The Noun Project API

The Noun Project is soliciting feedback on their upcoming API. If you aren’t familar with The Noun Project, it is a innovative visual language project, that is creating a library of icons that will enable people to visually communicate and interact around the globe. Direct from The Noun Project about page:

Humans have been using symbols to communicate for over 17,000 years because they are the one language everyone can understand. Symbols can transcend cultural and language barriers and deliver concise information effortlessly and instantaneously. They allow people to communicate quickly, effectively, and intuitively. And for the first time ever, this language is being combined with technology to create a social language that unites the world.

The Noun Project wants our feedback on what a Noun Project API might look like and what we would use it for.  So, I wanted to take a moment and share my thoughts, about what I would use The Noun Project API for, and some thoughts about what the endpoints might look like.

Normally an embeddable strategy for an API is in the background, relinquished to just one of the tools in the toolbox. With the Noun Project I think a healthy embeddable strategy would be front and center, providing a wide array of buttons, badges, widgets and other items users could syndicate across the web. The library of embeddable tools should be open for submission, much like the core of the Noun Project. Designers could generate custom button sets, badges and other embeddables for users to choose from. The Noun Project's embeddable strategy would make the Noun Project API accessible to everyone, even non-developers.

Builders and IDE
A Noun Project API would enable a next generation of mobile and web application apps, as well as other visualization and big data analysis tools to integrate consistent imagery. Makers of integrated development environments (IDE) could provide button, icon and other UI components with a wealth of meaningful icons, that could become the new default in modern apps. Think how Twitter bootstrap is raising the bar in overall app user interface quality? Love it or not, Twitter Bootstrap has made things look better, and consistent use of the Noun Project images could go even further.

Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
The Noun Project API would enable a wealth of text to image visualization possibilities, allowing developers to accompany and represent everyday text in much more impactful ways. Imagine if in addition to titles and summaries, you always had a Noun Project icon to reference when reading on the web and via your favorite applications. A couple examples might be:

  • Blog & News Listings - Often times our blogging platforms have a way to upload an image to represent a post or story. The Noun Project could be used as visual cues for stories in certain categories or programmable determined by the text content of a story, dynamically pulled from the Noun Project API
  • Link Representations - When faced with a link, all you have to reference is the title and possibly a description. The addition of a Noun Project icon, pulled from the API after indexing the content of links page would help users make a determination of a site’s content before clicking
  • Messages - The Noun Project could be used to provide visual references for emails, SMS, Tweets, Facebook Wall posts and other common forms of digital communication.  Icons could be suggested based upon message content.

These are just a few ways The Noun Project API could be used to dynamically offer visual representations for common textual objects we encounter in our every day lives. I’m sure a developer community would come up with many more examples, once the API is available.

Network Graph
Built into The Noun Project API would be a representation of the social and network graph of an image. You could see how popular a particular image or set of images is. You could apply this into the filtering and retrieval of images via the API, as well as have as part of the image meta data to use in your own application logic. To achieve the level of meaning the project intends to, a graph will be needed to show the use, reach and impact of each image and sets of images.

Partner Network
Also built into The Noun Project API should be a partner layer, that reflects the core mission of the project. Every image returned by the API would be complete with all meta data regarding its creator and how the image can, and is being used across the network. The Noun Project Partner Network would give more control and insight for designers to see how their images are being used as well as commercial, volume and other monetization opportunities for designers--a layer that could be part of the overall Noun Project revenue strategy.

Without an API, the usage of Noun Project images is a manual process, leaving attribution up to the user. With an API and a healthy branding and attribution framework, The Noun Project attribution would be built into the embeddable strategy as well as bundled into each and every Noun Project API response. This would provide The Noun Project network with easy attribution, which doesn't just credit designers, it will be the basis of The Noun Project marketing. Imagine being able to visualize the entire syndication for a single icon! Without an API this is impossible.

Bridging the Digital to Physical
The Noun Project API would allow innovative new ways to use Noun Project icons in the physical world as well as the digital. An API could allow for the printing on demand of icon templates in various sizes, and ship them to users for creating signs and other real-world uses that could be permanent or possibly even ephemeral, with the use of temporary paints or spray on chalks. This process wouldn't be a one-way street either. With a Noun Project API, developers could build icon recognition applications that could snap a picture of an icon printed (permanently or temporary) and immediately connect users back to the virtual world around the icon, either based upon its meaning, designer or some new represenation that has emerged as part of the Noun Project network graph.

That are just some of my initial thoughts around how a Noun Project API could be put to use in meaningful ways. Regarding what The Noun Project API would look like. I'd like to see some of the following endpoints:

  • Designers - Endpoint for icon designers, with access to their profile, collections and icons 
  • Users - Enpoint for Noun Project user accounts with access to account and billing settings as well as favorite, saved, purchased icons and collections
  • Icons - Endpoint for all icons, allowing to to search and filter individual icons as well as add and update existing icons for my designer profile
  • Collections - Collection endpoints allowing me to search, filter and pull individual icon collections
  • Dictionary - Endpoint for all words used for icons, allowing a dictionary that developed can reference while developing providing a reverse search for icons
  • Graph - API access to all graph related events like popular icons, collections and designers as well as trending icons collections and reverse searches on popular keywords or phrases

I'm sure there are more endpoints that could be identified in the future. I think the most important aspect is to just get an API launched, and have a healthy strategy for engaging users to find out what should be put on the roadmap. Just starting simple and making sure to expose all aspects of the core Noun Project is an important beginning--the rest will come.

What a fascinating project the Noun Project is. I strongly believe that it order to fulfill its full vision, the Noun Project has to have an API. The Noun Project API will be essential to syndicating the icons across both our physical and virtual worlds, provide a way for users and designers to interact around the icons, while also providing the most meaningful licensing framework possible that would even include much needed revenue for both designers and the Noun Project, and keep this very important project alive.