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Interview with P.J. Onori

Who ever thought icons could be a Kickstarter project? And while everybody is talking about SVG and JS, here’s a guy actually creating smart icons. In this interview we talk to P. J. Onori, a design technologist with an impressive C.V. He has worked at Adaptive Path, Method, and Current TV. His clients include the United Nations, Adobe, and

P. J. is also the designer of the popular Iconic, open source icon set, which has become the subject of an exciting KickStarter campaign which already reached its goal by 200 %.

A bit of background

Scott: Welcome to the Iconfinder blog, P. J. Thank you for taking time to speak with me.

P.J.: I certainly appreciate it, as well. So thanks for having me.

Scott: Let’s jump straight in and start with your work at Adaptive Path. For our readers who aren’t familiar with Adaptive Path, can you tell just a little but about them and the significance of getting a job with a company like that?

P.J.: Yeah, Adaptive Path is a great company. They’re a user experience design firm. They had some of the titans of user experience thinking; Peter Merholz, Jesse James Garrett, Jeff Veen who’s now the head of Typekit. They are, and were, thought leaders in the user experience design field. In fact, they helped write the book, both literally and figuratively, on user experience.

Scott: What has been the primary focus of your design career?

Designers are now coding more often than they aren’t, which is great.

P.J.: I think it’s been how technology can play a vital role in experience. Five to seven years back, technology was not considered a vital part of experience. You were just an implementer. I was really trying to push the importance of technology, how things were built, what gets built.

A lot of my work has been trying to fold in technology into the experience process, and luckily I think that has just now happened. People have finally come to the same conclusion, so it’s no longer a battle. People understand that technology is important. Designers are now coding more often than they aren’t, which is great.


For a new generation digital native of designers

Scott: Who are some of the folks, both designers and technologists, who you think have helped push the awareness of the importance of both technology and design in user experience forward?

P.J.: Oh man. I don’t know if it was a single person. The thing I’m most excited about is that designers no longer feel that they can just design. They’re starting to understand that this is the medium. If they’re working on web-based products or software, the medium matters. They need to understand the medium. They need to at least understand it if not be able to build within that medium.

I think that in large part is just due to younger designers who have grown up with computers, who have been playing around with them since they were young, and are just more technologically savvy than the previous generations.

I think icons are increasingly becoming the native language of software. I call it the “Esperanto of software”

Scott: So we have a generation of designers that is native to the digital environment?

P.J.: Yeah, I think that’s the right way to say it. They’re native. They grew up with it. None of this is new or intimidating or foreign to them. It was an obvious approach for them, which is great.
Scott: What role do icons play in the relationship between the user and the compuxter, in your opinion?

P.J.: I think icons are increasingly becoming the native language of software. I call it the “Esperanto of software”. Whereas you may not be able to speak German, or vice-versa, somebody in Germany might not be able to read English, but if there’s a little plus icon next to something, you know you can add something.

That’s what I’ve always loved about it. It’s trying to communicate oftentimes very sophisticated ideas in a single image, which can be amazingly difficult.


Help Kickstart a set of smart icons

Scott: Tell us more about the KickStarter campaign. What are the goals of the project?

P.J.: The main goal of Iconic, at its highest and most aspirational level, is to create an icon set that helps push iconography forward on the web through creating new tools and sharing new techniques and approaches for how to display icons on the web. That’s the main driver for this project, and just trying to suggest new ways to show iconography. Hopefully with the toolset, make our lives easier for icon designers as well.


We are seeing the most excitement about Iconic around the display techniques we’ve showcased – smart iconography, being able to style icons, and responsive iconography. Of course, you can’t really have an icon set without icons but the display techniques are the showstopper. Iconic is supposed to symbolize new approaches to displaying icons and creating icons.


The gif shows an example a graphic EQ created with SVG and JS.

More smart icons:

Greater freedom in the design process is a big motivation.

Scott: What are the advantages of this new methodology going to be for designers and developers?

P.J.: I think the advantage for designers is that they’ll have a greater range of accessibility with their icons. They’ll be able to have more of a bespoke approach as to how they apply icons on the screen as opposed to, “Well this is my pencil icon so I have to use it, and, crap it needs to be 12 pixels. OK, too bad, put it there”. Greater freedom in the design process is a big motivation.

Scott: What are the funds you’re raising through KickStarter going to be used for?

P.J.: Basically, two people are going to be joining the project – my two partners from Waybury. The cost is very straightforward. It’s basically paying to help make this thing a reality. It’s as simple as that.


Scott: So it’s basically so you and your partners can eat and pay rent while you’re spending time away from paying work to do development on this?

P.J.: Exactly. The thing we’ve had a hard time communicating is that we say we’re going to make 200 plus icons. Well, but each one’s going to come in three sizes so really we’re making 600 icons. Everything we do from an icon design perspective, just multiply that by three. That is a lot of work.

Scott: What is the target date for release?

P.J.: January 2014.

Scott: Good luck with the Kickstarter campaign and thanks again for taking time to chat with us. I really appreciate you doing the interview.

P.J.: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

If you want to support the Kickstarter project, pledges start as low as $5 and go’s all the way up to $1000 (but then you also get personal icons). Check out:

Quick Answer Questions

Current location: San Francisco
Coffee or Tea: Coffee
Favorite Book: “Shoeless Joe” by W. P. Kinsella
Favorite Movie: Gattaca
Music you work to: When I need to get work done I listen to the hardest metal that I can possibly find, like Gojira and Unearthed.

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