How to represent everyone without representing anyone.
Download the infographic: How user data is protected on Firefox New Tab (PDF – 633 kB)
Illustrating something highly-technical is more about storytelling than it is about design. My personal process often starts with a deluge of diagrams, wiki pages, stakeholder meetings, and follow-up discussions with engineers. Once I finally understand the details myself, it’s then my job to distill all that raw information into a single, coherent story.
That’s where the plot usually takes an interesting detour.
The Content Services team recently asked me to develop an infographic depicting how Firefox determines which Suggested Site to show a user. The narrative itself was easy to illustrate because I had tremendous help from my teammates. But regardless of the refinements I continued making to the design, a crucial element always remained conspicuously absent:
The main character.
In this case, the main character was a Firefox User. My principle challenge, of course, was representing a person of any age, gender, ethnicity or language from around the globe. Secondarily, I wanted readers to feel something – maybe even smile. But most importantly, I wanted readers to clearly identify the User as the star of the infographic.
In other words, I needed a good mascot.
Folks don’t generally connect with the generic on an emotional level; so, I instinctively knew that flat, vaguely male or female silhouettes would be overly general for a global audience.
Maybe an animal? The Firefox mascot is a fox, after all, and small furry creatures are inherently disarming. I quickly discovered, though, that many animals could be interpreted as personalities types or even specific nations. Every option seemed close to the mark, but fell short upon further reflection.
Then the obvious roared in my face.
Historically, Mozilla has been represented by a dinosaur. And not the dead-fossil kind, either, but a living, breathing carnivore. I’ve always liked that image. The Mozilla T-rex, however, wasn’t the star of the story (and Mozillians aren’t all that carnivorous, anyway). Still, I could easily build upon this imagery without fear of alienating any particular person or group.
In the end, the species I chose to represent Users is one of the most recognizable. Besides being herbivores (which somehow seemed more appropriate), Triceratops command attention and demand respect. They’re creatures who appeal to our cooperative, yet intensely protective, instincts. They’re important, impossible to ignore.
And when they’re smiling, it’s hard not to love them.
Done and done.