Wondering about a best practice for handling empty pictures for profiles. Surely one could just have a default silhouette, but on long list pages where most users do not have profile pictures this becomes a waste of space.

Clearly there must be a better way to handle empty profile pics other than: 1) Silhouette 2) Hiding the pic entirely

Trello does something interesting where they use the person's initials within their 'pic' (see attached). I'm looking for solutions like this that go a step further in solving the problem.

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  • Putting random gravatar fractals like on UX.stackexchange.com? ;)
    – Aadaam
    Aug 8, 2012 at 16:05
  • Sure, although in this case there will be a few users responsible for updating the pics of others on the site..so...maybe? Aug 8, 2012 at 16:10

2 Answers 2


I would suggest that trello's method is the most useful. They use a gravatar (or file upload), then fallback to the initials method. 37signals has a blog post about reinventing the default profile pic, but to me this seems like an exercise in extravagance or maybe they had a designer on the bench with nothing better to do. IMO there is very little benefit in expending effort on this. If you're concerned about nobody updating their profile pic, then encourage them to do so, in the way that linkedin encourages you to complete your profile in more detail.


I looked at Trello's site and it seems to be a dashboard for displaying the various phases in a project or multiple project. In that context the primary focus of the site is on the content i.e. the projects in this case and the user's profile pic is not of particular significance.'

To answer your question, what you could do with empty profile pics will depending upon the use case which you are handling. Linkedin does not show a silhouette if there is no profile pic but just shows the information of the person since that' the primary point of focus

However in a social networking site like Facebook where your profile pic is often your identity and often the starting point of the profile, Facebook highlights its significance by keeping the silhouette as a reference and also a reminder to complete/update the data

  • Or if it's not a competing social network, you can use the trick sparrow used: they simply grabbed the profile pic of the user from facebook based on e-mail address.
    – Aadaam
    Aug 8, 2012 at 17:08

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