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!
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:
Facebook letting Mark Zuckerberg personally design a new logo in Word 97 was an interesting choice https://t.co/Mg9cSw6Iu6
— nilay patel (@reckless) November 4, 2019
Next, the how much did this cost?! tweet:
This is Facebook’s new corporate logo
Someone spent millions on that pic.twitter.com/i0UzN9gN3o
— Edward Hardy (@EdwardTHardy) November 4, 2019
And would it really be a redesign without a culturally relevant meme?
Clever of Facebook to unveil its new logo at Argestes! pic.twitter.com/tl5mD2YbAy
— Ashley Mayer (@ashleymayer) November 4, 2019
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.
looks bad https://t.co/aCkhlKKZ5O
— Steph Davidson (@stephcd) November 4, 2019
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?
— ZIPENG (@zzdesign) November 4, 2019
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 5, 2019
Is the rebrand a transparent case of “design washing?”
Aesthetically, I don’t have a lot to say positive or negative TBH.
But I will say that rebranding can often be the last resort of scoundrels. Concerned about our ethical practices around political advertising? Razzle dazzle ’em with our new logo. Coincidence? or #DesignWashing?
— 🎗LeeSean 立翔 🐒 (@leesean) November 4, 2019
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:
graphic design must be stopped https://t.co/gWUY1vtV75
— Erik Carter (@erikinternet) November 4, 2019
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…)
Some great tips to think about when communicating information pic.twitter.com/lKJKnzWKOd
— Karren (@Karrenbacs) November 2, 2019
Many noted that the tips are just best practices for universal design generally. Others flagged more helpful resources for designing for accessibility:
W3C has some great resources https://t.co/KTF4sGfOps
— Bri Norton (@algazel) November 5, 2019
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:
Good morning Design Twitter! It’s a great day to make sure that you’re not only following people on Design Twitter that look like you 😊 https://t.co/t8LZTg2f4e
— Vivianne Castillo (@vcastillo630) October 29, 2019
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.)
— Emojipedia 📙 (@Emojipedia) October 28, 2019
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.
all this does is reinforce that non binary / gender neutral people look a certain way when they can look like any of these emoji’s. being non binary / gender neutral is simply that you identify as such. that’s it. this seems like a harmful n bad idea. https://t.co/rrOU7Z6Ol1
— bey 🦋 (@fvckstration) October 29, 2019
Some, on the other hand, appreciated the new options:
this!!! as a nonbinary trans man who presents in a kinda weird androgynous way it feels really validating to not have to pick between one emoji that validates my gender but looks nothing like me and one that isn’t my gender and looks slightly more like me but not really?? https://t.co/52W4dPI0Hs
— kai 💀 (@kaiempage) October 30, 2019
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.
Gender inclusive emoji designs are starting to roll out for codepoints that do not specify gender. Most notably, this change means emoji fonts are moving away from “heterosexuals are the default” to “here are two people, here is a family.” pic.twitter.com/kk77lM5u1q
— Jennifer Daniel (@jenniferdaniel) October 28, 2019
It’s an ongoing task, and something worth paying attention to. In the meantime, there’s always Memoji…