Iconathon LA: Food and Nutrition

We had another great Iconathon in Los Angeles on Saturday August 13, 2011.

In Iconathons, designers, public policy people, coders and other interested citizens get together to develop new civic symbols for the public domain. These symbols can be used in new web applications, infographics, signage, policy documents, maps and anywhere else that we need symbols. These symbols also are critical in reaching across communication barriers such as language & cognition.

In this Iconathon initiative, we are developing new symbols for a number of themes. The theme of the Los Angeles Iconathon was Food & Nutrition.

First things first: Some Photos!

Iconathon Flickr Group (377 photos & counting)

Beekeeping finished product
(Photo Carren Jao)

What does this sign look to you?
(Photo Carren Jao)
What does this symbol look like to you?

Locally grown icons
Locally grown icon
(Photos Carren Jao)
Locally grown

School to farm icon sketch
(Photo Carren Jao)
Farm to School

(Photo Chach Sikes)
Rooftop Garden

(Photo Chach Sikes)
Fair Trade

Note: We have images & videos of all of these symbols & will be organized & publicly available soon.

About the Los Angeles Iconathon

The Iconathon events draw from a list of concepts that we circulate ahead of time. We reach out to advisors to suggest concepts that would be useful to create. We then go through a process of sorting the list into “Most Wanted” and “Other” concepts to get it ready for the event participants. At the LA Iconathon, we didn’t have any whiteboards, so Sofya made a handout with all of the concepts and gave those to all of the attendees.


The attendees broke into little teams, and checked out some concepts from the “Box of Nouns.” We brainstormed ideas for about 2.5 hours, and then gathered up all of our designs and discussed each one, for about 45 minutes.

The day started with Amanda Shaffer (Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College) giving a great presentation about food issues in Los Angeles, and suggestions on how new symbols could help provide more access to healthy foods.

Los Angeles has some of worst food deserts in the country. Obesity is a serious problem, as is access to supermarkets, with East LA having the least number of supermarkets per person. Food is mostly found in convenience stores, and these stores do not often have fresh produce. I learned from one of the event attendees, Rosanita Ratcliff, that some children in South LA have never seen squash, cucumbers or strawberries.

We also learned that the WIC (women, infants and children) program has historically not provided fresh produce to these mother in need, but there are new initiatives to get fresh local produce into these stores. Amanda Shaffer said that a helpful new symbol would be one that indicates “locally grown,” an easy to recognize symbol that could be used in connection with food education initiatives. Similarly, if we had recognizable symbols for Farmer’s Markets, Community Gardens, and different types of food stores, we could coordinate & map some of the various efforts of different food policy & food justice initiatives. (For example, in conjunction with projects like the Code for America Farmer’s Market API or with the Open Food Data Standard project)

After Amanda’s presentation, Edward Boatman (The Noun Project) gave his presentation about effective symbol design. (See our post about the San Francisco Iconathon.)

We had a lunch and the attendees talked about their passions for design, and their thoughts about designing food symbols.

Sofya Polyakov, of the Noun Project, further innovated our Iconathon process, and made these excellent folders for the concepts – which the teams checked out and used to coordinate efforts. Chach researched many of the concepts, providing visual references & basic information.

Box of Nouns (Photo Matt Smith)

Sofya's noun library
Noun Folders with “Referent Research”

At one point during the event, Max Kanter of Food Forward excitedly proclaimed (something to this effect), “These symbols could actually be used and be out there in the world helping people find & access healthy food.” Christine Geronaga said that this event combined the two things she was most passionate about: food & good design. We were all very excited to have the opportunity to give back and hope to help improve communications about healthy food initiatives in Los Angeles and other cities.

What happens next?

We are making a new web tool to organize all of the sketches and show which ones are ready. Hopefully, it will be done in the next few weeks. This should help present the amazing work everyone is doing.

A group of about 6 volunteer illustrators are developing the sketches that were ‘ready’ into vector images. They will work with Edward Boatman to get these symbols polished. One of the challenges is to make symbols that work together as a set. We have decided that all of the symbols that are made through this Fall’s Iconathon City tour will be part of the very first “Municipal Symbol Suite” that we will be released into the public domain at some point later this Fall through the Noun Project’s website. This symbol suite will contain all of the symbols that everyone worked on at all of the Iconathons!

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

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