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Yesterday, @Rand al'Thor posted a question observing that the image accompanying the newly released Code of Conduct, seemed to be slanted in favor of Stack Overflow (SO).

As the OP is not a member of SO but participates in several sites unrelated to computer programming, they felt somewhat alienated “…was immediately put off by a giant picture of the SO logo…”

enter image description here

[bolding theirs]

Rand al'Thor: Please can this be changed so it feels more inclusive of the rest of the network? Of course you don't want to design a special image for every single site, but how about no image at all?

I posted an answer, but it soon dawned on me that if anyone might be alienated by the cartoon, which is representing equality and inclusiveness, it would be someone whose skin color was not white.

Me: I can tell you what is missing from the image. A couple of black/brown faces, or at the very least some dark-haired people

The observation attracted a number of detractors, so the OP asked that I open a new meta question about this issue, which was fine by me. The last line in my answer has since been deleted, but I have reposted it above.

At first glance, the figures appear to have the same skin and hair color. Looking more closely, you'll notice that the thin outlines are in different shades of brown and yellow, however, the area inside those lines are left blank. Basically, the figures appear to be Caucasian and either blond or white-haired (but not everyone agrees).

So here is the new meta post. I think it's worthy of attention and some serious discussion.

To save time, here's a short list of the most significant comments:

  • To be honest adding black faces/hair into the mix wouldn't mix well with the design. It's meant to be simplistic with a lack of block colour. The approach they've used (different coloured outlines) seems to be a good way to go […] if they made all the skin dark they'd probably have to block colour the clothes, hair and objects to stay with the theme

  • How do you infer that from the image? As far as I can see the outlines all have different (nonsensical) colors and the inside of the humans is empty? Is there something in there that indicates caucasian? Because I can't see it. Looks like some cartoon freeform human drawing akin to the nonspecificity used by cartoons like The Simpsons to me. I'm honestly having trouble reading any form of representation (caucasian or otherwise) into the varied colors of a wireframe cartoon that doesn't detail enough to even be able to ascribe ethnicity of any of the figures.[…]

  • though looking at the hairstyles in the image above, it does seem to indicate everyone there is Caucasian


  1. Is the image above inclusive of ethnicities?
  2. Does it matter? It's just a drawing, will anyone notice or even care?
  3. The majority of the world population, and computer engineers, developers, etc. are not Caucasian (the US is currently fourth), are they accurately represented in the image?
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    +1 I'd sure like to see some more diverse depiction of people in that image, including some visible POC depiction. – doppelgreener Aug 9 '18 at 9:27
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    It definitely needs moar flowers ... – rene Aug 9 '18 at 9:48
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    I love how the logo doesn't depict any smartphone, which is appropriate considering SO's stepmotherly treatment to the mobile site (and by extension, to the users from developing countries). Long story short, SO is pretty much a US centric company. Feature requests are addressed in terms of how they affect the US users, for example. I wrote about this in an email to Tim Post and also in the moderator feedback. Would be interesting to see how they respond. – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 9:50
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    Assuming what you say is true, do you have an example or idea how it could be changed to be more inclusive? How do you indicate someone's brown or not on a wireframe cartoon? I couldn't even tell brown lines from black or purple ones unless zoomed in for this. – Magisch Aug 9 '18 at 10:46
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    @Vogel612'sShadow It is relevant because she brought it up as a reasons Asians don't need representing, it is not a strawman. I don't know that it is the status quo that these people are "underrepresented", ask an Indian if Indians are under represented anywhere in India and the would laugh at you, same for an African or a European. – Mark Kirby Aug 9 '18 at 11:11
  • @Magisch What's the big deal with using shades other than white for some of the humans? If this "wireframe" isn't good enough for it, get rid of it and use a better tool. They were able to fill the clothes and even the wheels of the wheelchair with various colours, so what is the problem? – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 13:42
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    As a Scotsman I'm concerned about the lack of blue line-drawn cartoon people. This is discrimination. (Sigh) – Rory Alsop Aug 9 '18 at 14:20
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    This is the problem. It doesn't matter what is posted anymore, people will look for ways to make themselves feel excluded. I refer you to the holiday party – JohnP Aug 9 '18 at 14:38
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    I don't think I'm the only one that's completely and utterly exhausted at all this political correctness sweeping the site. It feels like it's drowning out everything else, and we're dividing into armed camps over the whole thing. The militancy of the inclusion movement just makes me want to crawl into my hole and never come out. You can't say anything without someone being offended anymore. – fbueckert Aug 9 '18 at 15:53
  • @fbueckert I'd upvote that if it was posted as an answer. What I'm seeing, especially in the comments, is PC exhaustion. Many people are tired of walking on eggshells because it's temptingly easy to see discrimination where none was intended. – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 16:00
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    What I saw in the comments.... because many of them have since disappeared. – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 16:54
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    @Mari-LouA Looks like mods cleaned up the discussions, it is common when a lot of comments are posted. – Mark Kirby Aug 12 '18 at 15:05
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Is the image above inclusive of ethnicities?

