Talk Shop with Noun Project Co-Founder, Edward Boatman

By Katelan Cunningham · January 3, 2017

Right now, clear, concise visual communication is as important as ever which is why we're excited to kick off our 2017 event calendar with the founders of Noun Project and Lingo. Noun Project is a crowdsourced visual dictionary of over one-hundred thousand of icons and symbols used to communicate across language barriers. These small, single-color pictograms are pivotal for visual communication and Noun Project is cataloging and categorizing these symbols to make them available to everyone from designers to doctors. 

Since Noun Project was Kickstarted in 2011, co-founders Sofya Polyakov and Edward Boatman went from a bootstrapped business model to VC funding in 2014, and now they’re adding a new business to their repertoire — Lingo. The two services work together in harmony. Lingo is an asset library for teams to keep all of their logos, photos, fonts, and swatches in one place. It launched in March of this year and design teams at Airbnb and Snapchat are already using it to simplify and streamline their process. 

Next week, we're excited to have Edward at Lumi HQ to talk about what he's learned about visual communication, how his businesses growing, and he has they have planned for 2017. Read some some behind-the-scenes tidbits from Edward below, and RSVP to Talk Shop on January 12.

Image via PSFK. Talk Shop with Noun Project Co-Founder, Edward Boatman

Image via PSFK.

Since launching, what are the biggest changes you’ve made so far in these first months of Lingo?

We’ve made several large changes to Lingo since our launch, the largest being our new pricing model. In my experience it’s almost impossible to get a pricing model for your product or service right in the first attempt. This is because it’s very hard to know how customers are actually going to use your product and what they will find valuable. We took all the lessons learned from our first pricing model and applied it to the new one. Now, our new model is much more fair and easy to understand. 

A lot of the Lingo blog content dives into the visual language of various brands and trends. What’s a design trend that has you the most excited at the moment?

It’s been fascinating to see the rise of design systems and the tools to manage and distribute them. In case you’re not familiar with design systems, they are essentially an organized group of components like type, icons, code snippets, and UI elements along with clear rules and logic of how these components should be assembled to create a product or experience. 

These systems are incredibly useful for organizations because they help drive visual consistency across all product touch points and they empower creation. Furthermore, design systems free the designers from worrying about creating visually consistent designs and instead allow them to focus more on solving the design problem in front of them. This enables designers to create better solutions faster which is really exciting.

 Talk Shop with Noun Project Co-Founder, Edward Boatman
Talkshop Nounproject Lumi3

With Noun Project, what’s been the most difficult part of building a positive, high caliber community of designers on the web?

That’s a great question. When building a community around a common cause there are no shortcuts. It takes persistence and that can be challenging. In the early days of Noun Project we hosted a series of hackathons all across the country called Iconathons. The goal of an Iconathon was to collectively design new icons for civic minded concepts and release them into the public domain. It was grueling to travel to so many different cities and host these events. 

At the time it was also hard to determine if these events we’re having a material impact on our business and brand. Slowly over time though, we realized these community building efforts we’re paying off. The Iconathons generated a lot of publicity and allowed us to connect with our customers in a really authentic way. So it’s important to realize when building a community there is no tried and true formula for success. Try LOTS of things and always be yourself and good things will happen. 

 Talk Shop with Noun Project Co-Founder, Edward Boatman

Can you tell me about your pencil kit experiment? How did you come up with the idea, who did you send it to, and did it get a good response?

Sure! One of the reasons we shifted our focus to product focused teams is because they were our early adopters. We also learned in order for Lingo to get traction at a product focused company we needed to get Lingo adopted by a design lead at that company. So we asked ourselves two questions. 

  1. How can we create a list of design leads at product focused companies? 
  2. How can we communicate Lingo’s value to them? 

We solved #1 by looking through Dribbble. Most Dribbble teams are product focused companies, they also list the job title of the team members on their page so this made it easy to identify who the design lead or brand manager was. Through this process we created a list of around 90 design leaders. 

For #2 we wanted to do something memorable, fun, and attention grabbing so we decided to send each designer a physical package that communicated the value of Lingo. We did this by extending one of Lingo’s value propositions, organization, into the physical world. We actually sent them a package containing laser cut cardboard pieces that could be assembled into a box. The top of the box had circular cut outs that were perfect for organizing pens and pencils (it also formed our Logo of course:). We added in some pencils and a small pamphlet to tie it all together. We we’re really happy with how it turned out. 

In terms of how successful it was, honestly the jury is still out. We will have a much better idea a few months from now. 

What’s the next big feature you want to add to Lingo?

This upcoming quarter we are going to focus on improving the experience of assembling a library of assets in Lingo. Currently a user can’t re-order or replace their assets once they’re in Lingo. This causes a lot of problems and friction points, we’re excited to make this experience better for our customers.

 Talk Shop with Noun Project Co-Founder, Edward Boatman

P.S. We havean Instagram contest going on with our friends at Scout Books! Vote on the Noun Project icon that best represents your goals for 2017 and stamp the winner on your very own Scout Book at the event.

Start your new year off with fellow designers, entrepreneurs and creative looking to find better ways to communicate. RSVP here to Talk Shop with Edward.

When: Thursday, January 12. Talk is at 7 p.m. Wine, cheese, and mingling at 6:30. Feel free to come early and check out our HQ!

Where: 3828 S Santa Fe Ave, Vernon, CA 90058

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