Art & Design Magazine

The Noun Project: Building A Free Global Visual Language

By Utpalpande @utpalpande

The Noun Project’s mission is to share, celebrate, and enhance the world’s visual language. The goal of the project is to collect and organize all the symbols that form our language into one easy-to-use online library that can be accessed by anyone. All the symbols on the website are completely free to download, and can be used for design projects, architecture presentations, art pieces or just about anything that could benefit from visual communication.

The Noun Project: Building A Free Global Visual Language

We think a language that can be understood by all cultures and people is a pretty amazing thing. We also think our symbols and the objects or ideas they represent are works of art worth celebrating. — The Noun Project

Icon Camp

The Noun Project: Building A Free Global Visual Language

The Noun Project has teamed up with Code for America to start “Icon Camp”, a movement of independently organized Iconathon events held on a local level. Icon Camp will allow designers and civic minded people to continue the spirit of Designing for Good by applying the tested and tried features from this year’s Iconathon. You can visit Host an Icon Camp to find out more about how to organize a local Icon Camp in your community. Symbols created during Icon Camp can be submitted to The Noun Project, and if they meet the stylistic and technical requirements, will be placed into the “Civic Symbols” category under a public domain license.

Iconathon: a New Design Initiative to add Civic Symbols to the Public Domain

In August & September 2011, several cities across the US participated in a series of design charrettes — day-long collaborative workshops — called “Iconathons”.  The aim of Iconathon was to add to the public domain a set of graphic symbols that can be used by both the public and the private sectors to easily communicate universally recognized concepts to a diverse group of people. Iconathon events included design charrettes, workshops and networking opportunities for designers, urban planners, city staffers and developers, and anyone passionate about civic design. Participants sketched ideas and concepts during the events. Below are some Civic Symbols that were conceptualized during the event.

The Noun Project: Building A Free Global Visual LanguageThe Noun Project: Building A Free Global Visual Language

Symbols for Education

The Noun Project: Building A Free Global Visual Language

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.
— Deb Socia, Executive Director, OpenAirBoston

The Road Ahead

Currently, the Noun Project features hundreds of free, high quality icons spread over 11 different categories. With the support of an open community and some prestigious organizations backing the project, the future for a global visual language looks quite promising.

The Noun Project: Building A Free Global Visual Language

You can visit The Noun Project at

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