I was wondering if there is a rule/guide on if this info graphic person actually implies male/female - assuming it is used without the opposing specifically female human graphic

enter image description here

  • 7
    It seems as if they've gone out of their way to not identify race, gender, etc... and just mean a person. However the wide shoulders and narrow hips can imply male.
    – Mayo
    May 14, 2015 at 15:59
  • 2
    Interesting question. I would have thought the use of the standard female graphic design WOULD imply a gender...
    – PhillipW
    May 14, 2015 at 16:11
  • 22
    To me this infographic implies male. I think the correlation to male/female bathroom signs is too strong to confidently say this symbol is unisex May 14, 2015 at 17:53
  • 1
    This looks male to me. I don't think there is anyway to get around the male/female.
    – Tim
    May 14, 2015 at 19:56
  • As mayo and @jack pointed out, wide shoulders and bathroom sign resemblance is too strong to ignore.
    – vok
    May 15, 2015 at 8:51

4 Answers 4


There is enough ambiguity here that labeling and context are necessary

It doesn't matter whether 30%, 50% or 70% of users think this is male (vs female or gender-neutral). There is enough ambiguity here that the infographic will fail to communicate gender effectively so context and labeling are necessary to make it effective.

This Nielsen article describes why most iconic graphics need labels/context and why only few icons are universally enough understood to be used on their own.

Here are some examples which show how the gender of the graphic can vary dramatically depending on context and labeling:

enter image description here

  • Your "Women CEOs" label tells us what the underlying data is, but it doesn't feminize the icon. May 15, 2015 at 17:31
  • @plainclothes the point is that the icon is ambiguous enough that audiences will understand what it means within the labeled context.
    – tohster
    May 15, 2015 at 17:35

While there is nothing that specifically makes this icon of a person male or female, there is a tendency in our current culture to assume a "generic" image of a person is male unless it has various markers to mark it as specifically female.

To play off the other person's answer where they gave several answers that implied the image could represent "both genders" or "gender neutral", they did not give an answer that represented the image being shown as explicitly female. (and even in the graphic that DOES reference "both genders", the image is still overwhelmingly a male image by percentages!)

Unfortunately, because of the massive affordance we have culturally built into this icon, it is unlikely that you will be able to make this image portray anything other than "male".

If you want to build a graphic that is designed to avoid the question of gender entirely, there are other images that avoid this issue neatly, such as non-human representations -- for example, Twitter's egg icons make no assumption of gender. I would recommend using icons like those where possible.

  • 1
    While your last paragraph isn't wrong (and is a good idea) it won't always work. If you want to contrast humans against cats/dogs (e.g. a pet owners' forum on which both owner and pet can have profiles) or even cars/computers you'd be stuck. An androgenous face or head might be easier to acheive than a full body.
    – Chris H
    May 15, 2015 at 12:54
  • The observation around male bias in iconography is a good one, but fwiw I think the question asks how to interpret this specific icon rather than how to design a gender neutral icon which is another broader topic which (understandably!) is likely to elicit lots of strong opinions.
    – tohster
    May 15, 2015 at 18:16

Gender neutral icons are a unaddressed issue within modern design patterns. The iconization of digital interfaces has occurred out of screen real estate with insufficient thought applied to user/cultural interpretation.

There is some good work going on at the noun project to address this. https://thenounproject.com/term/gender-neutral/132954/

enter image description here

Notice specifically the icon most similar to the one in the question, but with wider hips and narrower shoulders. This to me reads gender neutral without label or context.

  • 2
    It just needs some man boobs. May 15, 2015 at 17:32
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    ... it's an improvement, but what's with the hollow head? May 24, 2015 at 20:33

We need to consider the context in this case: If this infographic is used discuss the number of people who hate their internet service provider, then the info-graphic does not need to have an visual indication of the gender. I think this graphic without any context would be termed UNISEX.

If a subject like bathrooms, Breast/Prostate cancer or any other comparison consist this graphic then it will the opposite gender human graphic. Otherwise it is safe to believe that without a context this could pass as UNISEX.

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