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Facebook: Image Matters

In case you missed it, Facebook rolled out its new "friends" icon this week. The new image that represents a Facebook user's friends depicts the silhouettes of a male and a female figure of the same dimension side-by-side.

The revised silhouettes replace the former version of the iconic image, which showed a proportionately larger male figure in the foreground with a slightly smaller female figure positioned behind.

"Facebook is a global community, and we want to represent the many kinds of people who use our service. Symbols matter—and a small image can carry a giant message," said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer in an official announcement about the change.

The Facebook employee who took it upon herself to revise the icons explains in an essay how she approached the change and how the project unfolded.

"As a result of this project, I'm on high alert for symbolism. I try to question all icons, especially those that feel the most familiar. For example, is the briefcase the best symbol for ‘work'? 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?" Caitlin Winner, design manager at Facebook wrote.

The change is being heralded by some as a subtle yet important correction that addresses larger issues, in particular, the message the original icon may have, albeit unintentionally, perpetuated by assigning perceived second-class status to the female figure, "… in an industry under increasing criticism for its lack of gender and racial diversity, such decisions on designs contribute to the unconscious biases that have made it so hard for women to advance," The Washington Post commented.