An image may be worth a thousand words, but a Facebook icon represents literally millions of people.
The magnitude of the symbolism of Facebook’s seemingly innocuous icons is something designer Caitlin Winner realized not too long after she started working at the company. On Tuesday, Winner outlined in a blog post why and how Facebook’s icons gained a bit more gender equality.
If you take a look at the “friends” icon on Facebook, you may notice that the female silhouette is now in front of the male, and both of their hairstyles look a bit more updated. Same goes for the “groups” icon, which now also features a more unisex third silhouette instead of two men a one woman (in the background). Those changes came after Winner noticed the old, more male-centric versions and took it upon herself to come up with alternatives. After countless iterations, she eventually included her updates in the company’s official kit of icons.
“Timidly, I saved out a new version of the glyph file, not sure if I was breaking any rules and half expecting a bunch of angry designers to message me asking why I was messing up Facebook’s glyph kit,” Winner wrote. “Instead, and somewhat magically, the new icons began to appear in new products across the company and our many platforms.”
As Winner notes, this wasn’t the first time Facebook has rethought the inclusiveness of its icons. Last year, designer Julyanne Liang and engineer Brian Jew cooked up alternative globe icons for users not in the American half of the world.
Though these changes may seem small, they speak to Facebook’s increasing awareness of gender issues. Still, the company added additional gender options for user profiles only last year, and while Winner’s icons are a great step in acknowledging the female gender, it’s still doing poorly when it comes to the gender diversity of its own employees.