The avatar has become a staple of social networking platforms, however an old design pattern is beginning to reemerge. The most recent appearance of the pattern that I saw was with the new iOS 7. When you search for contacts on your phone, a circle with initials is displayed next to each contact. The style is essentially a colorless replica of the New York Subway circles (pictured above).

Typically this style wouldn’t be such a big deal to me but I immediately realized the value of it during a conversation on Dispatch this morning. Rather than having a photo of myself next to the menu, there was a circle with an “N” in the middle. Brilliant!


Why was this so clever? First, it enabled Dispatch to create a simple (higher converting) registration process without breaking the integrity of the design. Over the past year, the most common pattern that I’ve seen is to design an empty avatar, prompting the user to add their own. It creates unnecessary tension for the user as they feel as though they need to take the time to find a photo from their computer and upload it. This breaks the user experience flow.

Second, this design pattern makes the experience personal (via the user’s initials), without requiring any additional effort from the user. Using this alternative pattern, in which text is used as a replacement for images, makes uploading an image truly is optional. The initials also enable the design to be personal in contrast to an impersonal empty avatar.

It’s simple and elegant. I’ll be sure to incorporate this design pattern into any future projects I work on! What do you think of this design pattern?