming up with real solutions.

In this Phase, we invite contributors with diverse backgrounds to share their ideas.

The Ideas Phase is more than just a call for proposals. At OpenIDEO, we believe that new and existing ideas become better through collaboration, transparent feedback, and iteration. Participants are encouraged to build off of others' concepts, collaboratively share insights, and combine ideas to reach innovative new places.

What's Happening

Browse the Challenge Brief and Resources to learn more. Share your ideas for a chance to have your concept selected as a winner.

Get Involved

Share your ideas and stay tuned for our webinar announcement.

Key Dates

Starts on July 25, 2019. Ends on Friday, August 16, 2019 at 5PM PT.

Phase Closed
2. Review
Submissions are carefully evaluated to determine the Shortlist.

For two weeks, we'll review all published ideas. Applications on the platform will be locked to edits during this review period, though we encourage you to leave and respond to comments, feedback, or insights in the comments section.

What's Happening

All eligible submitted applications are reviewed.

Get Involved

Share your feedback on submitted applications.

Key Dates

Shortlisted concepts will be announced on September 4.

Phase Closed
3. Refinement
Let's make ideas better through collaboration!

During the Refinement Phase, up to 25 shortlisted concepts are invited to further develop their concepts and receive mentorship from cybersecurity experts. Shortlisted contributors will receive $500.

All contributors participating in Refinement will have access to a mentorship program and additional resources.

What's Happening

Shortlisted teams improve their ideas through peer interactions, expert feedback, and community support. Contributions will be locked to edits as we ask that you focus your time on refining your concept.

Key Dates

This mentorship period will last until Monday, September 23. On that day, we'll open the final submission phase with a few additional questions in the application form.

Phase Closed
4. Final Submission
During our Final Submission Phase, contributors will submit their final concepts.

During this Phase, shortlisted candidates will synthesize learnings from the Refinement Phase and further develop their concepts for final submission.

What's Happening

Shortlisted candidates are finalizing their submissions on the platform and will need to submit by the deadline.

Get Involved

Browse contributions and stay tuned for Top Ideas announcement on October 24.

Key Dates

Starts on September 23, 2019. Ends on October 4, 2019.

Phase Closed
5. Final Evaluation
During our Final Evaluation Phase, all shortlisted ideas will be evaluated.

During our Final Evaluation period, shortlisted ideas will be evaluated by a selection panel to include OpenIDEO, Hewlett Foundation, and external technical experts according to the criteria shared in the Challenge Brief. This will be a period of deeper diligence and review.

What's Happening

All ideas will be reviewed by a full selection panel.

Get Involved

Check out the final concepts shared on the platform and stay tuned for the Top Ideas announcement.

Key Dates

Starts on October 4, 2019. Top Ideas will be announced on October 24, 2019.

Phase Closed
6. Top Ideas
Top Ideas Announced!

Stay tuned for the announcement of Top Ideas. All Top Ideas will be receive $7,000 for their contributions.

What's Happening

Five selected concepts will be announced and awarded.

Key Date

Top Ideas will be announced on Thursday, October 24, 2019.

Browse Top Ideas
The Challenge

How might we reimagine a more compelling and relatable visual language for cybersecurity?

Read The Full Brief

The Cybersecurity Landscape

We live in an age of immense connectivity. The devices we use to communicate with one another, the complex systems which enable how we move through the world, be it by plane, automobile or subway system, the cloud where our most private data is stored and the networks which safeguard our hard-earned money. 

Recent years have brought some of the most dangerous and blistering attacks across the spectrum of industries including the Equifax, Marriott, and Uber customer data breaches, the Facebook hack. Based on Identity Theft Resource Center’s annual report, the number of consumer records exposed containing sensitive personally identifiable information increased by 126 percent from 2017 to 2018, totalling over 440 million records. With so much at stake, coupled with a lack of awareness and consistent insecurity, the risks around cybersecurity often elicit fear, confusion and a certain overwhelming paralysis. 

Additionally, the systems and policies that govern our data are often convoluted, complex and hard to understand. The way they are explained to us is no better. Many stories in the media are voluminously reported as  a confusing tangle of unfamiliar names and cyberjargon, further obscured by the shout-fest of partisan politics. These patterns often take a toll on public comprehension.

