Iconathon Wrap Up and Introducing Icon Camp

We really enjoyed working with Code for America in planning theIconathon events and meeting so many talented civicly engaged people in each city that hosted us.  Thank you to everyone who attended Iconathon, Designed for Good, and helped us get the word out about the events!  We know that the symbols created will have a great impact for the communities that use them.

As we conclude our cross-country tour of Iconathons, we wanted to share with you what was accomplished and how you can get involved.

Iconathon Team

The Iconathon Team

Event Overview

If you haven’t attended an Iconathon in your city, here’s an overview of the events.  Each city’s Iconathon had its own civic theme (San Francisco – 311, Los Angeles – Food & Nutrition, Chicago – Democracy, Seattle – Neighborhoods, Boston – Education, New York – Transportation).  The events started out with a presentation by an expert in each city’s theme.  For example, since Boston’s Iconathon focused on designing new symbols for Education, we invited Lee McGuire, Chief Communications Officer for the Boston Public Schools, and Deb Socia, Executive Director of OpenAirBoston, to provide participants with an overview of some of the challenges that will be addressed through the use of these newly designed symbols.  The Education symbols, for one, will enable better communication for children with learning disabilities, autism, illiteracy (such as refugees and children affected by homelessness), or for whom English is a second language (see our previous blog for more info). Speakers like Amanda Shaffer from Occidental College’s Urban & Environmental Policy Institute also explained some less commonly used terms, such as the “Food Security” and “WIC” concepts used during LA’s Health & Nutrition Iconathon.

This was followed by a presentation in which our Creative Director, Edward Boatman, discussed user comprehension and how it applies to symbol design. The presentation will be available for viewing once we launch User Submissions, as we found it very helpful in explaining best symbol design practices.  Then we kicked off a two-hour design charrette where designers and non-designers worked together in teams of three to five to create new symbols for concepts such as Pothole, Fair Trade, Equal Rights, Citizenship, Student Attendance, and Bag Search.  Each Iconathon ended with group presentations about which symbols were designed, what design challenges the group faced, and an overview of which symbols were successful in communicating their intention.

What We Learned

Designing symbols is no easy task, especially when the referents designers are trying to define are broad in scope (such as Mentorship, Freedom of Information Act, Public vs. Private Ownership, or Sustainably-Produced).  Therefore, it was essential that we communicated reasonable expectations at the beginning of each Iconathon.  Not every term was going to be defined, some are easier than others, and some need extra time to work out the bare essence of what turns a concept into an easy-to-understand symbol.

We also found it beneficial to have different skill sets in each break-out group.  When our participants arrived at the event we asked them to select a name tag that best described them.  The options were:  1. graphic designer, 2. cool person who cares about civic design (a non designer), and 3. an expert in the chosen Iconathon theme.

When we formed the breakout groups we tried to make sure every group had all three skill sets present.  We found this approach worked very well because the topic expert could give context to the discussion, the non-designer could give honest non biased feedback on how well the symbol sketches were communicating the referent, and the designer could execute the design.

Below are some examples of works in progress, as well as some of the completed symbols that will be part of the “Civic Symbols” suite that will be released into the public domain this Fall.

Food Bank

Guerilla Gardening

Introducing Icon Camp

We found this year’s Iconathons to be exciting and inspiring, and are looking forward to getting even more people and organizations involved next year.  During our travels through different cities we heard from a lot of participants who wanted to host their own local Iconathon events in order to create and share civic symbols for themes such as Social Services, Women’s Health, and the Arts.

Therefore, we’ve decided to continue our partnership with our friends at Code for America and introduce “Icon Camp”, a movement of independently-organized Iconathon events held on a local level.   Icon Camp was created to allow designers and civic minded people to continue the spirit of Designing for Good by applying the tested and tried features from this year’s Iconathon.   Please visit Host an Icon Camp to find out more about how to organize a local Icon Camp in your community!  Symbols created during Icon Camp can be submitted to The Noun Project, and if they meet the stylistic and technical requirements, will be placed into the “Civic Symbols” category under a public domain license.

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