The CfA and Noun Project’s SF Iconathon

Review of Iconathon by Hailey Pate

Wow. I’m still reeling from what I took in yesterday. Amazingly inspirational doesn’t do enough to describe the experience.

Last week, I saw a message in my Twitter stream announcing a Saturday workshop in San Francisco. They called it an Iconathon. The objective was to design symbols for use by the City of San Francisco’s 311 Program, which serves as an electronic hub for its non-emergency public services. The symbols would become visual descriptors to help individuals quickly find help and official information on everything from how to report a broken parking meter to requirements for licensing a new pet.

This is important because city folks move quickly. If they have a moment to stop and report something that needs attention, it’s only a moment. It won’t be long before the phone will ring or a friend will show up, and the pothole they hit on the way home will become forgotten. A streamlined notification process would provide more meaningful feedback to the city and reduce public safety risks (here I go again with the injury prevention!), increase revenue potential (I paid $28.00 to a parking meter yesterday), and mitigate government liability (this is US after all, and I noted many law offices in SF).

The best part of Iconathon is that the symbols developed as a result of the project will become part of the public domain, which means anyone in the world can download the images and use them however they like. What a wonderful way to overcome communication barriers and encourage civic engagement around the world! So, whose great idea was this anyway?

Folks from The Noun Project led the way yesterday in facilitating thoughtful design and participation amongst coders, graphic designers, and civic-minded opinion-givers alike. I hear they’ll be headed next to major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York to develop symbols for food and nutrition, democracy, and transportation. I liked how they presented each stage of an icon’s design with the group and shared the process of thoughts from one iteration to the next. It was a very honest form of teaching that is also reflected in their blog.

The event was most wonderfully hosted by the folks at Code for America. Their passion and energy was such a joy and would be better served by its own post. So awesome to have such innovation just a stone’s throw away from Sacramento!

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