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In my app, when a user doesn't provide his / her avatar, I would like to display a colorful circle with the capitalized first character of his / her name. Let us assume, that if an avatar (face miniature) is provided, the gender is obvious.

It is important for users to recognize the gender at first glance, as it is on a search results display (a lot of records) and the app relies on later face-to-face human interaction heavily (they travel together).

Is there any specific, proven background color (for the background of person's first name initial) I should use to differentiate male / female, or, if the first name of the user is provided alongside his / her avatar I should not bother to do so?

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    Note to readers: It seems like the product/development team is being instructed to implement a gender/sex facet of the interface. That's going to happen regardless of prevailing public trends. They may have valid reasons not elaborated here. Help them make the best decision possible – New Alexandria Jun 9 at 1:20
  • @xiota actually it is just my poor phrasing, my team was instructed to do so. Nevertheless, the answer you provided is by far The Best™, I'll make sure my PM learns your points - thank you. – wscourge Jun 9 at 7:34
  • @wscourge Sorry for my misunderstanding. – 習約塔 Jun 9 at 7:45
  • @xiota no worries, it's my poor phrasing, thanks again. – wscourge Jun 9 at 7:53
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    Even though you probably wouldn't just be using colours to make this distinction, I daresay that for something that can attract very different responses depending on the context, I hope that you have considered text labels and icons as well. – Michael Lai Jun 9 at 23:05
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... the app relies on later face-to-face human interaction...

There are plenty of people of either sex who I would not care to meet. It would be far more helpful to:

  • Implement some form of identity verification.

  • Require exchange of pertinent information prior to meeting.

  • Require exchange of recently taken photos to aid identification when meeting for the first time, regardless of sex.

  • Provide search results filtering, which does not require color coding to implement.

  • Provide video chat, which would assist with identification and assure users that others are who they say they are (not using photos of someone else).

Is there any specific, proven background color... I should use to differentiate male / female... ?

You should not use color to indicate sex.

  • Colors associated with particular sexes vary with culture.

    • In some cultures, light-blue = boy, pink = girl. But in others, it's the reverse, pink = boy, light-blue = girl. Yet other cultures may use totally different colors.
    • These are cultural distinctions, not merely regional.
    • Color associations are in flux.
  • There is also now an issue in some cultures with non-binary sexual categories (not even considering preferences). Not only are there male and female, but also male-to-female and female-to-male trans. There are also people born with ambiguous genitalia who may not have been assigned a definite sex at birth, as well as genetic males with female external genitalia.

  • Nothing stops users from creating fake anonymous avatars. The color coding at best provides only an illusion of safety. Worse, it may make online predation easier.

  • Some people may just like a particular color, regardless of their sex.

I would like to display a colorful circle with the capitalized first character of his / her name.

Two colors + first initial = A limited number of anonymous avatars distributed among many users. This could lead to confusion when communicating with people who share the same sex and first initial.

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Though there will be assertions regarding the role of gender assumption, or non-binary gender states, there are still many situations where gender foresight is an expectation of an app's community. The preferences of designers and developers needs to be secondary to serving the community (in most cases, excluding some ethics)

The most important solution is to implement gendered color defaults as an I18n value. This will let you set the default gender colors by-region, and therefore respect cultural historical norms – where those are the predominant community involved.

Build a table of all societies gender color defaults, and implement that in each region/locale I18n config.


Remember that it may be more important to help users feel safe and advised by instead asking other questions during onboarding - such as "does your religion discourage mixing with people of the opposite sex?" There may be many situations that a consultant psychologist, or even just user sampling, can help you to offer as configuration in the app, rather than simply showing gender-colors and 'calling it a day'

  • Color coding sex at best provides an illusion of safety. What's to stop a user from creating a falsely colored anonymous avatar? It would be far more beneficial to implement some form of identity verification and require exchange of pertinent information prior to meeting. – 習約塔 Jun 9 at 0:57
  • If people identify their sex to the app, results can still be filtered, regardless of color coding. – 習約塔 Jun 9 at 1:18
  • The product/development team is obviously being instructed to implement a gender/sex facet of the interface. That's going to happen regardless of prevailing public trends. Help them make the best decision possible – New Alexandria Jun 9 at 1:20
  • It's not "obvious" the development team is being instructed to do anything because OP states "I would like to..." which is indicative of a lack of explicit direction. – 習約塔 Jun 9 at 1:23

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