Optimistically, the challenges of building resilient infrastructure for containing today’s threats as well as deflecting tomorrow’s new wave of cyber-attacks are driving organizations, enterprises, city officials, and movements into funding, planning and operationalizing, together. Just recently, the NYC Economic Development Corporation announced plans for a $30 million investment of city funds into the cybersecurity industry, coupled with up to $70 million in private investment, creating up to 10,000 opportunities for new employment.

Beyond protecting ourselves, there is a massive opportunity to improve the ways in which cybersecurity is communicated, taught and visualized, as well as who is invited to be a part of the conversation. The space is ripe for collaboration between influencers, policy makers, activists, psychologists ,ethicists, technologists, creatives and the general public alike. As Buchanan shares, the problem is a human one, and a spectrum of diverse perspectives should be involved in the discussion. 

Learn more about the current state of cybersecurity on our Additional Resources page.

Cybersecurity “is a human problem, not a technical one, many technologists don’t understand how people learn or interact with computers and that-ignoring the human factor-is the original sin that got us into many problems on the internet.” - Laurin Buchanan
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The State of Cybersecurity Visuals

Too many visuals in the cybersecurity space represent surface level understandings influenced by sensationalist media. Too often, we see pictures of locks, white men in hoodies, or headlines about Russian data breaches and coders breaking into bank accounts. In reality, cybersecurity is a much more complicated, critically important topic. How to protect our own privacy as individuals, the ways in which policy influences who has access to our information, and how different systems are connected across sectors to influence the way our data is managed - just three topics that are important to communicate and share with the broader public. 

In this project, we are hoping to create visual imagery (graphics and visual metaphors) that will represent different terms and ideas in the cybersecurity space in an accessible and compelling way. These visuals will be used by influencers in the cybersecurity space - policy makers, media outlets, researches, teachers, activists, and technologists to name a few - so that they may more effectively do their work and positively influence the state of cybersecurity.

Please find here a full synthesis of design research that informed the creation of this Challenge. Refer to the Additional Resources page to find more information.

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Why are cybersecurity visuals so important?

The ways in which the average person is empowered to understand cyber security, how best to protect their data, and how best to contribute to a movement that influences each of our lives considerably, will only become more and more important as our shared communities become more and more digital. 

As visual designers, you are in a unique position to inform how these important topics are communicated, consumed and understood. No one else has more control over perception of the topic, how influencers are able to encourage trends and behavior, and habits that the average consumer may eventually practice. 

As creatives, you are also more apt to understand - and help us all make sense of - complex systems, patterns and intricate concepts, a reality not lost on experts in the cybersecurity space. We want the diversity of your perspectives to be a part of the solution. 

We deal with some really complicated issues in cybersecurity, and we need that talent to address those problems. Having diversity of perspective also facilitates the representation of different worldviews and different experiences. People with varied life experiences will come at problems differently. Diversity breeds diversity, so from a representation point of view, the more diversity we have the more that sends a message that “you can do it too.” - Dr Jessica Barker 

As a participant in this project, think of yourself as a creative director for the field of cybersecurity, instead of just an organization or a single design. We want you to inform how visual imagery will change and shift this space - for the better.

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Who are we designing for?

The following personas support your design process by providing a window into the lives of end-users that may utilize cybersecurity visuals. Use cases for these visuals include but are not limited to: technical or policy reports, presentation decks, and news articles. While these personas are by no means exhaustive, they are meant to serve as a grounding force to guide your creative journey.

Persona 1: Civil rights activist focused on cyber safety

Alyssa is the director of an NGO dedicated to cybersecurity. She has dedicated her career to defending people around the world—particularly activists and journalists—who dare to speak out against their governments on the Internet. Writing privacy and security training materials as well as publishing research on malware in the Middle East and Asia are just two examples of how Alyssa protects human rights and cyber safety.

Persona 2: Chief Information Security Officer at a large technology company

John is the first chief security officer at a large tech company, previously leading his own cybersecurity firm. He’s responsible for handling his company’s physical and cybersecurity. He builds security teams to protect his organization, as well as the millions of users that trust their product. Besides focusing on how to shift perspectives around data privacy and user safety in the industry, John is a technical and strategic advisor to policy makers, start-ups, and investors.

