minion svg

Standing out from the digital crowd

Have you noticed? The most popular websites nowadays be it Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, revolve around a feed. A feed consisting of status updates, photos, videos, posts, what have you. Alongside that content you also find your name, and your avatar. That small square arrangement of pixels is crucial in identifying your post from the one above or below you. Fail to grab the attention of the reader, with your small avatar, and you’re lost in the background. What benefit does that new follower bring you, if they “can’t see” your post in their feed?

We don’t read, we scan

Even as you’re reading this line, your eyes fixate on one word and then they “jump” to the next three-four words (depends on how fast you read; fast readers use their peripheral vision and fixate fewer times per line). In a feed, we tend to scan in an F-shape pattern. We start from the avatar (left-top) and then move on to read what the person has said.

twitter eye tracking

Because it’s so easy for the reader to “skip you” and scroll down, thus neglecting your post, you have to make it interesting to the reader, so they will stop and accord you a few seconds. If what you say is worth or not their while, that’s another story.

We tend to scan a website, or a feed, vertically and we only stop to look at big and bold type (headings), bright colours (buttons), changes in layout (circled avatars), and faces (in particular: the inversed triangle formed by our eyes and nose). Then, if the post is interesting, or we respect/admire the person who posted it, we will read it. Only if we are compelled by what we’ve read, we will click the link.

Learning from advertising

It has been said that advertising should be used to reinforce a brand, not introduce it. McDonald’s doesn’t need to advertise or become an official sponsor of anything. But by advertising their brand, you are reminded of the pleasure you get from eating their delicious Bic Mac or French fries, and you start craving for one.

The same principle can be applied in the digital cyberspace. If you have a memorable avatar, whenever you post something, you tap into the long-term memory of the reader who recognises your avatar. In time, they will start reading your posts instinctively.

Congratulations! You just became a drug. That is until you post something offensive or contradictory to the reader’s opinion…

Why I made my avatar yellow

So far we’ve learned that big type, bright colours, and faces attract our attention. Let’s take it a step further. Is having a face enough to attract attention?

Websites, in order to be readable, tend to have a white/grey background. That means any avatar with white/grey colour will be blended, at first, with the background. You see, our brain processes images similar to when you load a progressive JPG image. It starts out blurry and as milliseconds pass, the images gets clearer, and we start identifying the finer details.

A few months ago there was a trend with avatars, to display your avatar in black and white (I did it too). The problem is that your B&W avatar gets mixed up in my memory with the other B&W avatars, because they look too similar, and I can’t differentiate yours. See the difference, in the image below?


Top tier: @soffes, @salleedesign, @_dte, @MengTo, @sican. Bottom tier: @jessicahische, @paul_irish, @repponen, @drewwilson, @sican.

That’s why I made my avatar yellow.

Tips for an attention-grabbing avatar

  • Pick a unique colour to represent you. Include it somehow in your avatar/profile picture.
  • Show your face (logos are impersonal, but I understand why you might use them).
  • Be expressive. Smile or make a crazy face.
  • Zoom in in order for the avatar to include only your face. That sunset behind you is not unique.
  • Have a Distraction free background. Separate yourself from the background by adding contrast; don’t use similar tones for the skin/shirt and background.
  • Be memorable/entertaining.


coca cola vs pepsi

Be consistent with your avatar. In my opinion it’s the most important marketing tool you have today. Don’t change your avatar/profile picture frequently. Also, your avatar should be the same across all sites, apps, and social networks. One avatar to rule them all. Doing so, you tap in the long-term memory of your followers and people can instantly recognise you.

Even if it’s “the dude with the face of a Minion, i.e. me.

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