Caitlin Winner ‘05, Design Manager at Facebook, Gives Icons a Gender Makeover
Thanks to a Wellesley alumna, the small image that appears at the top of most Facebook pages—two tiny overlapping silhouettes of a man and a woman—looks a little different. "As a woman, educated at a women's college, it was hard not to read into the symbolism of the current icon," wrote Caitlin Winner '05, a design manager at Facebook, in a post for Medium.com. "The woman was quite literally in the shadow of the man."
In a self-initiated project, Winner made changes to the icon that made the woman's silhouette larger and moved it in front of the man's. The change may be small, but it's a big nod to gender equality. “An image may be worth a thousand words, but a Facebook icon represents literally millions of people,” said one article in Time magazine.
Winner placed the woman in the forefront of the "groups" icon, too, and updated all of the silhouettes, starting with new hair for the woman. "Ponytails felt modern, if a little youthful, but at [such a small size] the pony resembled a small rodent more than a hairdo," Winner wrote. She eventually chose a more shapely bob.
This effort led Winner to note other places throughout the site where similar changes were needed. "In updating the man I discovered the many places on Facebook where a single figure is used to represent an action, like in the 'add friend' icon," she wrote. "It didn't seem fair, let alone accurate, that all friend requests should be represented by a man, so I drew a silhouette for cases where a gendered icon was inappropriate."
Facebook leadership has praised Winner's initiative. In a statement sent to NPR, Maxine Williams, Global Director of Diversity for the company, called the project "a great example of what happens when you are not afraid to identify and address issues."
In a Facebook message, company COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote, "Caitlin Winner took it upon herself to redesign the icon, making both genders equal... Symbols matter—and a small image can carry a giant message."
Read Winner’s post, "How We Changed the Facebook Friends Icon," on Medium.com.