[Sami Jensen] “It would be really great if I had a drawing of every single object or concept on the planet,” thought Edward Boatman a few years before beginning The Noun Project. Over 1000 symbols later, Boatman, his wife Sofya Polyakov and contributors from around the world are well on their way to achieving this goal. And they’re all available to download for free.
Boatman’s training in interior architecture lead him to a position at an architecture firm, where he frequently made presentation boards for clients, and he was always in search of high-quality symbols for things like trains, bicycles and trucks, but couldn’t find a comprehensive website that provided them. Many times, he would end up drawing the symbols himself, which was when he got the idea to fill the void himself.
After being laid off during the recession, Boatman focused on making his library of icons a reality. Enter Polyakov, “the business brains behind the scenes,” according to Boatman. Having no prior experience with entrepreneurialism, the husband-and-wife team hit the books, created a business plan, and reached out to friends for help. One of those friends was Scott Thomas, design director of the Obama campaign. Thomas and his team from Simple Honest Work helped develop the idea of The Noun Project and launched a beautiful, user-friendly website.
After an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign (which raised almost 10 times the amount of funds needed), The Noun Project now accepts user submissions, is searchable, and is accessible in 25 languages. But the best part of The Noun Project still remains: All icons can be downloaded and used free of charge.
Though Boatman and Polyakov had designers and others in the creative community in mind when The Noun Project originally launched, they have been surprised to see how many different uses have emerged. “We get a lot of e-mails from teachers who use the symbols in their classrooms, or people who work with children with autism, who tend to be visual learners. We just never had any clue about those possibilities before launching,” said Polyakov in an interview with Behance.
Boatman and Polyakov were also amazed at the categories of icons being submitted. “The icons designed by the public are not strictly utilitarian. Instead, they represent the ideas we wish to see in the world — ideas like Urban Farm, Peaceful Protest and Human Rights,” said Boatman. “They’re indicators not just of a concept, but of a hope. The communicative power isn’t just utilitarian anymore. It’s social.”
Start looking and downloading now. You might be on there for a while.
Husband-and-wife team Edward Boatman and Sofya Polyakov founded The Noun Project in 2010 in the hopes of creating an open-source visual language for every noun in existence. In addition to downloading the symbols for free, you can also purchase T-shirts, iPhone case, and button packs at The Noun Project store.