Sam Nun, ZXX Typeface

A former NSA employee develops a disruptive typeface to make democracy legible

Sam Nun spent two years working as special intelligence personnel at the US National Security Agency (NSA) and knows first hand how to extract information from cyberspace. Back then, his work gathering vital SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) was strictly applied outwardly for national security and defense purposes.

But missions in the world of cyber intelligence, as Snowden and other whistleblowers have slowly revealed, are hitting closer to home…or rather, intruding into the home. As U.S. government agencies, along with corporations, increase their use of surveillance and information gathering on Americans within U.S. borders, Nun is yet another voice in a growing movement of concerned citizens… and motivated designers.

Influenced by his experiences at the NSA, Nun left the intelligence community to pursue a career in graphic design. He is now dedicated to researching and articulating through his work our growing ‘unfreedoms’, questioning censorship, surveillance, privacy and its relation to democracy. As surveillance becomes a quotidian exercise, Nun is concerned we are building a permanent informational architecture that traps us in structures of secrecy and distrust… and nudging us ever closer to expressions of totalitarianism.

His response was ZXX, a disruptive typeface that is unreadable by text scanning software. The name derives from the Library of Congress’ three letter codes denoting the language a book is written in, a nod to codification that actually supports democracy. His typeface is designed to misdirect information or not give any at all by using six different fonts, each of which thwarts machine intelligences in different ways via endless permutations.

ZXX is both a design experiment and a call to action. It is an attempt to conceal our thoughts and writings from artificial intelligence tools used by governments, corporations and hackers around the world. It is a successful example showing how graphic design can reinforce privacy and protect our lives against the incessant gathering, interception, deciphering, analysis, and storage of our data.

More importantly, ZXX is an invitation to draw much needed attention to the nation-wide security debate. His typeface is offered for free online, as an open source ‘counter-weapon’ in our collective effort to save the ideals of civil liberty and democracy. To download ZXX, click here.