Co-Created Iconography Helps Depict Complex Notions Within Urban Communities

Co-Created Iconography Helps Depict Complex Notions Within Urban Communities

Iconathons - organized by a collaboration between Code for America and The Noun Project - invite graphic designers, public issue experts and civically-minded individuals to jointly develop symbols that clearly communicate civic issues.

Paloma M. Vazquez
  • 7 september 2011

At a time when the our cities and country are experiencing demographic shifts in terms of country of origin of its residents, languages spoken at home, etc. — simple and visual communication may be one of the most effective and universal ways to communicate particular types of information. Case in point: cities need to communicate about basic challenges within their communities, and ensure civic understanding and engagement. In order to address this, Code for America and The Noun Project – which we’ve previously admired – have come up with a brilliant idea: Iconathons.

According to FastCo Design:

Each¬†Iconathon¬†comprises five hours of rapid symbol prototyping by small groups of graphic designers, public issues experts and local volunteers. Each of these groups tackles an assigned issue — like food and nutrition, transportation and democracy — and then tries to develop symbols for its key concepts.

By recruiting for a mix of participants, there are multiple view points represented — including professional designers, public issues and policy experts, as well as a broader mix of locals — the project’s organizers aim to ensure that design is not done in a vacuum, but rather becomes a co-created collaboration between the experts and the intended audience. The end result are simple sketches that volunteer designers ultimately finesse and upload as free-to-use Noun Project symbols – including appropriate design attribution. Symbols represent notions from ‘gluten free’ to ‘WiFi Zone’ and many more.

We loved this idea for embodying how even highly complex systems like cities can find creative ways to simplify how they communicate across interconnected individuals, organizations and issues. We also loved its engaging both professionals and civically-minded individuals to collaborate in designing easily understood solutions. We’re excited to see the symbols that arise from NYC’s own Iconathon — taking place this weekend, on September 10th.

FastCo Design: Iconathon Lets Regular Joes Design Icons for City Problems


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