Designers, on your marks! Pixel slingers, grab your javelins! Icon acrobats, get limber! The Iconathon is here, and it’s an AWESOME concept.

The Iconathon is a collaboration between the icon geniuses of The Noun Project and the civic-minded geeks at Code for America. The gist: gather a slew of designers together in cities around the nation for a full day of brainstorming and designing the icons needed in civic signage. The result will be a set of public-domain symbols that can be used by public and private organizations to communicate visual concepts to urban denizens. You know the kind:

Public domain pictograms and icons

This means that you, me, anybody can be part of creating the next generation of everybody-knows-em signs and symbols. Looking for a bathroom, for parking, for an airport? Look for YOUR icon. How cool is that.

Here’s the process:

Each participating city will have a topic and a set of about 30–50 civic concepts to choose from to design. For example, participants can modernize icons such as ‘family’ to reflect the makeup of modern families, create icons for new civic services like 311 (symbols for ‘potholes’ and ‘graffitti’) and icons for community spaces (‘local’, ‘community meeting,’ ‘community news.’)

Iconathon events will include design charrettes, design workshops and networking opportunities for local designers, urban planners, city staffers and developers who are passionate about civic design. Participants will sketch ideas and concepts during the events, and refine them from their home or design studios while continuing the collaboration process through social media. Each group working on a symbol concept may also be matched with a respected designer to get feedback on their designs. All designs will be submitted to The Noun Project, which will curate them based on technical and stylistic guidelines. A series of blog posts will follow events in each city.

The iconathons haven’t even gotten rolling yet, but a few designers are starting to limber up with some early drafts

…including, well why not, an abandoned car icon:

Abandoned Car Pictogram

If you live in or near one of the Iconathon cities (San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or Chicago), give it a spin—even if you can’t draw. And hey, the Iconathon crew is also still looking for help: graphic designers to lead sessions, sponsors whose products support the creative industry (looking at you Adobe and Apple), and sponsors for food, drinks, furniture rentals, art supplies, etc. If you can help, drop ’em a line at or @Iconathon.

Me, I plan to attend the Iconathon on September 10 in New York City, where the icon theme will be transportation. It’s the day before the tenth anniversary of an awful day in the city’s history, and I can’t think of a better way to mark that occasion than to offer my humble skills to a city I love.

What? You don't know about The Noun Project? Holy cats, waste no time and get over there, pronto. It's a great, free resource for icons and pictograms, which happen to be especially ideal for tab-bar icons in iOS apps. You're welcome.

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