Persona 3: Policy maker with strong influence in US data privacy laws

Alex is a State Attorney General, a staunch advocate for hardworking families, bringing decades of experience to defend the rights of people in his state. Alex recognizes the importance of data privacy as an integral component of protection of constituent rights and safety. In his work, he needs accessible and compelling ways to explain the importance of cybersecurity to his followers.

Persona 4: High profile journalist

Kristin is a high profile business journalist for a major national publication in the United States with a large national following. With the everheightening risk of privacy within her work to protect her sources, and knowing several colleagues who have been the victim of hacks, she has begun to write articles about the importance of data privacy for the business sector. She is frustrated by the complete lack of quality visuals to translate technical aspects of the stories she’s writing to her audience. Kristin hoped that by connecting with journalists who specialize in cybersecurity she would find visuals to meet her needs, however, she’s found this frustration is shared with journalists addressing a breadth of topics in the cybersecurity space.

Please also refer to this downloadable version of the above personas.

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Opportunity Areas

We are specifically excited to see contributions across the following opportunity areas: 

Internet of Things

The internet isn’t just a web browser, an email address, or a social media feed. It’s also the Internet of Things (IoT), some 26 billion devices—everything from refrigerators to smart locks—and it’s estimated to grow to more than 75 billion devices by 2025. Needless to say, this has huge implications for cybersecurity, as all of these devices (and the sensitive data they’re transmitting) are potential targets for hackers. How might we help people understand the scale of the challenge and what’s needed to protect society in the face of this explosive growth in IoT devices? How should we think about what happens online increasingly leading to tangible, real-world impacts offline?

Hackers + Hacking

Hollywood depictions of hackers are all white men in hoodies staring at glowing screens, but in the real world, hackers come in all shapes and sizes. And while popular culture tends to focus on hackers breaking into systems or stealing data, there’s also a huge variety of interests and motivations at work in why and what hackers really do. What unites all hackers is a curiosity about how computers systems and networks work. Some hackers work solo, others in big corporations, government or the military. Some hackers use their skills to do harm while others hack to help society at large. How might we help people understand all the different kinds of people who see themselves as “hackers,” the various motivations that drive them, and the wide variety of “hacking” that they do? 


When we talk about cybersecurity, it’s easy to get bogged down in technical details and abstract concepts. But right at the core of cybersecurity is the idea of trustworthiness—how can ordinary people be sure they can count on their devices to do what they’re expected to do and keep their sensitive data secure? How might we help people understand how the concept of trustworthiness applies to cybersecurity? How can we trust devices and software we don’t really understand or even control, but have become reliant on? 

Digital Privacy + Encryption

In the physical world, privacy is easy to recognize: a sealed envelope, a locked door, or a whispered conversation between two people. But in cyberspace, privacy is harder to see and often entails encryption—the process of encoding a message so that only authorized people can read its contents. How might we help people understand what encryption is, how it works, how they can use it, and why it’s critical to digital privacy? What are the tradeoffs between privacy, various notions of security, and innovation?


Technology is enabling governments and corporations to know more about us than ever before, and as artificial intelligence systems become more sophisticated, that kind of surveillance will only become more widespread. How might we help people understand how the choices we’ve made (or failed to make) as a society about how our personal information is shared has created a system where powerful institutions know more about us than we realize, or intended? 

Cyber Conflict

It may not involve tanks or bombs, but cyber conflict has the potential to be just as destructive as war in the physical world—shutting down a country’s power grid or compromising its election infrastructure to interfere in its democratic decisions. How might we help people understand the potential consequences of cyber conflict, how countries are already engaging in both offensive and defensive cyber operations, and how cybersecurity relates to the future of international relations?


