Facebook takes a step towards gender equality with its latest design refresh

How one designer helped Facebook take a step towards gender equality with one small design tweak

How one designer helped Facebook take a step towards gender equality with one small design tweak

Facebook designer Caitlin Winner has taken control of the social network’s icons to try to bring a little balance to the hugely popular service.

Have you ever looked closely at the Friends icon on Facebook?

Design manager Caitlin Winner certainly did.

The Facebook designer has updated the small icon – which sits in the top right-hand corner of the Facebook banner – and placed the woman’s silhouette in front of the man, for the first time in the social network’s history.

Designer Ms Winner explained the change in a blog post:

“As a woman, educated at a women’s college, 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.

“My first idea was to draw a double silhouette, two people of equal sizes without a hard line indicating who was in front.

“Dozens of iterations later, I abandoned this approach after failing to make an icon that didn’t look like a two headed mythical beast.

“I placed the lady, slightly smaller, in front of the man.”

The previous Friends icon, LEFT, and the refreshed symbol redesigned by Caitlin Winner, RIGHT

The previous Friends icon, LEFT, and the refreshed symbol redesigned by Caitlin Winner, RIGHT

Next, Ms Winner turned her attention to the group icon, which previously featured a group of three silhouettes – two men and a woman “sat in the back left behind the larger centred man”.

“It was an obvious refresh to use three unique silhouettes instead and, here again, I placed the lady first,” the designer explains.

Finally – Ms Winner took the opportunity to refresh and update the hairstyles used for both genders.

“I was tempted to remove the Darth Vader-like helmet and give her hair some definition,” she wrote on blog website Medium.

Facebook's previous Group icon, LEFT, and the new version with the woman placed front and centre, RIGHT

Facebook’s previous Group icon, LEFT, and the new version with the woman front and centre, RIGHT

“In comparison to the new lady, the old man icon seemed stiff and outdated so I smoothed down his hair and added a slight slope to his shoulders.”

Reflecting on her icon refresh, the design manager claims she is now “on high alert for symbolism”.

But Caitlin Winner is not the first Facebook designer to have kickstarted a worldwide change from a “self initiated project” within the US company.

Facebook design manager Caitlin Winner explained her design choices in an in-depth blog post

Facebook design manager Caitlin Winner explained her design choices in an in-depth blog post

“Last year, designer Julyanne Liang worked with engineer Brian Jew to give the non-American half of the globe an accurate world view from the notification icon,” Ms Winner adds.

“Since then they’ve added an Asia-centric globe, too.

“We all want to continue to make Facebook the best it can be, to have culture of doing rather than complaining, to grow a company where ideas can spread organically, and to build a platform that is relevant for people from it’s core features down to the smallest of icons.”

The refreshed icons will roll out across Facebook over the coming weeks.

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