You may not have noticed, but there have been a couple visually small—but symbolically huge—changes made to Facebook recently.
Caitlin Winner, a design manager at Facebook, was looking through archives of Facebook icons when she noticed something about the “friend request” icon that the rest of us have long overlooked—it depicted two people, a man and woman, but the woman was slightly smaller and placed behind the man.
In a piece published on Medium, Winner wrote, “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.”
So Winner took it upon herself to bring Facebook into the 21st century. She placed the woman in front, giving her a more modern haircut, and softened the man a bit by slightly rounding his shoulders.
She updated Facebook’s “groups” icon too, as it previously featured two men and one woman, with the woman placed behind the shoulder of the larger, centered man. Here, too, Winner placed the woman in the front and diversified the two men, giving one of the figures a gender neutral appearance. (It’s worth noting that the “friends” icon on your profile page may still feature the old man-in-front image).
Facebook isn’t new to incorporating a necessary and refreshing sensitivity to often-overlooked symbols. Since last year, designer Julyanne Liang and engineer Brian Jew have refreshed the “notification” icon, offering representations of various sides of the globe (not just the American side).
Winner’s work serves as a reminder to be wary of symbols we often take for granted.
“As a result of this project,” Winner writes, “I’m on high alert for symbolism. I try to question all icons, especially those that feel the most familiar.”
Photo via Caitlin Winner