When Caitlyn Winner entered the Facebook office, it was love at first sight. The vibe gave her wings, like it is anyone’s office, and anyone’s company. As the Design Manager, she made her way straight to the graphics that Facebook uses to illustrate their website. One of the glyphs- icons, or templates, that is- irked her almost instantly.
The blue silhouette vector representing a girl had a slight cut between her neck and shoulder. She wondered and wondered why it was put it there, when she realized, that the cut marks where the boy’s silhouette can be clipped on to it, to make it look like he’s juxtaposed with her in the back.
“I assumed no ill intentions, just a lack of consideration. And as a lady with two robust shoulders, the chip offended me,” she writes in this Medium.com article.
Winner took it upon herself to fix that glitch-like provision made on the girl’s body, to accommodate a boy. Filling out, she also played around with the vector’s yester-year Plain Jane bob she was sporting, and made it less uptight by adding a bouncy curve to her bob and a few playful locks sticking out of the herd.
However, if the chip in her shoulder irked her, the glyph used to represent “friends” on Facebook made her absolutely livid. Consisting of two joint glyphs – that stood for a pair of a boy and a girl – with the silhouette of the boy overlapping the girl. What’s more: the girl was tiny, much shorter than the boy, and was almost completely hidden behind him.
“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,” she writes.
Entering in damage control mode, she started thinking of various ways to fix this negative image that was possibly reinforcing a dangerous stereotype, no matter how subliminally. She took on the assignement of creating an icon that fosters equality. “My first idea was to draw a double silhouette, two people of equal sizes without a hard line indicating who was in front,” she recalled. But showing both figures side-by-side was looking “like a two headed mythical beast” to her dismay.
Finally, in a moment that must have taken some amount of chutzpah for sure- she decided to “abandon the previous approach” and instead created a corrective image swapped the positions of the boy and girl, in an attempt to portray the changing power-relations. “I placed the lady, slightly smaller, in front of the man.”
Bringing the lady in front denoted that women may well lead the way, in today’s times. But by making the girl in front slightly shorter- and less daunting as a result- the figures balanced out. Adding this tweak, she ensured that this logo change, rather than seeming like a game of one-upmanship, shows equality.
“As a result of this project, I’m on high alert for symbolism,” she added, explaining how impactful visuals are, as an influence in the way we make sense of things. We tend to consider them as ideal representations of the society.
“I try to question all icons, especially those that feel the most familiar,” she added. And Facebook, a site which the entire world consumes and looks up to as a model of sociology, definitely qualifies as familiar. A platform with that kind of a following putting out visuals depicting inequality could be a dangerous thing. However, it was quick to rectify the error, and Winner’s alterations were absorbed into the servers and implemented all over the world within 6 months.
Another outdated graphic that needed to be on its way out was the groups icon – three figures, lead by a man, flanks by a smaller man and meeker woman on either side. “The woman sat in the back left behind the larger centered man. It was an obvious refresh to use three unique silhouettes instead and, here again, I placed the lady first.”
Images and story source: Caitlyn Winner’s first person account of the process on Medium.com