Social media platforms switching up their design is nothing new. Who can forget the old iterations of Facebook, back before the algorithms changed and text ruled the platform. But in recent years, it seems as though the social media world has agreed upon the same line of thinking: circles for avatars rather than squares.
The circles versus squares debate is not a revolutionary idea, and there is justification behind social platforms transitioning into this format. Circles allow for focus on the person and eliminate excess details around the frame. Person versus content makes sense for a social avatar, you just want to comprehend whose update you’re seeing. A square avatar is just the opposite, with the sharp edges it allows for details and diversity. Plus, there is no proportion distortion if the source image was portrait or landscape.
Let’s take a scan of social platforms and see where exactly these circles lie. Instagram Stories and profile pictures are circles. Snapchat stories are circles, as was the original format of the discover page. Google Hangout icons? You got it, circles. Even LinkedIn has transitioned into circle profile pictures. Who can forget the launch of #NewTwitter in June when they did away with square profile features to circle avatars and more rounded buttons. We can’t say that we dislike the transition to circles, as we are fans of the shape here at SIGNAL.
Surely there would be one platform that was holding onto the square motif. Facebook, the last platform to keep a square profile picture, has even transitioned to rounding out the pages. Profile pictures on the homepage and comment section are now circles, and if you zoom in and look closer at those ‘square’ profile images you’ll see they actually have rounded edges.
The justification for curved edges lies within the cognitive processes of our brains. Cliff Kuang, the director of product at Fast Company explains circles are superior eye-grabbing features. “You’ll notice that a lot of things that are supposed to be perceived very quickly tend to be round. There’s something about circles that draw our attention more easily.”
Scanning information and comprehending quickly is exactly what users do on social media. Information overload floods the eyes as you scroll through each platform, so the move toward circle features intuitively makes sense. This is especially true on mobile.
As social platforms, and web design as a whole start to focus on building for mobile first and desktop second, you’ll see more features implemented for quick scrolling and faster understanding.