Collaborating on civic symbols

For the past two years, the design team at the CFPB has been building one of the first open-source iconography libraries released by the federal government. Our icons are used to quickly convey complicated financial topics to consumers from a broad range of backgrounds, helping us overcome language and cultural communication barriers. Consistent iconography helps visually reinforce interface actions, communicate file types and status indicators, and improve readability for key topics throughout our web applications and print materials.

This past January, as part of our introduction to the new class of Design & Technology Fellows, we hosted our inaugural iconathon, a half-day workshop to brainstorm and sketch new icon ideas. Subject matter experts from throughout the Bureau overcame their fears of sketching and joined our user experience and graphic designers to generate ideas for nearly forty financial concepts. They were tasked with representing challenging topics like “payday lending,” “getting out of debt,” and even the seemingly insurmountable “resources for intermediaries.”

By the end of a morning packed with sharpies and post-its, teams had sketched nearly 400 different ideas. We held a critique to discuss which approaches provided the best conceptual representation rather than visual polish. Favorite sketches included solutions for “credit card fraud,” “digital currency,” and “building credit.” The leading approaches were recorded for our design team to execute as final icons for our library.

Our new fellows and subject matter experts provided a fresh perspective on many of these complicated topics. For our new fellows, the iconathon was an opportunity to get a sense of our design aesthetic, as well as the general culture of design collaboration and critique at the Bureau. It also gave them a chance to work with our subject matter experts and begin building relationships for future projects.

For our subject matter experts (non-designers), the iconathon also enabled them to broadly engage in the design process itself. Many shared that the experience of stepping back and discussing topics conceptually was refreshing, proclaiming “I wish I could do this every morning!” We hope it sets a precedent for future events, potentially as a way to collaborate across different agencies and directly with the American public.

Our entire icon library is available on our public Design Manual, and we’re excited to share that all our icons designed-to-date can be downloaded from the Noun Project! Please checkout our Design Manual repository on GitHub if you’d like to get involved by suggesting new icons, contributing designs of your own, or learning the history behind the design of our icons.