Illustration by Tala Safié

Welcome back to Overheard on Design Twitter, our semi-regular column where we sift through the good, bad, and in-between of what’s happening in our little corner of the Twitterverse. This week #designtwitter edged into #everyonehasanopiniontwitter when Facebook rolled out a new brand identity meant to help people differentiate Facebook the app from F A C E B O O K the owner of Facebook the app, Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus, etc. Not confusing at all!

New Facebook company brand

As soon as the rebrand dropped, we grabbed our popcorn and waited for the tweets to roll in. There’s nothing like a rebrand to inspire a classic Design Twitter pile on, and this one checked all the requisite boxes. 

First up, the Microsoft Word jab:

Next, the how much did this cost?! tweet:

And would it really be a redesign without a culturally relevant meme?

Aesthetically speaking, the rebrand is…fine? The logo is no doubt the result of some highly optimized market research around what people like and dislike. It’s as if Facebook’s team had access to the collective consciousness of worldwide design preferences (“sans serif,” “millennial pink,” “all caps”) and condensed them into a singular wordmark 🤔. In a blog post, Facebook’s design team laid out in detail its rationale for how it got to the new look. They cited an “empathetic color palette” that rotates through an ombre rainbow of shades tied to its various companies (WhatsApp green, Facebook app blue, Instagram sunset). The all-caps, soft-edged letterforms are meant to “add a sense of optimism.” Oof. 

Design babble aside, the timing of Facebook’s new logo called into question the company’s underlying motivation. Should F A C E B O O K  really be worrying about a logo when it’s actively undermining democracy?

Is the rebrand a transparent case of “design washing?”

It’s days like these in the trenches of Design Twitter that have us wondering if it isn’t better to just ban design altogether:

Jokes aside, there are, of course, many genuinely useful and important reasons not to ban design, as the following tweet from a speech and language therapist reminded us amid all the Facebook buzz this week. The four images that she shared show the dos and don’ts of designing for users with accessibility needs including autism, low vision, dyslexia, and anxiety. These tips come from a series of posters created by the UK government’s very own interaction designer Karwai Pun (and as our British editors note, the gov.uk site is one of the most user-friendly that there is—even winning Design of the Year from the Design Museum in 2013—especially during anxiety inducing moments like trying to register to vote Remain while abroad…) 

Many noted that the tips are just best practices for universal design generally. Others flagged more helpful resources for designing for accessibility:

It’s threads like these that should be bookmarked immediately. And another immensely useful resources to add to your bookmark folder and which was highlighted on Design Twitter this week is this directory of Black designers in the industry: 

Lastly, Apple recently released new emojis with its latest software update, which notably included “gender-neutral” emojis. (Google released its own gender-fluid emojis back in May.) 

The new gender-neutral emojis also included non-human options, like merpeople, fae (fairys), and vampires. For the human emoji, the gender-neutral options look more or less like a cross between pre-existing male and female emojis: for example, female emojis have smaller, rounder heads; male emojis have heads that are larger and more square; gender-neutral emojis have a face shape/size that’s somewhere in between. Hairstyles range but occupy a studied middle ground between long and short. In other words, many of the new gender-neutral emojis look androgynous, which as many on Twitter pointed out, is reinforcing a stereotype of non-binary or gender non-conforming looking or presenting in a singular way.

Some, on the other hand, appreciated the new options:  

Including gender-neutral emojis is clearly an attempt by tech companies to better represent more people through emojis, and gender is complicated—the task of communicating it through a single icon, symbol, or image is… an impossible one. The more options the better. But this debate is particularly relevant to designers because at its heart, it’s a design problem.

The Unicode Consortium decides the code behind a given emoji, but each platform has its own interpretation of what that code will look like in emoji form. So that means that while there are many emojis that don’t specify a gender in their code (i.e. construction worker person), tech companies can decide to design them in a way that’s clearly gendered (construction man). Now that Apple and Google have released gender-neutral emojis, those are their interpretations of what a gender-neutral option for “construction person” or “judge” or “vampire” looks like. 

It’s an ongoing task, and something worth paying attention to. In the meantime, there’s always Memoji