5 Ideas for a Smarter Facebook ‘Dislike’ Button
When Facebook’s “Like” button appeared in 2007, people quickly asked for an alternative to the cheerful thumbs-up symbol. Many called it a “Dislike” button. Well, such a button is finally in the works, even if it probably won’t be a “Dislike” button, exactly. In all likelihood, the feature Zuck announced Monday will be more suited to communicating empathy or acknowledgement than conveying displeasure.
That also means the most literal foil to the “Like” button—a thumbs-down—probably isn’t an option. Cramming complex feelings and connotations into a single icon is an immensely difficult challenge for designers. It’s hard to account for the feelings of a billion people, which is why a thumbs-down doesn’t cut it; as all-encompassing symbols go, it’s a pretty blunt implement.
It’s still anyone’s guess what the new icon will look like. But we asked a handful of designers how they would tackle the challenge of creating a subtle alternative to the “Like” button. Here’s what they came up with.
The Ear Button, or the “I Hear You” Button:
In conversation, the quickest way to express empathy is to say “I hear you.” Might as well, then, use a pictogram of the human ear for a so-called “empathy” button, says Scott Thomas, who served as design director for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. The symbol could communicate receptiveness and engagement while fostering a sense of community and inquisitiveness. The one hiccup we foresee? Users could confuse it with the audio button.
Hands Holding a Heart:
For consistency’s sake, “we like the idea of keeping the icons within the visual world of hand gestures,” says Min Lew, a partner at Base Design. To convey empathy, she suggests an icon depicting a hand resting on a heart (think Pledge of Allegiance). Other designers’ ideas echo the concept. Thomas mentions a hand holding a heart. Simon Manchipp, founder of SomeOne design studio in London and creator of the Eurostar’s restroom icons, says that if “empathy is to feel what someone else feels…two hands coming together to make a heart would work with their current thumbs up iconography theme.” It’s sappy, sure—but in the gooey, feel-good confines of Facebook’s digital world, that’s just fine.
The Point Up, Look Up Button:
Another way of continuing the hand iconography could be an icon pointing upward. This “Yeah, man,” signal, created by UX designer Emma Sherwood-Forbes, is the gestural equivalent of typing a “^” into a group chat—a quick way of saying “this,” “yes,” “what she said,” or, as Sherwood-Forbes puts it, “I’m with this statement above.” It also cleverly dodges any political or cultural associations that might come with other hand gestures, like a fist pump or an open-faced palm, held high in midair.
The neutral half moon:
Milton Glaser, who designed the now-iconic I ♥ NY logo in 1977, sent this icon of a circle, with one half open and the other half darkened. It’s less a symbol of empathy than a button for expressing neutral recognition. “It’s an idea about the glass half empty, and a glass half filled,” Glaser says. “It’s sterilizing, because you don’t know which way to go and you can’t answer the question.” That action could come in handy for highly sensitive news items, where users might want to weigh in without implicating their own emotions or political beliefs. It easily avoids what we’ve described elsewhere as “the mental contortions required to read a thumbs up as ‘I like that you shared this horrible thing.’ ”
Let’s face it. It’s totally possible that Facebook will give people the thumbs-down symbol they think they want. If it does, there are bound to be some major hurdles, says Christina Nguyen White, VP of user experience at Huge. “Having a dislike button in order to open up the forum for empathy is going to be a challenging communication message that Facebook will have to enforce,” she says. Facebook may have to guide users away from the inherent associations people have with the icon (unhappiness, dislike), which might mean rolling it out on a few types of posts first, then go site-wide with it.
Of course, that opens the lid on the entirely separate issue of Facebook policing posts for sentiment, which is just as uncomfortable as accidentally disliking your cousin’s wedding photo.
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