Facebook brings women to the fore in icon refresh

Facebook is not finished tweaking its appearance. Following a subtle logo redesign last week, the social network is giving one of its signature icons a more ladylike look.

Caitlin Winner, a design manager at Facebook, wrote in a Medium post that she’s making women more prominent in the site’s groups and friends icons. Beside being placed behind the man, the previous female icon appeared to have a chip on her shoulder and was adorned with a horrid “Darth Vader-like helmet” hair.

“I assumed no ill intentions, just a lack of consideration but as a lady with two robust shoulders, the chip offended me,” she wrote. She freshened up the women by giving them actual shoulders and a “slightly more shapely bob” because ponytails looked like a “small rodent” when they’re reduced in size.

Winner’s post dives deep into her design process, but the main point is that the appearance of the female didn’t fairly represent the community. She followed Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s lead:

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.

Winner is referring the Friends Request icon, which has been updated on mobile but not yet live on the Web version. The old is on the left, and new version is on the right:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.50.07 AM

The groups icon also got a revamp, with the new version bringing the woman to the front and place the men behind her. As seen below, the old version is on the left and the new is on the right:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.48.36 AM


Megan Hartman, head of the millennial-focused branding agency Red Peak Youth, lauded the new icons in an email to Digiday.

“Young people especially will appreciate Facebook’s willingness to do the right thing, in big and small ways,” she said. “It’s also a testament to the culture that Facebook is building and the influence that a leader like Sheryl Sandberg can have in changing how a brand behaves.”

Although these changes aren’t immediately noticeable, it signals that Facebook is keeping pace with social trends of becoming more aware of gender issues. Earlier this year, Facebook added a custom field into user’s gender section so they can type in anything they want. Now it all has to do is work on its imbalanced gendered workforce.


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