We invite you to submit an illustration of any cybersecurity-related term outside of this list that feels particularly relevant to visually articulate. Examples of additional terms may include but are not limited to:

  • Cloud
  • Cyber Diplomacy
  • Cyber Policy
  • Cybersecurity Ecosystem
  • Hygiene
  • Network
  • Patching
  • Privacy
  • Resilience
  • Risk
  • Security
  • Threats

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Evaluation Criteria

During shortlisting, we’ll evaluate your submission based on the following criteria:

  • Visually Compelling: Visuals must clearly communicate a discrete aspect of cybersecurity, and communicate meaning instantly by employing design elements such as composition, colors, shapes, characters and image/text relationship.
  • Artistic Quality: Visuals must be well-conceived and well-executed within the visual creator’s medium of choice.
  • Expands the Conversation: Visuals must be additive to the cybersecurity space. We’re eager to think beyond current visual representations with original art that innovates, elevates, inspires, and pushes creativity at the edges. 

The shortlisting evaluation panel included:

  • Charlotte Stanton, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Eli Sugarman, Hewlett Foundation
  • Mike McNerny, Arbor Networks
  • Philip Reiner, Technology for Global Security
  • Stephanie Sizemore, OpenIDEO

For final selection, we’ll evaluate your submission based on shortlisting criteria in addition to the following:

  • Translating Power: Visuals must increase understanding and access to cybersecurity in a way that is easily and quickly digested by someone who does not have cybersecurity expertise. Where possible, the visuals should work in different contexts and be durable in their timelessness.
  • Technical Accuracy: Visuals must include accurate depictions of a discrete aspect of cybersecurity.

The final selection evaluation panel included: 

  • Herb Lin, Stanford University
  • Jim Baker, R Street Institute
  • Monica M. Ruiz, Hewlett Foundation
  • Renee DiResta, Mozilla Fellow
  • Scott Rosenberg, Axios
  • Stephanie Sizemore, OpenIDEO

What We’re Not Looking For

  • Overly abstract or conceptual submissions not based in a technical understanding of cybersecurity.
  • Overused, stereotypical, fear-inducing images of cybersecurity. These create personal misperceptions and aversions, and may lead to a series of repercussions regarding public understanding of cybersecurity and data safety. 
  • Misrepresentation or overgeneralization of the cybersecurity space.

Please find examples of images that do not meet Challenge criteria here.

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The Hewlett Foundation is offering prizes to shortlisted candidates and winners in recognition of their commitment and time to this process. Up to twenty-five shortlisted candidates will receive $500 and up to five final winners will receive $7,000. Students are encouraged to apply and are eligible to win.

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Eligibility + Terms and Conditions

Learn more about our eligibility criteria and detailed terms and conditions below.


Note that we are only able to consider individual contributions during the evaluation process due to legal considerations. Submissions from teams will be ineligible to proceed to the shortlist.

Artistic Medium

We welcome submissions of any artistic medium that feel they can satisfy the Evaluation Criteria. This includes but is not limited to graphic design, illustration, comics, video, animation, and infographic. 

Creative Commons Consent

To be considered for winning this Challenge, we are asking that all shortlisted finalists consent to free licensure via the Creative Commons website. We’ll provide more guidance to shortlisted participants during the Challenge. We believe that this type of licensing helps ensure your work reaches the widest possible audience by giving permission in advance for others to republish it. More importantly, it helps advance knowledge because it allows others to build on your work—remixing it into new forms (while still acknowledging your role in creating the underlying content).

All shortlisted submissions are openly licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0), which means that while the creators retain copyright to their materials, they give others permission to distribute, remix, and build on the work, as long as the artist is credited for the original work.

Employment Status

Note that employees, relatives, and officers of the Hewlett Foundation are not eligible to win. Employees of IDEO are not eligible to win. 

Geographic Location

Due to international contest law, only participants from the following 17 countries are eligible to participate: 

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Colombia
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Peru
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

Full terms and conditions for this Challenge are available here.

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About Our Partner

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that advances ideas and supports institutions to promote a better world.For more than 50 years, it has supported efforts to advance education for all, preserve the environment, improve lives and livelihoods in developing countries, promote the health and economic well-being of women, support vibrant performing arts, strengthen Bay Area communities and make the philanthropy sector more effective. Their Cyber Initiative seeks to cultivate a field that develops thoughtful, multidisciplinary solutions to complex cyber challenges and catalyzes better policy outcomes for the benefit of societies around the world.

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