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What the symbol you use for security reveals to the people around you

Sep 11, 20144 mins
IT LeadershipTechnology Industry

How to consider and select a better symbol to represent you and your approach to security

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what does the image you use to represent you and your security team say about you?

More importantly, what does it convey to others?

Lori MacVittie recent shared an observation on twitter:

A starting point for discussion, it garnered a handful of responses. It also got me thinking.

How do you represent yourself and your team in the company?

I’ve come across a number of security-related internal logos over the last two decades. They range from professional designs to cartoons to stock photography. Most fall into a pattern – similar to a search on the Internet (or stock photo site):

  • locks (all sorts of images)
  • shields
  • swords
  • chains
  • handcuffs
  • keys
  • keyholes (and peering through them)
  • cameras

These are the images we see frequently in our presentations, marketing materials, and documentation. Perhaps this is how we see ourselves.

That prompts two key questions:

  • Is this how you see yourself?
  • Is this how you want others to perceive you?

Even if selected with the best of intentions, the image may not work well for others. Most of us aren’t police. Instead, our role is to work with people, process, and technology to figure out what matters most to the business. Then we prioritize and protect in partnership with others. All of this comes together better when we rely on effective communication.

If the first impression someone forms about you and your team is based on the imagery you choose, it makes sense to project the right image. Otherwise, you set yourself up for frustration.

How do you represent that?

Over the years, I’ve intentionally avoided locks, shields, and the like. It never felt like those symbols represented the partnership and connection necessary for success. As such, I routinely counsel my clients attempting to improve their communication effectiveness with others to seek out different images.

Keep in mind that a lock conveys a different feeling than a shield. Whether you choose to use these or not, the key is think carefully (and maybe test) what it conveys to somone else.

The challenge is finding the image that represents our role in understanding and enabling the business, in a way that also protects people.

How do we best represent that?

Easy. Ask the people we serve.

Find the right image by asking those you serve

Before dismissing this out of hand, find out what the people you serve think. During a casual conversation, lunch, or similar opportunity, ask them:

  • What is your perception of our team?
  • How would you represent our team with a logo, image, and/or slogan?
  • In your ideal, what would our image be, and how would we convey it?

If people are asked genuinely and engaged in a manner where they feel safe to answer, they will share candid insights with you. Take a deep breath and listen. Focus on staying present to absorb and process what is shared. In the event it carries some negativity with it, do your best to set aside the natural urge to interrupt, correct, and explain.

Then let it sink in.

Armed with what you’d like to convey, what people currently think of you, and what they expect of you, maybe you can buy lunch for the marketing and design folks and get a professional opinion. Or offer a mutual lunch-and-learn swap where you help each other.

Branding matters

The importance of visual communication is on the increase. Getting this right is important. The question, then, is what is right for you.

A focus for organizations, branding is equally important for individuals and teams. What is yours?

I’d really like to know what you think. And what symbols and icons you think best represent what we do. Use the comments below, twitter (@catalyst), or linkedIn to leave comments and share your thoughts.


Michael Santarcangelo develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success. The founder of Security Catalyst, he draws on nearly two decades of experience of success advancing security in variety of operational roles. He guides leaders and teams on the best next step of their journey.

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