As a reaction to government surveillance, the ZXX typeface is embedded with disruptive designs that are meant to combat optical character recognition processes. The four options for online communications camouflage — called XED, Noise, False, and Camo — each have characteristics that keep them legible to humans, but baffling to machines.
The typeface was created by Sang Mun, a designer who also spent time as a contractor with the NSA during his Korean military service. As he explained on The Gradient blog of the Walker Art Center, where he’s a Graphic Design Fellow, ”The project started with a genuine question: How can we conceal our fundamental thoughts from artificial intelligences and those who deploy them?” The texts are meant to be impenetrable by software that scans text, such as with the “Camo” style that adds scrawls of distortion, “Noise” that adds clouds of pixels, “XED” that draws optical-fooling patterns over the letters, and “False” where the alphabet is swapped, so that an “A” is secreted in a giant “Z” while you type.
ZXX is available free to download to use in your own statement against surveillance. And that’s really what it is, as Mun acknowledges that the project is really more about a visual message of advocacy to bring out the concern of being watched, rather than a super effective way to keep the NSA off your trail. As he explained in his post:
ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy, But it represents a broader urgency: How can design be used politically and socially for the codification and de-codification of people’s thoughts? What is a graphic design that is inherently secretive? How can graphic design reinforce privacy? And, really, how can the process of design engender a proactive attitude towards the future — and our present for that matter?
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