BRidGE identity platform – An Overview

Designing for more identity and distributed trust

This is an overview of the speculative service design project BRidGE, a user-centred identity platform built on the distributed web. The project was used to re-define an approach to societal and identity design challenges, translate cultural, technological and human insight into an alternative approach to digital identity and communicate this through the design of tangible touch points.

At its core BRidGE is a software platform that securely supports multiple layered or nested identities, giving citizens agency over identification for a future of self-representation. A facility to document new forms of social agreement was additionally envisaged through the use of unique collaborative biometric devices.

This three month research project was undertaken at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London from October 2016 by id. Project Office team members Andrew Slack, Bentley Farrington and Reto Togni along with Ivy Liang.

The Platform

BRidGE is a proposal for a digital identity platform that encompasses permanent, secure and portable mechanisms for storing, verifying and curating personal identification. It expands traditional limits on the type and formats of data that constitute identification, integrating an understanding of identity as layered, contextual and often complex into a pragmatic yet playful solution.

Individuals can enter and store their own identity attributes in an open-ended storage system as well as collect claims from third parties. Built on distributed ledger technologies, the platform privately records verifications of claims against each attribute, allowing them to be continually reused.

With unique interactions the app becomes an identity mixing desk that allows a user to selectively group and disclose these claims, creating formal or playful representations of their identity tailored to specific contexts. This process includes granular control over the format in which claims are presented, for example age ranges or zero-knowledge-proof age verifications may be used instead of a specific date of birth. In these instances trusted verification of factual data is shared across its format variations.

Underpinning a users ability to curate functionally meaningful identities is the incorporation of an intuitive, vein-reading biometrics platform.

Owned by community groups, individuals and institutional partners these dedicated interfaces allow users to portably, securely and autonomously document verifications of their identity claims. Through the recognition of unique vein patterns when held, individuals are able to amend encrypted data stored on their mobile device or within trusted services, simultaneously ensuring all information is tied to a specific, real-world person.

Vein patterns in the palm, read with infrared light, are unique, stable and can’t be copied. A dedicated clock and GPS within the device can time/geo-stamp agreements and contracts where needed. Its dual-sided, collaborative design facilitate documentation of peer-to-peer agreement within trust networks, purposefully imbuing a digital interaction with physical sensibilities.

Project Development

Research was integrated throughout all stages of the project in an effort to expand the design scope to resolutions above & below individual users typical of human-centred design. Analyses of political developments, in-depth understanding of emerging technologies and first-hand user research were synthesised into a larger contextual understanding, mapping both an emerging cultural scenario and the construction of contemporary identity.

A dynamic framework for identity was a crucial tool produced to help accomplish this. This adaptive model mapped the layered and contextual nature of identity and its foundational characteristics, and can be seen as a blueprint for later design work.

Building around a technical system proposal developed in discussion with leading experts in the field, key user touch points were designed to communicate a meaningful experience across physical devices and digital products. Hardware prototypes tested both functional biometrics and user behavioural interactions, while iterative digital prototypes examined product complexity and playfulness in curatorial software interactions.

Insights gathered from extensive interviews with target users and ongoing research informed a series of collaborative workshops. These allowed the evaluation of core functionality and the update of design parameters relating to physical and digital interactions, the language used and communication challenges.

Who we are and how we live continues to unfold — social changes, population movement, political influence, our digital presence and many other factors inform our sense of self. Identities are increasingly complex and dynamic. Yet contemporary notions of identity are too often shut down in politics and siloed digital systems. As a research project BRidGE attempted to sketch a provocative response to this contradictory scenario.

We attempted to not only translate to human terms, visualise and make tangible the latent promise of emergent blockchain solutions, but more deeply embrace self sovereignty — empowering people to enter their own claims, curate and interchange multiple identities and document their own peer-to-peer trust networks on an open-ended platform. We also put a case forward for the potential of physical interfaces in digital identity ecosystems.

New technologies increasingly offer us the opportunity to fundamentally re-evaluate the materiality of everyday life. It is crucial however not to implement them for the sake of technological progress, but to design resilient systems and services that embrace social change, emerging human behaviour and complex identity.

View more from the development process scrapbook here.

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