Facebook quietly updated its iconography over the last few weeks. You may or may have not noticed these changes but the face behind them, designer Caitlin Winner took to Medium (a blogging platform) to explain them. “The iconic man was symmetrical except for his spiked hairdo but the lady had a chip in her shoulder,” she observed. That observation resulted in her taking it upon herself to bring the change she believed the “Friends” icon needed.
True to her observation, the chip on the lady’s shoulder “was positioned exactly where the man’s icon would be placed in front of her. She went ahead and fixed the “Darth Vader-like helmet” hair style on the female icon and eventually settled on an icon with a bob hairdo after deliberation over various hairstyles.
Next, she focused on the male icon and “smoothed down his hair and added a slight slope to his shoulders. The designer also noticed that there is “a single figure is used to represent an action, like in the ‘add friend’ icon” and this icon actually resembles a male human being and so she went ahead and designed cases for various genders
Facebook’s Groups’ icon was up next for review. The old icon featured two men and a woman with one guy at the centre. The new icon now features the woman at the front with two men at the back with obvious smoothed out shoulders of the silhouettes. She went ahead and saved the changes expecting a backlash from her fellow colleagues only to discover the changes were being implemented. The changes can be seen on the mobile apps as well as on the web (you may not see them yet on the web as they are being rolled out at the moment).
Apparently, this type of “self-initiated projects” have been happening at Facebook for long. The notable notifications icon had a very subtle but brilliant update which like the other minor changes, you may not have noticed. The notifications icon is a skeuomorphic representation of the globe and it initially showed the Americas. Some Facebook designer worked on it so that right now the notification icon automatically changes to either the Africa, Europe & Middle East on another visage and Asia & Oceania on the other.
These changes come at a time where gender equality is an ongoing discussion and now iconography on social media sites may be under scrutiny not to overly favour specific genders or even orientations. This will also lead to the use of non-gender specific icons instead of gender specific ones. You may see other social media platforms tweaking their icons like for example in Instagram, the profile icon in my opinion looks like a man and since it is owned by Facebook, a change might be underway. Twitter’s iconic bird is male apparently and you may hear calls to have a logo that is gender neutral. On Windows 7 under User Accounts and Family Safety, on User Accounts it shows both genders but on Parental Controls, it only shows the mother and child but no sign of the dad. We’ll see if Microsoft will change this on Windows 10.
Interesting times ahead indeed. The equality agenda is on and social media platforms have to be careful not to draw criticism over issues as gender insensitive icons.
This is not the only visible and notable change we have witnessed on Facebook lately. Last week, the company quietly rolled out an updated logo.