Pattern language icons

One of the issues of open source hardware development is the fragmented nature of documentation materials which vary not only in clarity and quality but are also spread out across a host of different platforms. This situation contributes to a general sense of disorientation when newcomers want to contribute to projects they’re interested in but also makes tracking the development of existing projects and especially derivative works so convoluted that many people choose to start from scratch. It takes special attention to turn Open Source Hardware into Useful Source.

In order to streamline our development processes, we are creating sets of icons that will grow into a visual pattern language that can be used for anything from conceptual design to machine documentation and other learning materials in print and online. This builds upon Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, and our early work on technology pattern language icons.

OSE icons

Using icons as visual aids in communicating ideas helps readers absorb and understand complex information which we expect will lower the barriers to entry even further for people interested in participating and contributing to new and ongoing projects. Another benefit of having these icons will be in making navigating existing documentation more efficient by visually punctuating extended tracts of text and helping readers find the specific information they´re looking for more quickly.

Why not just use icons from The Noun Project (TNP)?

First, the OSE icon set is totally fluid and open source – we upload SVG source files. This way, if you don’t like a particular icon, you can help us immediately – by downloading the icon and editing with open source software, Inkscape, according to Style Guidelines discussed below. We have created a how-to for how anyone can do this.

Although TNP is a great resource, there are many icons, especially of the more technical variety, that are simply not available there.

Another reason we decided to create our own icon sets is that even if we could find all the icons we need they would most likely not share a common visual style. Even small differences in line weight, line endings, corner radii etc, would become especially distracting when using the icons in combination.

Lastly, while TNP´s focus is on establishing themselves as a platform for creators to license their work, we go a step further. We encourage and support people in learning basic vector graphics editing software skills – to create their own icons – more info below.

Goals and next step

Our goal is to create 1000 icons in six months and in the process start building a team of people with the necessary skills to contribute in creating OSE graphics throughout the year. We have started compiling a list of icons that includes development process steps, all fifty GVCS machines, agriculture icons, and safety + quality control icons, among others.

The next step will be to host a crowd sourced effort (design sprint) to generate icons as a larger collaborative team starting next week. To join, please sign up to our Design Sprint team by filling out a skills survey. We send Design Sprint invitations to this list. Future design sprints are announced on the Design Sprint page if you miss the email. If you would like to participate, please go through the Style Guidelinese and How-To below. Design Sprints will be held for the next 6 months starting this Monday, April 12, 2015, 1 PM CST. See Design Sprint page for details.

As OSE’s Graphics Lead, I have created Style Guidelines that cover some general rules and concepts to keep in mind when creating OSE icons.

Icon Style Guidelines

I have also created a basic tutorial for how to create icons using Inkscape, an open source vector graphics editor software.

Inkscape tutorial sample

We will work through a list of icons, which includes model icons that can be used as a reference for what the OSE icon should look like.

Related reading: Open Source Hardware Documentation Jam and recent blog post on the Open Source Hardware Development Method.


  1. Marcin

    Icons are coming along well for 1st week – 46 Icons, first cut –

  2. Joel Kaat

    So sweet. :o)

  3. Kilt


    What is the status of the pattern language project?