Symbols Matter

Semiotics, or the study of symbols and sign processes and meaningful communication, has recently been on my radar because of a class I’m teaching.

Earlier this morning I stumbled on a post by Caitlin Winner on how she pushed forward with a small but meaningful change with the Facebook icon set used to display the now universally recognized Facebook Friends icon.

I shared my complaint with a designer friend and she helpfully pointed me to the poster next to mine which proclaimed, “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” The lady icon needed a shoulder, so I drew it in — and so began my many month descent into the rabbit hole of icon design.

It turns out that others at Facebook have pursued similar changes. For e.g., the globe.

It turns out this kind of self initiated project is not unique at Facebook. Last year, designer Julyanne Liang worked with engineer Brian Jew to give the non-American half of the globe an accurate world view from the notification icon. Since then they’ve added an Asia-centric globe, too.

Symbols are important. The context in which they are used, the global recognition for certain symbols and the misuse of symbols shape our daily interactions. More importantly, this write up is a great example of how taking personal responsibility and ownership for changing things that seem small to some, but when implemented make a world of difference to others.

Source: How We Changed the Facebook Friends Icon