Energy Efficiency Art Installation at Raleigh Convention Center


At the beginning of this year we hosted an Iconathon on Energy Efficiency sponsored by Cree, Inc.  Hosting this Iconathon workshop at Cree’s headquarters in Durham, N.C. was particularly fitting given that so much innovation in technologies that are helping to save energy, like LED lighting, is happening in the Research Triangle. Creating symbols for Energy Efficiency was the perfect opportunity to visually capture and share this cutting-edge innovation.

We’re excited to announce that the Raleigh Convention Center just opened a public art exhibit displaying larger-than-life versions of the Energy Efficiency symbols in the Convention Center connector, a high-traffic indoor pedestrian walkway.  The symbols represent various types of energy-saving technologies ranging from solar farms and sustainable energy to hybrid cars and LED lighting.

Our hope is that bringing these symbols into the public space will create a broader awareness and support for developing and expanding new energy saving technologies.  In the words of Cree’s CEO Charles Swoboda “The cleanest, cheapest energy is the energy we never use.”



Why We Need New Symbols for Education – a Powerful Speech by one of our Boston Presenters

We wanted to share with you this great speech given by Deb Socia, Executive Director of OpenAirBoston, at one of our last Iconathon events held at the MIT Media Lab on September 3rd. Along with our other speakers, Deb did an amazing job of explaining how the symbols we designed for Education will make an impact. Thank you to all who participated!

Hi! My name is Deb Socia and I have just begun my 33rd year as an educator.  I have held nearly every job in my field – from teacher to curriculum specialist to program director to principal.  In my last role, I was the founding principal of a 650 student middle school in the Grove Hall section of Dorchester.  We developed and implemented a 1:1 laptop program which led me to my current role – figuring out how to ensure equitable access to hardware, training and low cost internet – for every member of our community

Like all professions, education has more than its share of jargon.  Take student assessment, for example.  Assessments can be authentic, competency based, constructivist and cooperative.  They might be developmentally appropriate, cross-curriculuar, innovative, inquiry-centered, and integrated.  They could involve higher order thinking, be multidisciplinary, open-ended, and technology-enhanced.  No kidding.

Putting aside the jargon, just think of the alphabet soup of acronyms and initials we use:

Students can be labeled ELL, ESOL, ESL or LD, CP, OCD, ADD, ED, and therefore need an IEP that specifies PT, OT, or ST, which of course is required by IDEA and ADA.

Teachers need to prepare students for MCAS, PSAT, AP, ACE, IMP, NAEP, and of course STEM careeers.  All of which is of course monitored by DESE and NCLB who will announce whether or not a school made AYP.

We hope our students get to participate in OST, AVID, TGH, and maybe even PBIS and that the teachers receive enough PD to create effective SIPs and DLPs and SLOs.  And of course, we really want parents to join the PTA.

And we wonder why the vast majority of people feel as though we are speaking in a foreign tongue!

And guess what!  I have used all those jargony terms, acronyms and initials on multiple occasions within the past six months!  And I know better.

We all need to learn to say what we mean in plain, everyday language or we run the risk of alienating those who most need to understand us.

That is why I am SO excited about this project.  If we had universally known, free and downloadable icons for many of our school based programs, activities, and spaces, imagine the impact.  Imagine the ways in which your work can contribute to a person’s ability to be more independent and confident.

In particular, imagine what it would mean to the parent of a child with a significant medical condition to see the icon that indicates “nurse” in every school her child attends?

Imagine the Mom who has just moved to this country from Somalia – unlikely to read, write, or speak any English – but who can easily interpret the symbol for Main Office in all of her children’s schools.

Do you remember being 13?  As you may remember, adolescence is a very difficult time to be “different” and not being a fluent reader is a very painful and exclusionary experience. Imagine how helpful it is to the child who is learning disabled to see the sign for cafeteria and then to know she is heading in the right way to get their lunch.

