Did you ever dream about fighting demons, peering through a telescope on your head, and eating potatoes?
In November 2015, Rebecca Hendin’s dream became a reality when she became Facebook’s new top graphic designer.
“I was literally typing for hours, kind of on autopilot, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” Hendin says. Her manic rush to come up with her first new Facebook look, one that would slot with its other features, was unprecedented. The fun lasted only a few hours until Hendin’s supervisor, Aaron Patterson, sent her some snarky feedback.
“What are you doing here?” she was supposed to have told him. Instead, she says he jumped to conclusions. Patterson, head of design for Facebook’s experience team, realized that Hendin’s changes were “inconsistent with Facebook.” They weren’t crossing over into features that were core to the social network, which Patterson says should be a “shopping cart for images.”
As Patterson put it, she was “deeply flawed.” The whole point of a visual transformation was that it should work across platforms, not sidetrack from the original concept.
For Facebook, the new look was a controversial one because it scotched years of design work and produced even more buzz than its predecessor. Migrating to a new design is a huge undertaking, especially when you’ve been working on something as integral to the brand’s identity as the look of its profile pages. It also takes a unique blend of professional drawing skills and a hell of a lot of willpower to stay on track through the entire process.
Once Hendin completed her first and most difficult piece, her supervisor asked to see the next one.
The new look altered profiles’ iconography so that it has a wavy pattern that tracks the user’s head and face. (That was by choice.) People’s photos look like text, not a grid of squares. The timelines look less chaotic, and, as Patterson put it, “it looks a little more like a book.” (That one was by design.) The desktop app’s photos and “Today” events now light up a grey right side, with a different color for each app icon, making it easier to navigate.
Facebook claims to be saving it all in one place so you don’t have to scour the rest of its apps to find the latest updates.
For Hendin, the new look not only provided her the opportunity to make her mark at Facebook but had a trickle-down effect to her other projects. The team that had supported her along the way was experiencing the same fate. She says they started seeing each other pass by their rooms in the morning, and even her own desk. Hendin drew two future posts on the walls of Patterson’s office: “I’m here, and I don’t quit.”
The motivation for Hendin’s change, she says, is less about what the new look gave her and more about the narrative — narrative she says she wants to tell about herself. “To be one of the few women who’s doing this, who’s passionate about what they do, to share that, it just felt really nice to see other people who like what they do, and are thriving in that. My goal is to get to a place where I want my girlfriend to be able to be me, and want her to have a place she can be her.”