Around the world, many people face surveillance, internet blocks and firewalls, sanctions, and fear of imprisonment from their governments. This abuse of the internet, an inherently free and open space for ideas to form and change, strips people of their freedoms of speech and expression and prevents simple joys like watching movies or catching up with old friends on Facebook.
Many people in these countries use VPNs to bypass government blocks in websites that enable free communication and access to outside journalism. However, VPNs can also help anonymize users and keep them safe from hacking, surveillance, logging, and identity theft.
In Trump’s America, I think it is absolutely necessary that all Americans who have any wish to oppose the policies and actions of Trump and his cabinet have easy access to VPN technology so they can remain safe and free.
However, all consumer VPN apps and services I have come across are confusing, use lingo and technology terms that most people will not understand, have horrible interfaces, and make the barrier to entry for potential VPN users too high. I think this needs to change. So I designed Faraday, an accessible VPN app for iOS and macOS.
To kick off the process of designing Faraday, I began with a competitive analysis of a few of these apps to help me define user personas and to identify flaws in the way things are currently done in popular VPN apps in the US.
Cloak is a VPN app for Mac and iOS (which started as a Mac-only app). It seems to be geared only toward Silicon Valley/startup types of users, and has historically only been used by designers from what those I spoke to about the app told me.
While Cloak does a decent job of keeping technology terms out of the interface to make it more accessible, the user experience breaks down in several places and becomes awkward and confusing. Additionally, the app doesn’t really explain what it does or why an average user might need or want it.
Private Internet Access is the most popular VPN service on the internet today. It’s fast, reliable, and full of useful features. However, it doesn’t do a very good job of being accessible to the average non-technological user because its user experience is broken and very flawed, from downloading the app to connecting to a VPN server.
While the service itself is nearly flawless, the design and experience issues bring its overall ease of use for most people down quite a bit which makes it far from the ideal VPN app.
NordVPN is likely the second most popular consumer VPN service on the web today. It is fairly well designed and seems fully considered in all respects. However, it seems that their target audience is people who already know what a VPN is and who are comfortable with technology and internet privacy techniques. This makes it a little less accessible for the average user.
The competitive analysis helped me gather a little more empathy for users who might find these VPN apps confusing and difficult to use. So I put together a couple varied user personas to remind me who it is I'm designing this app for, and to keep me from straying into features that are too advanced for most users or have smaller use-cases.
Faraday iOS and macOS Apps
The apps went through numerous iterations but is meant to create a space where the terms and technologies behind Faraday VPN can be hidden so that users can be assured that they and their connections are secure without worrying about how it works.
The business model for Faraday is simple: it's free to use the app and have Faraday intelligently choose the closest, fastest server location; if you want to choose your own locations, use the Faraday Kill Switch, or use a custom server, you need to upgrade to pro.
This made the app accessible and simple, while still allowing more advanced users like my ideal user to upgrade and access extra features.
Secure, fast connections
No logging, ever.
When your Faraday app loses its connection to a VPN server, Faraday shuts down your WiFi connection until the server connection is reestablished. This keeps users safe in the event of a malfunction.
Pro users can choose from any of Faraday's servers and even set a preferred location that the app will connect to automatically on launch.
Enter a custom server's IP address, and optionally validate with username and password if the server requires it.
Faster, more reliable servers
For the extra cost, users are upgraded to faster and more reliable servers that cost more to run.
The Mac app interface is essentially the same as the iOS app, reusing common components to boost clarity and open up the possibility of reusing code between iOS and Mac. The userflow also remains the same, with a couple added features on Mac like a keyboard shortcut and the fact that no VPN profile installation is needed.
I tested the app thoroughly with various users throughout the course of this project. Many of those who tested the user were international students who faced internet censorship, blocking, and surveillance in their home countries. These users had an enourmous impact on decisions about the app's feature set, visual design, and user experience design.
The greatest reward from this project: hearing some of those same international students say they've used many VPN apps but Faraday is the best they've ever seen.
I created a set of illustrations to fit the voice and character of Faraday, making the app more visually enjoyable to use and increasing the accessibility of the onboarding processes.
As VPNs become more necessary during the Trump administration, for those who will oppose him and his policies and for normal citizens who do not want to be spied on by their government, I think it’s crucially important that designers and developers find a way to make this technology more accessible, understandable, and easy to use. After years of hacking before I became a designer, even I still barely understand the interfaces and functions of most VPN applications, and I think that’s quite telling: VPNs have always been made for experts, and now that some newer companies are trying to disrupt this industry they are finding it difficult to find abandon the lingo and confusing geo-skeuomorphic interfaces like globes and map pins, restrictive speed limits and server disconnections, and an overload of technological features that most people will never need.
With Faraday, I did my best to bridge this gap of usability and reliability, trustworthiness and ease of use. All along the way I kept technology possiblities in mind while I designed the interface so that I can retain the possibility of actually building this applciation one day soon if I find a developer to work with me on it. My hope is that the app’s architecture could utilize React Native in order to re-use components across devices and piggyback off an existing reliable VPN by creating an alternative interface for their already strong and safe infrastructure.