Imagine the pride on the part of a student with a cognitive delay when he can identify all the areas of the school that he frequents.

Imagine an autistic student having a pass to go to the gymnasium and that the pass in his hand is an exact copy of the symbol on the doorway to the gymnasium.  Imagine even further that it could be color-coded.  Or maybe even three dimensional to further enhance the sensory experience – leading to even more independence.

And the need for clear, simple and recognizable symbols is not just for folks whose circumstances lead them to have difficulty with reading or comprehending.  People who know me well are quite aware of my personal inability to find my way from anywhere to anywhere, regardless of the number of times I have traveled the same path.  I would love the reinforcement of having recognizable symbols support my efforts.  Verbal directions are not exactly helpful to me.  If I asked someone facing me how to get to the nearest wi-fi hot spot and they said “go down the hall and turn left”, I would get to the spot down the hall and wonder whose left?  Mine?  Or hers?  Every day when I get to work I have to think…which button on the elevator will get me to my office?   An intuitive symbol would make all the difference.

What you do here today matters. School staff may try to accommodate all of the folks who may need such tools, but first of all, they know very little about design and second, they are unlikely to find a way to ensure universality of use across a school and district, allowing for the all important consistency of experience for families and children.   I love that your work can lead to shared experiences for teachers, parents, and children – in and around schools and with educational tools.

Your work has powerful potential.  I am proud to be here to encourage you, to congratulate you, and to thank you.

LA’s Iconathon: Why We’re Designing Food and Nutrition Symbols for the Public Domain

This Satuday, August 13th we’re hosting a design charrette (called an Iconathon) at LA’s Atwater Crossing to collaboratively design a new suite of symbols that represent concepts in Food & Nutrition.

So why are we doing this?  Because we want to help facilitate better and easier communication between communities and the food organizations working to improve consumption of healthy, nutritious, locally grown foods. Even though California leads the country in agricultural exports, very little of the food consumed in our state comes from within the 200-mile radius.*  Many low-income, immigrant, and communities of color lack access to high-quality, affordable foods – something that a lot of us take for granted.

Creating a new set of symbols based on ideas of healthy eating, locally-grown and nutritious foods will help to quickly and effectively communicate important concepts while overcoming any potentials language and education barriers when communicating to a diverse audience.

With America being in the midst of a fast-paced demographic shift, and US census showing growing diversity, both the government and NPO’s have a new challenge of quickly and effectively communicating their services to a constantly evolving constituent base made of different cultures, ages, religions, and languages. Symbols serve as an integral part of overcoming this communication barrier, and are already widely used throughout various public spaces to represent objects and ideas within education, health care, transportation, and recreation.

To learn more about Iconathon’s in other cities, go to, and check out our previous blog post.  The symbols created as part of Iconathon will be used in new civic web applications, in printed materials and in public signage. All designs will be submitted to The Noun Project for curation based on technical and stylistic guidelines – any symbol that fits the design standards will be uploaded to our site for anyone to use.

Please Join Us this Saturday, August 13th!

The Beautiful Atwater Crossing space.

If you’re a Designer, a Foodie, or just someone with lots of great opinions – come join us this Saturday!  Although this is a design event, we welcome non-designers to participate and give valuable opinions about the effectiveness of the designs being created.  If you have a passion for bringing new civic symbols into the world, giving back to your city and being creative and collaborative with others – you should come to this Iconathon.

Amanda Shaffer from the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College will kick-off our event with an overview of Food & Nutrition issues as they pertain to the city of LA. Some of the concepts that we want to create symbols for are Farm to School, Veggie Vouchers, Community Garden, and many others.  Edward Boatman, co-founder and Creative Director of The Noun Project, will present on best symbol design practices.  We will be joined by our friends from Code for America, our partners in organizing Iconathons across the country.

RSVP for Saturday’s event here.

*To learn more about the aforementioned Food & Nutrition issues, read this great resource:

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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