Gender neutral profile photos

For a number of years I have been questioning design decisions that lead to the standard masculine default profile photo — many designers I’ve worked with in China and Taiwan don’t yet understand the importance of gender neutral imagery. Though the original egg icon was a far better fit for their brand, in a recent redesign of the default profile photo have made an effort to address the issue and graciously shared their design thinking. It’s interesting.

Twitter’s blog post announcing the new icon.

For the new default profile photo, we decided that we wanted to use people’s existing expectations for default profile photos and how they serve as a temporary placeholder. From this process, we identified a set of traits the new default profile photo should have:

  • Generic
  • Universal
  • Serious
  • Unbranded
  • Temporary
  • Inclusive

We went through many iterations to develop the new profile photo to make sure it displayed those traits. First, we explored gray, generic images to communicate that this profile photo is intended to be temporary. We looked at figures, photos, and patterns. For the figures, we thought about combinations of very common, circular shapes – these were a good starting point because they didn’t have any notable physical attributes. Because photos are usually communicated with a landscape icon, we felt that this was also a good route to explore. We additionally considered a simple, line-based pattern to try something without a figure.

After deciding on a figure, we began our refinements. We had to determine how to bring inclusivity into our single default profile photo, given that we don’t require people to specify their gender on Twitter. We felt that the circle of the head in the figure still seemed masculine, even though it technically had no design characteristics to indicate that it was a man. So for inspiration, we looked at how women are portrayed in generic, wayfinding iconography, such as bathroom signs, and noticed that the only difference between the sexes is the shape of their clothing.

Regardless, people have come to associate the circle head with masculinity, and because of this association, we felt that it was important to explore alternate head shapes. We reviewed many variations of our figure, altering both the head and shoulders to feel more inclusive to all genders. When the shoulders were wider, the image felt overly masculine, so we decreased the width of the shoulders and adjusted the height of the figure. As a result of these iterations, we ended with a more gender-balanced figure. We chose grays because they feel temporary, generic, and universal. With that, we included a higher contrast color combination to make this image accessible for those with visual impairments. Because of its coloring, the new profile photo also gives less prominence to accounts with a default profile photo.
From Rethinking our default profile photo


5 Talks on Empathy

Empathy, the essential element of good design.

To understand someone’s worldview that is foreign to yours is the hard work of being human. We need space to critically think and also have the support of people who possess a compassionate understanding so that our assessments aren’t entirely self-serving.

…five talks … that teach the beauty of empathy in multiple contexts: leadership, product design, social change, technology, and for the people you work with (including yourself).

5 Talks on Empathy That Will Change How You Connect and Create


It was shallow thinking to maintain that numbers and charts were the cold compression of unruly human energies, every sort of yearning and midnight sweat reduced to lucid units in the financial markets. In fact data itself was soulful and glowing, a dynamic aspect of the life process. This was the eloquence of alphabets and numeric systems, now fully realized in electronic form, in the zero-oneness of the world, the digital imperative that defined every breath of the planet’s living billions. Here was the heave of the biosphere. Our bodies and oceans were here, knowable and whole.
Don Delillo, Cosmopolis: A Novel (Scribner, 2003).


Get Out Of Your World Of Expertise

The most inspirational people, not just inspirational, but the best people period, that I have had to good fortune to work with or know have all been experts in more than one discipline. An engineer who was an expert in classical music, a designer who could play the violin, a doctor who could play the drums; all were multi-dimension and great at what they did. These kind of people are a joy to be around too.

Throughout school, I was laser-focused on learning everything I could about design. When I came to IDEO, this passion for design was no longer something that made me unique. It’s what you know beyond design that allows you to come up with a solution that your peers haven’t considered. Good design skills are most powerful when they are applied with another discipline or two, or three. I found the designers I most admired were experts in some other area—neuroscience, climbing, magic, baking.
From 3 Ways to Fight Impostor Syndrome


“The deepest form of understanding another person is empathy…[which] involves a
shift from…observing how you seem on the outside, to…imagining what it feels like to be you on the inside.”
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Chapter 9, “Empathy is a Journey, Not a Destination,” p. 183.

Designing something requires that you completely understand what a person wants to get done. Empathy with a person is distinct from studying how a person uses something. Empathy extends to knowing what the person wants to accomplish regardless of whether she has or is aware of the thing you are designing. You need to know the person’s goals and what procedure and philosophy she follows to accomplish them.
from the book Mental Models


Products are realized only as necessary artifacts to address customer needs. What Flickr, Kodak, Apple, and Target all realize is that the experience is the product we deliver, and the only thing that our customers care about.
From book Mental Models


As we craft increasingly complex designs for a growing variety of digital devices, remember that interaction design is not about the behavior of the interface; it’s about the behavior of people.


Benchmarking definition

I was required to do this activity, albeit in a far more informal way, numerous times in the past. It often is used in conjunction with competitive analysis, but in my experience was often used alone.

Vorhies & Morgan (2005, 81) define benchmarking as “market-based learning process by which a firm seeks to identify best practices that produce superior results in other firms and to replicate these to enhance its own competitive advantage.” The purpose of benchmarking is to gather various types of business knowledge for the company doing the benchmarking. The objective of benchmarking is to apply the gained business knowledge in to business decision-making. By doing so the company can improve the business decision-making and thus improve the business performance of the company. Therefore, the competitive advantage of the company becomes stronger. (Prašnikar etc. 2005, 257-275.)

Vorhies & Morgan (2005, 81) also state that benchmarking has potential on becoming a vital learning tool for identifying, building and improving market abilities to deliver lasting competitive advantage for a company.