In a Medium post (why not public Facebook?) Caitlin Winner explains how she redesigned the group of friends icon at facebook, and why.
Much to my dismay, not long into my tenure as a Facebook designer I found something in the company glyph kit worth getting upset about. There in the middle of the photoshop file were two vectors that represented people. The iconic man was symmetrical except for his spiked hairdo but the lady had a chip in her shoulder. After a little sleuthing I determined that the chip was positioned exactly where the man icon would be placed in front of her, as in the ‘friends’ icon, above. I assumed no ill intentions, just a lack of consideration but as a lady with two robust shoulders, the chip offended me.
Insert pun of "she has a chip on her shoulder about chips on women's shoulders" - but sure, that makes sense. Odd little design idiosyncrasies tend to drive designers batty. That's why they're designers. Off she went, to fix the shoulder. And once that was done, she wanted to give her better hair, that old school helmet-bob is not feeling very modern these days.
Once she had sorted out the best hair for the woman, she went on to fix the man, making his shoulders a little softer and creating a silhouette for cases where a gendered icon was inappropriate. Then she moved on to placing ladies first, as the old saying goes.
Next, I was moved to do something about the size and order of the female silhouette in the ‘friends icon’. As a woman, educated at a women’s college, it was hard not to read into the symbolism of the current icon; the woman was quite literally in the shadow of the man, she was not in a position to lean in.
My first idea was to draw a double silhouette, two people of equal sizes without a hard line indicating who was in front. Dozens of iterations later, I abandoned this approach after failing to make an icon that didn’t look like a two headed mythical beast. I placed the lady, slightly smaller, in front of the man.
The old ‘groups’ icon featured two men and one woman, the woman sat in the back left behind the larger centered man. It was an obvious refresh to use three unique silhouettes instead and, here again, I placed the lady first.
The new icons were saved into facebooks own work files and then with the help of other designers and front end engineers trickled their way out to the platform and apps once little iconic step at a time.