Small things can make a big difference. At Facebook, the small things can come in the manner of icons, and company graphic designer Caitlin Winner recently profiled how she and others at its headquarters leveled the playing field for men and women in the Facebook “friends” icon.
In her article at Medium, Winner begins by stating that her Facebook office is a great place with free snacks and happy people. She also mentions that there is an atmosphere of openness where everyone is allowed to change the world as they see fit. Winner’s world began to revolve around the “friends” icon when she saw that the female silhouette was not symmetrical as was the male.
For a bit of background, the icon in question used to be a silhouette with a male figure positioned just to the left and in front of a female. The female icon, alone, had a chip in its shoulder to represent where the male form would fit atop the female.
It was that chip that Winner said bothered her, so she took to heart the phrase “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem” (found on a poster at Facebook HQ) and started a multi-month journey of altering icons.
It began with the female first when she took the chip off the icon’s shoulder and changed its hair style. Then came another hair style and several more until there were at least nine from which to choose. The male icon got an overhaul, too, with a new haircut and broader collar.
Then the pair came together with more equal footing. The female was placed to the left of the male this time, and now their shoulder- and head-heights were level. Winner even moved to the “groups” icon which once placed a male in front of a female and male; she moved the female icon ahead and pushed two distinct males into the background.
She said many people jumped into her project without complaint and either continued to update those figures or add them outright to Facebook products and platforms. Winner had even succeeded in influencing Brian Frick, who she calls the “master of icons,” who reworked the entire glyph kit including revisions to icons that represent people and icons that show different perspectives of the globe.
Winner concluded that her initial impression of Facebook — that the people there all have good intentions — is real. And now she has opened up her email to those in the community with the expressed request that others let her know what else she can change.
The small things can definitely make a big difference. In this case, the individuals in the icons appear equal and the different representations of the globe give a greater local perspective to people who live on all parts of our planet. Next, I imagine Winner will get many requests for icons that represent the transgender community and perhaps requests for even more specific sections of the globe. Depending on how fine-grained Facebook wants to get, its glyph set could grow to new heights by addressing the uniqueness of the people its serves.