Facebook 'friends' icon switched around to let woman come to the fore

A tiny change could promote diversity, its designer claims

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The Independent Tech

Facebook has swapped the man and woman around in its “friends” icon, because the lady was previously “literally in the shadow of the man”.

Before, the man stood in front of the woman. But a Facebook designer, upset by the symbolism of a man holding a woman back, has prompted the site to switch up its icon.

The changes to the new image look minor — both people have slightly different haircuts, have been swapped around, and are a more similar size. The new design also removes an actual “chip” on the woman’s shoulder, giving her instead “robust” shoulders.

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The change has been added to the “groups” icon, too. Before, that featured two men and one woman, with the woman stood in the back left; now, the lady is first, stood in front of two men.

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But it could be a meaningful one, Facebook design manager Caitlin Winner says, and could lead to Facebook making yet more changes to the symbolism of its icons.

“For example, is the briefcase the best symbol for ‘work’?” Winner asks in a Medium post describing the process of making the new icon. “Which population carried briefcases and in which era? What are other ways that ‘work’ could be symbolized and what would those icons evoke for the majority of people on Earth?”

Winner has asked users to get in touch with her if there are other symbols on the site that should be redesigned.

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

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