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Iconathons: Design Workshops by The Noun Project

Article by Sofya Polyakov in News -

The Noun Project is a platform empowering the community to build a global visual language that everyone can understand - a language that unites the world. Our mission is to create, share, and celebrate the world’s visual language. As part of this mission, we host public design workshops called Iconathons across the country. Iconathons are similar to hackathons, but for design. The goal of Iconathon is to add to the public domain symbols that visually convey concepts frequently needed in civic design.

Previous Iconathons have created symbols for concepts such as bully, sustainable energy, food bank, guerrilla gardening, human rights, and many others. They’ve been hosted in collaboration with organizations like the School of Visual Arts, Code for America, Cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the MIT Media Lab.

  • Iconathon NY Iconathon: group presentations. At NY SVA 9.10.11
  • Iconathon NY Iconathon: design charrettes. At NY SVA 9.10.11

The symbols created during these workshops are p–laced in the public domain, so that anyone can use them to easily communicate universally recognized concepts. Why is this important? Because visual communication is incredibly powerful. Symbols have the ability to transcend cultural and language barriers and deliver concise information effortlessly and instantaneously. And for the first time ever, this image-based system of communication is being combined with technology to create a social language that unites the world.

Since the vast majority of symbols are meant to inform and guide the public, The Noun Project believes that it’s important to involve the public in the design process to ensure that new symbols have the highest level of user comprehension. This is the foundation of the Iconathon design philosophy. Besides contributing much-needed civic minded symbols to the public domain, Iconathons also bring together people from all aspects of the community. Participants include educators, non-profits, civic leaders & volunteers, government officials and designers. Iconathons are specifically designed to let the public participate in the design process and to further increase their understanding of the civic topics they engage with.

  • Iconathon Chicago Iconathon: design presentation. At Simple.Honest.Work 8.20.11
  • Iconathon SF Iconathon: design charrettes. At CFA Headquarters 6.30.12

The workshops kick off with a subject matter expert providing an overview of the event’s topic to educate the attendees of the issue they’ll be helping address. For example, the Iconathon held at MIT focused on Education, and began with a presentation by the Chief Communications Officer for the Boston Public Schools. He spoke about the diversity of students in Boston’s education system and the problem that school districts experience when trying to provide information to parents who do not speak English and sometimes don’t read. Learning more about the issue helps the designers understand how and where the symbols they create will be used and guides the design process.

This is followed by the Creative Director from The Noun Project presenting on best symbol design practices and design techniques that increase a symbol’s user comprehension. After the presentations, attendees break into groups of 4 to 6 people to brainstorm ideas and create sketches and concepts for the predetermined referents. Groups are made up of graphic designers, subject matter experts, and community members. We find that having people with different skill sets in each group creates for a vibrant dynamic. The designers lead the process and execution, the subject matter experts help clarify certain concepts and their application in the field, and the community volunteers share opinions and comment on user comprehension. Since group members only sketch with pen and paper, everyone can participate and contribute.

During the next couple hours, the groups brainstorm and sketch a variety of concepts, usually resulting in several different ideas for each referent they work on. The design process concludes with the groups informally presenting their sketches and getting feedback from all the attendees during a moderated discussion. Through discussions about user comprehension a conclusion is usually reached as to which concept best represents the referent. A trained graphic designer from each group volunteers to work on turning the sketch into a polished symbol. All symbols in the Iconathon set are checked and refined by The Noun Project to ensure a consistent design quality.

Durham Iconathon (sketch of Sustainable Energy) at Cree 2.25.12 Durham Iconathon (sketch of Sustainable Energy) at Cree 2.25.12 To date Iconathons have created over 50 symbols. The entire Iconathon symbol suite is available here. Our next Iconathon will be hosted by the American Red Cross at their historic national headquarters in Washington, D.C. on October 13th. In honor of World Disaster Risk Reduction Day, we will collaboratively create a suite of symbols on the topic of “Urban Disaster Preparedness” with the experts from the Global Disaster Preparedness Center and the American Red Cross. The symbols created during this Iconathon will help the American Red Cross and the rest of the humanitarian community communicate important Disaster Preparedness ideas graphically.

New Design of the Noun Project website

It just released a newly redesigned Noun Project with some awesome new features requested by it community. One of these features will enable contributors to gain recognition as well as earn money for their designs. Launching these features answers the on-going requests from The Noun Project’s passionate community, while furthering its mission of creating, sharing and celebrating the world’s visual language. Designers can now earn money by allowing users to pay a small fee instead of following the attribution requirement when using their symbols. Including proper attribution for a symbol isn’t always easy or possible, especially when trying to unobtrusively place credits in commercial or artistic work.

User Profiles are also now available for contributors to showcase and promote their designs. This makes for a more efficient and fun way to view the collection, enabling the community to discover all the symbols created by their favorite designers in one place.
  • Bicycle Icons Bicycle Icons
  • Detective Icon Detective Icon
  • User Profile User Profile
  • Global Warming Global Warming

Building a Global Visual Language from The Noun Project on Vimeo.