The Noun Project Iconathon at Code For America Headquarters

Hey there, blogosphere! My name is Kat Lau and I’m a summer intern here in the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. I’m working on several projects (which I may blog about in the near future), but one of my main gigs right now is ImproveSF. You may have seen our ImproveSF challenge for the Noun Project back in June. The idea was to get members of the ImproveSF community to suggest words and phrases that could be turned into symbols to support neighborhood revitalization efforts in the Central Market/Tenderloin neighborhoods of San Francisco. ImproveSF suggestions were voted on and determined the final list of words (or “referents”) that designers worked on at the Iconathon on June 30th. I did some behind-the-scenes work on the ImproveSF challenge and have to say, I was very impressed by our community’s response! We generated 126 ideas for the Iconathon, and I saw some really quality submissions.

After the challenge closed, I had the pleasure of attending the Iconathon representing the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, and I thought I’d share a little bit about the experience. Some might not be too into the idea of spending a Saturday morning and afternoon at an event for work, but I jumped at the chance to hang out for a few hours at the lovely Code for America building with folks from the Noun Project and Iconathon teams.

We kicked off the morning with a series of speakers (some short remarks on behalf of our ImproveSF team made by yours truly), including Ellyn Parker from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Dan Parham of Neighborland, and Edward Boatman of the Noun Project. Ellyn gave everyone some really great information on the City’s efforts to date in the neighborhood, some of the biggest challenges residents face, and what she was hoping to see out of the Iconathon. Dan shared some really inspiring stories about tactical urbanism, which Hunter quickly dubbed his “new favorite thing.”

Sofya presenting the Noun Project

After the talks, we split up into groups and got to work sketching icons (Every step of this journey, by the way, documented by the newly-hatched @SFMOCI Twitter account. Follow us!). Everyone had a different process–some folks Google Image searched for inspiration and research, others got right to sketching, others reached a group consensus about a concept before ever touching pen to paper (or post-it, as was often the case).

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Participants brainstorming

My group worked on several referents over the next few hours, including “Farmer’s Market,” “Shop Local,” “Pick It Up (No Littering),” and more. Then the whole group (about 60 people or so) reconvened to critique the designs and select mock-ups to be further refined by designers who volunteered to work with Edward. My proudest moment had to be when my design for “Pick It Up” was selected–alas, I lack the Illustrator skills to see my creation to completion, but I’m sure it’s in good hands. Once we got through all 20 or so referents, we were left with some final concepts and a handful of dedicated designers who volunteered to help the Noun Project with the next steps. In the very near future, these icons will go into the public domain for anyone to use for…well, anything! We hope to see these icons used back in the neighborhood that inspired them, and will be working on encouraging their use with agencies within the City.

Overall, the Iconathon was an awesome experience. I had a great time representing our office, and letting the creative juices flow. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final icons.

Going over the designs

If anyone wants an autographed copy of my master work, “Pick It Up (No Littering),” I’ll happily oblige.

Thanks so much to the Noun Project, Iconathon, and Code for America for working with us on this project! Click through for more information on these great organizations. All photos in this post courtesy of our very own Hunter Franks and the Noun Project.



The Office of Civic Innovation helps make government more collaborative, inventive, and responsive for San Franciscans.

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