Is it time to evaluate whether your branding is in the right shape?

Derek Green Tuesday, July 04, 2017

If you're a regular Twitter user, then the recent design changes introduced in June 2017 won't have gone unnoticed to you. Twitter has provided us with a cleaner, less cluttered interface; more consistent typography with bolder headings; new slender icons that are more intuitive; and the ability to make everything more accessible through increased colour contrast.

One of the most noticeable changes is the account avatar – the small photo that helps others to identify and recognise who you are.

To date, the shape of the Twitter avatar has been square. But no longer. Like many other social networking sites, the design team at Twitter has embraced the circle as the ‘shape of choice’ to display account owners photos and images. For those who believe that Twitter are simply following a current trend – Apple, Flickr, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, to name a few, were already using circle avatars – then I would encourage you to think again.

From a psychological perspective, square shapes are often thought of as being solid, strong and reliable. Usually they are associated with the ‘man-made’ because of their regimented straight lines and uniform right-angles. However these sharp corners can sometimes be perceived as being unfriendly and even slightly aggressive. A circle, by comparison, is a more open and welcoming shape. Circles are commonly connected with nature, or the cycle of things, simply because they have no real start and end point.

The way in which our eyes and brain processes the content of square and circular images differs too. When reviewing rectangular and square photos, our eyes quickly drift from the centre of the image towards the edges. Or they subconsciously switch from one corner to another, as we scan the picture for information. Although we’re conscious of what is in the centre of the photo, the likelihood is that it will fall into our periphery vision and will be slightly out of focus.

We appear to approach circular images from the completely opposite direction. Our eyes immediately gravitate to the centre of the photo, and it is the information towards the edges of the picture that is in our periphery vision.

By taking these aspects into consideration, it becomes easy to understand why circular images have become so popular with social media app developers. User interface designers know that the majority of us will add a portrait photo, and these circular ‘face-pics’ will be easy for others to quickly view and identify. 

Although this works well for most, there will always be some who don't use photos of themselves for social media accounts. Businesses, for example, tend to use their logos as avatars. And here’s where a new problem now lies. 

Without getting too technical, what the design whizzes at Twitter have done, is create a bit of code that automatically masks square images and makes them into circles. For photographs this works brilliantly. However for square shaped logos this has serious implications. Parts of a logo will suddenly be masked and visual branding consistency may be comprised. 

Graphic of square and circle avatars

Over the past couple of weeks I've watched with interest as several organisations, that I follow, have amended their logos as a result of these Twitter design changes. The most common seem to be news and media services, whose avatars incorporate typography, letterforms or words, that suddenly became partially visible. 

For the majority of our Twitter-using clients, their avatars have been unaffected as we’d left sufficient visual breathing space around their icons to cope with the automatic masking. However, we have had to create new bespoke circular avatars for Dee Two and Luke Bremner Fitness, shown above.

In summary, we’d recommend that it’s time for you to do a quick health-check on your social media avatars. If you’re using your organisation’s logo, ask yourself “Does it appear correctly within a circular shape?” If it doesn't, then it’s time for you to go back to your designer and ask them to create a custom circle avatar for you. 

Here at [gawr-juhs] we will be providing all new clients with both square and circle avatars, if required, as a standard part of their visual branding from this point forward.

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