D’Arcangelo on Identity Design

Posted April 26, 2010

Digital identity is a fast emerging experience design issue. How we manage our identity reflects the internal aspect of social networking. The interfaces that we use to control how we meet the online world and enter into social spaces are still in primitive form. Our identities are scattered across so many domains – some very social, some fiercely private, some that we would inhabit only with our closest friends and family, some with our co-workers.

We need better tools to help us design our identity. We need better tools to help us shape how we present ourselves and choose what to make public and when, much like we choose what clothes to wear every day. In the coming months, I will be exploring the key challenges that come with designing these “identity tools.”

To start with, we need single sign-on to the universe. User-centric identity. You want to enter the Internet as you – and then have the choice to present which “you” you want to put forward, or roam anonymously. To do this, we need to consolidate all our disparate identities into one shared view. In this age of transparency, progress has been made in standards for sharing identity, through OpenID and the Information Card approach (more on these later). Big players such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft Live, Apple and Yahoo, PayPal all are showing interest in opening up the identity market.

“Previously there has been competition to own the customer’s online identity,” says Jenifer Cloutier, System Strategy Director for Best Buy (an ESI Design client), “But now it is being seen that people want choice, and there is a benefit for companies to share information.” In February 2010, Jenifer organized a Customer Identity Summit in San Francisco to bring together industry leaders working on harnessing the power of personal identity in social networking. Ping Identity, a leading technology provider for identity management, co-hosted.

We are starting to see a willingness for companies to share customer identity data. “So far, no one has stepped up from the customer experience perspective,” Jenifer said. She’s right – sharing identity online is clumsy and cumbersome. I logged into through Facebook Connect and was greeted with the screen image above, the kind of screen Jen calls “the NASCAR page, packed with logos”:

I made it through the several steps necessary to make my Facebook login my preferred login, and when it was done, it was almost easy to login to Sears. At least I didn’t need to remember another username and password. But it wasn’t as easy as it should be to log back into Sears through Facebook. This experience is a mockup of what it will be like when we have a truly consolidated identity module online.

What will it look like when we evolve beyond the clearinghouse of identity provider logos?  What will it look like when your identity is something that travels with you as you meet the web? Patrick Harding, CTO of Ping Identity, thinks that we will begin to see internet-connected applications that handle your identity for you, keeping you persistently logged into your core sites, and making that information available to the sites you frequent. “This functionality could also end up living in the browser bar,” he says, but however it shows up, it will be the YOU that hovers with you as you make your way through the web.

Once the web knows who you are, wherever you are, you have the beginning of a integrated identity. You have the basis for shaping a sophisticated, multifaceted identity that better reflects who you are. You have the foundation for a raft of tools for managing how and when and where you meet the world. Check back here for my next posts on Identity Design, where I’ll be exploring how this emerging field will add dimension to our social experience, both on and offline.

ESI Design

NBBJ’s New York experience design studio, ESI Design, transforms places into experiences that seamlessly weave the physical and digital worlds together.

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