Episode 72 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Nathan Shedroff. Nathan is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and educator. (He is my colleague at the CCA MDes program.) For a long time, Nathan has worked to drive innovation and sustainability through design, and this conversation focuses on his latest project: Foodicons.

Per its website, the project is “a series of five challenges to develop a shared, open-source, and royalty-free iconographic language of food.” This manifests as an enormous crowdsourced design project — perhaps the largest ever. Nathan described its genesis and purpose thus:

[Douglas Graeton of Green Brown Blue accelerators] brought it to me and said, “Hey, I see this need.” He was running a bunch of food innovation accelerators, and one of the things that he found continuously in dealing with so many people throughout the food system globally is that they didn’t really share a language. And I don’t just mean that they didn’t speak the same human language, but they had terms that they use that other people didn’t. There was so much misunderstanding across the silos in the food system that he saw a need and an opportunity through these accelerators to build something that might bridge that.

A fascinating challenge — to design a language! And though one that is constrained to a single subject domain, it’s still a huge domain — so the project called for a different way to scale design. Nathan:

The challenge here was how do we get so many independent people all over the world who have different backgrounds to design within a system so that what comes out of them looks like they’re part of a family.

I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll say I was excited to hear about how the icon library evolved to become a true language for conveying more complex ideas. If you are intrigued about design at scale and/or semiotics, this conversation is worth your attention.

The Informed Life episode 72: Nathan Shedroff on Foodicons