The Noun Project: Using Iconic Design Tools for Social Change The Noun Project: Using Iconic Design Tools for Social Change

The Noun Project: Using Iconic Design Tools for Social Change

by Catapult Design

December 22, 2012
In each village we visited in Rajasthan, I asked people to experiment with the tiles in three ways. First, I asked people to identify what the icons referred to, and then I asked people to explain a story using the tiles. Finally, I asked them to draw some tiles of their own. The intention was to experiment with ways of discovering symbolic literacy, as well as to use those findings to inform any instructions or guides we would have to make relevant to our water project.

The next time around was much more topical. Literacy Bridge, an organization empowering children and adults with tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning, contacted us to help them solve an issue with their Talking Book. The Talking Book is an audio computer that shares locally-relevant knowledge and improves literacy in areas with limited access to literature.  

Literacy Bridge interacts with communities in Northern Ghana that have no word for ‘arrow’ in their lexicon. The organization needed to be able to instruct the user to press a button relative to a spoken instruction. We experimented with a bunch of different icons and shapes, some of them from The Noun Project site, some of them created by us, and a few lifted from other sources. Thanks to the timezone difference between California and Ghana, the feedback loop was quick. While we slept, Literacy Bridge would report back the responses they got from the field. Then we would adapt the icons according to their suggestions, and the next day they would be tested again.
We worked our way through icons that had issues involving the spoken instructions of the device, icons that implied tasks that were too specific (‘fish’ = food), that had too much potential religious connotation (‘plus’ = cross), or even that had too much local political association (‘umbrella’ and  ‘rooster’ are local Ghanaian political party symbols). We are continuing to help Literacy Bridge achieve an appropriate interface through their piloting stage, as they test Talking Books in the thousands.
We plan to continue developing new research games and other design resources, and to continue using The Noun Project to help us when we need the right icon. It’s an excellent resource, even if I still can't find an icon for ‘design’ on the site (nor an icon for ‘icon’)—but I’m hitting my sketchpad to work on it. I’m also going to get in touch with The Noun Project and suggest an iconathon themed around rural life (on all continents). Oh, and maybe I can put in a festive wish for a ‘silhouette bank’ as well?
Thanks, Noun Project. Keep up the good work, and we will see you at the next Iconathon.
Images courtesy of The Noun ProjectCatapult Designand Literacy Bridge. A version of this post previously appeared on Catapult's blog.
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The Noun Project: Using Iconic Design Tools for Social Change