Surveillance Icons

Collaborative Collection

Icons that are looking at you.

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  • 13 Creators
Directed by Ji Lee

In 1949, George Orwell wrote 1984, a novel which describes a totalitarian, dystopian and oppressive world where the “Big Brother” controls the society by constantly surveilling every aspects of people’s lives in the name of greater good.

Today, 65 years after Orwell penned his book, we’re seeing the world is moving increasingly closer to Orwell’s frightening vision about the future. Several governments around the world are practicing surveillance programs to monitor people through the internet, phones, and video cameras on public spaces. These programs are in effect in China, U.K., Russia, India, Germany, and several other countries. More recently, the world has learned about the massive surveillance program by the US government which was leaked by the former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

While the governments justify these interventions as necessary means to fight crime and terrorism, many believe such programs are oppressive mechanism to control their citizens and they violate people’s freedom to speech and privacy. Let’s create a set of icons that visually communicate these controversial policies.


  1. Brainstorm: Write out a list of words or subjects that come to mind when you think of surveillance, here are some ideas to help you get started.
    • Spy / Spying / Counter-spying / Espionage
    • Whistleblower / whistleblowing
    • Leak / leaking
    • Cyber terrorism
    • Dystopia
    • Big Brother
    • Censorship
    • Freedom of Speech
    • Privacy
  2. Analyze: Once you have a word or concept that you want to work with, write down a list of core characteristics that define that concept. For example if you were creating an icon for “censorship” You might write down: suppression, silence, power.
  3. Visualize: Next try to visualize those concepts, what visual metaphors make you think of those words. A finger over lips communicates silence, but not necessarily power or suppression. However, a piece of tape over a person’s mouth begins to communicate both suppression and silence. Once you have some strong visual metaphors you want to work with, create some simple sketches of those metaphors.
  4. Vectorize: When your sketch is complete it’s time to vectorize it. For more complex images I like to take a picture of the sketch and then place the picture in Illustrator and trace over it. However for more simple designs it’s easier to just create the vector from scratch. I find using a 100 x 100px artboard is a good size for an icon. It allows for some detail, but its still small enough that it forces the design to remain simple and bold. I also find it helpful to work with a grid and have the snap to grid feature turned on. Once your design is complete don’t forget to outline your strokes, you can do this by selecting the stroke then object -> Path -> Outline Stroke.
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Key Requirements