I'd say yes, it is. I'm not going to say it covers all, since that'd be nearly impossible for a group of 9 people and a robot arm, but yeah, there's differences that can be seen in the skin color outlines, so at least an attempt was made and succeeded, as far as I'm concerned. I see already three that have completely black outlines for their faces/arms/hands, and four that seem orangy-yellow to me. I see a color more like brown in two figures as well, though I must admit I zoomed in to confirm that, so that's might not count as 'at first glance' to everybody. Sounds like there's different ethnicities in there, if the line colors are meant to be an indication of that, and not just picked randomly or for thematic reasons.

Does it matter? It's just a drawing, will anyone notice or even care?

Well, given that the discussion about this picture is already going on for two days in different chat rooms and meta posts right now, I guess people do care and pay attention to what's on the image. So, sure, people notice, people care, and to some people it matters a lot. Others (disclaimer, this includes me as well) might just go 'oh, picture, nice', and scroll on to the text of the Code of Conduct. I only noticed the picture after the meta posts in discussions in the chatrooms.

The majority of the world population, and computer engineers, developers, etc. are not Caucasian (the US is currently fourth), are they accurately represented in the image?

Like I said before, the image shows a few doodles representing a group of 9 people. So, probably not. You can't 'accurately' represent majorities of the world population in 9 line-drawn characters. I think the divide of 3-2-4 mentioned in my first paragraph is okay personally, even though it may not be accurate. And again, if this was done deliberately, it shows consideration of the fact that not everyone is Caucasian.

22

So, it's art, it's open to interpretation. I looked at this before we used it and I saw diversity in gender, accessibility and color:

Zoom in

I saw a brown person there, even though the people were done mostly abstract. I was also happy to see that someone with a disability (and depicted as much older) was also included in the group. I'm 42 and disabled, so .. that made me feel good.

Zoom in

She's also depicted as not caucasian, but I think the whole point of people coming in lots of colors is ... well .. endless possibilities when it comes to people and colors.

My point is, it wasn't overlooked, what we're talking about is how it was executed.

We're happy to make adjustments based on feedback, and we know that the world being what it is these days can condition folks to look for the worst in things, but please help us better select for the best and assume good intentions, because we've honestly got 'em.

I'm passing this (and other) feedback along, I think we'll leave some time for more to be expressed, and then our artists can work on some finishing touches.

There's also the thing about the odd use of space in the 'stack' but it totally works if you just turn off gravity, so I don't think we're going to fix that.

