How Iconathons Came to Be

One day at Code for America, Chach was looking at an app she was making for to help community group organizers in Seattle. She thought about how Code for America fellow Jeremy Canfield had the fellows do a post-it note braindump of all of the concepts in cities after our month. We had this 13 page list of every sub-topics in cities – from legislation to education, public safety, arts, transportation, emergency response and many others.

Fellows Karla Macedo & Michelle Koeth had been trying to figure out how to further develop an idea they had for “RedesignGov” – which would be a place for city governments to share the needs that they have with designers looking to serve the public good.

All of the Code for America fellows had been obsessed with the Noun Project. This is because the Noun Project looks like the future!

The Noun Project is a beautiful open online library of SVG vector graphics of universal symbols. We put these symbols in our apps.

But when we searched this very new project (they only just launched in December 2010 after a successful Kickstarter campaign) we noticed that there were not any results for concepts like ‘health’ or ‘education.’

At some point, Chach & Michael Evans (mevans) talked this out and then decided that it needed to happen.

So Chach sent an email to the other Code for America fellows, to maybe do a hack day for an icon-a-thon on a Labs Friday. Everyone liked this idea.

Karla +infinity’d it.

I think that we liked the idea of contributing back to a resource that we used.

Thing was, we didn’t know the Noun Project.

So Matt Lewis wrote fanmail to the NounProject, mainly because we were talking about how much we love them, and we wondered where they lived and if they were real people and if they were nice. (They are all of these things. 🙂 And they are based in Los Angeles.)

Sofya Polyakov wrote us back, we all clicked, and thus the Iconathons were born. Turned out that the Noun Project had been working on their user submission process, so it was good timing. Edward had some great ideas and had heard of a design charrette where designers, experts and others had gotten together to create new medical symbols. We thought this sounded great.

We did a practice run of the Iconathon with many of the Code for America summer interns. We started blogging & documenting and refining the process. We are still refining the process.

6 weeks later, we have done 2 incredible Iconathon events in San Francisco & Los Angeles, and have 4 more planned as part of an official series of collaborative events to make new civic symbols for the public domain.

People are already planning Iconathons in Europe & the United States. We’ll do another one in Oakland for Social Services at the end of September, and basically just plan to keep doing them.

Later this fall we’ll release the first “Municipal Symbol Suite” – which can be reused by anyone to help improve our visual communications in cities. So stay tuned!

Added by Chach Sikes on Tue, 08/16/2011

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