Facebook just made a subtle design change to its icons that probably won’t be noticed by the vast majority of its users but that could profoundly influence perceptions of women.
The changes were made to the tiny icons that appear in the upper right-hand corner of the social networking site. For years, the company had used a “friends” icon with a man and woman, with the woman positioned behind the man. Worse yet, the generic female avatar looked like her shoulder had been lopped off.
Caitlin Winner, a design manager at Facebook, explained the change in a post at Medium. “As a woman, educated at a women’s college,” she wrote, “it was hard not to read into the symbolism of the current icon; the woman was quite literally in the shadow of the man, she was not in a position to lean in.”
Spending so much time stating at the things, she’s also modernised each of the single icons, adding “a slightly more shapely bob” to the female icon, smoothing down the hair of the male icon, and creating a new non-gendered icon for situations where previously a single male icon was used as a proxy for a man or woman.
The icon change is a positive one — as Ms. Winner notes, “symbols matter.” But so does representation, and Facebook can’t hope to serve its diverse user base until its workforce more closely resembles them.
Image courtesy: NPR