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Are Facebook's graphic designers feminists? (+video)

Facebook changes their 'friends' and 'groups' icons, placing female figures in front of male figures for the first time.

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    Screen capture from Caitlin Winner's website www.medium.com. Ms. Winner is the designer behind Facebook's new 'friends' icons.
    Caitlin Winner/www.medium.com
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If you opened up Facebook today, you might have noticed that the "friends" icon has changed.

Caitlin Winner, a design manager at Facebook, took the initiative to change the gender imbalanced icon, after noticing that the woman icon was asymmetrical where the icon of the man was supposed to overlap her: she had a literal "chip" on her shoulder.

"I assumed no ill intentions, just a lack of consideration, but as a lady with two robust shoulders, the chip offended me,” Ms. Winner writes.

After being told that "Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem," Winner began to create a series of designs to remedy the issue. 

Once the shoulders were squared, Winner moved on to the "Darth Vader-like" helmet of hair. After playing around with a few styles, including ponytails, the new design has a “shapely bob.”

With an updated female icon, Winner thought that the male icon needed improvement to match, so she “smoothed down his hair and added a slight slope to his shoulders.” She also designed a gender-neutral icon to replace the default male image used for "add friend" buttons and other places "where a gendered icon was inappropriate."

In addition, the "groups" icon now features a woman in front of a man and the gender-neutral figure, replacing the previous design with one woman and two men, one of whom was front and center.

“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,” said Winner.

Facebook has changed their graphic designs before, including subtle changes to their logo earlier this month. Last year, the company created different globe icons for the non-American half of the globe, including an Asia-centric globe designed by Julyanne Liang and engineer Brian Jew.

Over the past year, a number of companies including Olive Garden, Nivea, and Google have altered their logos, ranging from subtle tweaks to prominent overhauls. In 2013, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) changed their logo from a woman dribbling to one dunking a basketball, a move that differentiated the women's logo from the men's.

"Given the evolution of the WNBA game – today's players now display more athleticism and diversity as ever before – this updated logo better portrays the attributes that today's players possess," according to a press release.

Facebook's icons have always been small, and most people may have never noticed the placement of the male and female figures. Will this small but significant change inspire other companies to seek out gender bias in their designs?

"As a result of this project, I’m on high alert for symbolism," said Winner. "I try to question all icons, especially those that feel the most familiar."

 
 
 

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