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    Looking at it, I'm not sure we could keep it that abstract with any more deliberate emphasis on ethnicity, without a lack of emphasis on every group being brought to the foreground. I think the concept was just to illustrate that there's a nearly infinite number of combinations and possibilities when it comes to people, and I guess anything could be better, but I (and a really diverse group that works here) really liked what we have. I'd like more opinions on it. I won't shut down a conversation, but let's keep in mind this is a simple (abstract) depiction. – Tim Post Aug 9 '18 at 14:46
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    I saw the good intentions in this picture, and saw it as a group of people interacting both with the stacks and each other. And I saw them as people, just people. Although, I do wish there were more dogs. And coffee. – Snow Aug 9 '18 at 14:52
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    To be 100% clear, I never said that there were no good intentions. I also acknowledged the different color outlines, but I'll repeat myself, at the risk of attracting derision and silent rolling of eyes, the background is white, therefore the spaces within the lines are white. If the illustration wanted to represent the diversity in skin color, is making everyone's skin "blank" the best option? – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 16:16
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    Yes, because it removes skin colour from the equation entirely. Blank is the default here, because as you realized yourself it's the background color. Blank doesn't mean "ethnically white". I'm not white, I'm beige-pinkish. – Christian Rau Aug 9 '18 at 16:20
  • Why have some comments been removed from under the question? The resulting stream makes little sense w/o reading what was said before. TBC I did not flag any of the comments. – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 16:32
  • @ChristianRau "beige pinkish"is not a term used in racial classification. If blank was meant to represent universality, then why bother with the colored outlines? No, it is the different tones used in the outlines that are meant to represent diversity. – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 16:39
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    Exactly the point. – Christian Rau Aug 9 '18 at 16:46
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Going by the plant (green contour), the colour of the contour is indicative of the colour that would be in the space left blank.

By this metric, at least the two persons below the woman sitting in the top left are non-white, as the person next to the drone on the top right, and I would say that is true also for the woman standing next to the wheelchair.

The fact that no volume is filled with colour does not mean that represents "white".

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    What's so difficult about shading someone's skin tone? If the lady's cardigan is shaded in blue, why not shade the three characters' faces? I'm not suggesting blue but why not ochre? Match the blank area with its outline? – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 10:37
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    I have no idea why they shaded that cardigan (and personally I think it does not fit, being the only shaded thing) nor why they shaded nothing else except the floor. IMHO, the shading is not needed to see that not everyone in that stylized figure is white. – Federico Aug 9 '18 at 10:42
  • @Federico If shading a few bodies with other colours makes some people feel included, what is the problem with doing that? – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 10:59
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    @MaskedMan Have I said that it should not be done? I have said that, as of now, the answer to the first question is "yes" and explained why I think so. – Federico Aug 9 '18 at 11:01
12
  1. Yes, and intentionally so. It did its job quite well at that with all those diverse and colourful people in the picture.

  2. No, I doubt it, apart from people deliberately looking for things to nitpick. Beyond that the image served its purpose well for giving a quick and streamlined depiction of a diverse community hanging around together. Digestible and to be digested in a matter of seconds and congruent with the rest of SE's new image style.

  3. Yes, pretty much, insofar as the image is entirely devoid of explicit nationalities or ethnicities and if anything seems to lay specific emphasis on a modern and digital community, something all those computer engineers and developers surely feel represented by.

  • "if anything seems to lay specific emphasis on a modern and digital community" no disagreement there. If the intention was to represent diverse and colourful people, I think the job could have been done much better. – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 10:31
  • Oh yeah, sorry for "nitpicking" because I am not white. – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 10:45
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    @MaskedMan It's okay, that's nothing to apologize for. – Christian Rau Aug 9 '18 at 10:48
  • I don't see much evidence of the “colorful people” you mention in your answer, especially if they all share the same anonymous blank skin colour. In a comment you said Yes, because it removes skin colour from the equation entirely So was it representing diversity that the SE design team were striking for or to “devoid of explicit nationalities or ethnicities ”? You cannot have it both ways. – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 18:28
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    They removed skin-colour but instead added more abstract means for diversification, like (entirely unrealistic) outline colours. – Christian Rau Aug 9 '18 at 19:24
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Basically, the figures appear to be Caucasian and either blond or white-haired (but not everyone agrees).

As a Caucasian I take offence to the fact you are saying I look like that, my skin is pink and I have friends with a light brown skin, that are still Caucasians, we are very diverse and anything but "brilliant white" like in that image.

The fact you could even look at that and think it is "racist" is baffling to me and shows your racial prejudice more than anything, would you be writing this if they were all black? brown? I don't think so.

I really hope Stack Exchange is not listening to this kind of nonsense sensationalism, once you go down this rabbit hole, you won't get back out.

Rather than trying to represent everyone, try not representing anyone, that is the only truly fair way.

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Is the image above inclusive of ethnicities?

No. To be fair, it isn't exactly practical to represent every ethnic group by 10 or so people, but the picture doesn't even try. Every single person represented in the image has skin of white or a similar colour. ... and no, "outline" doesn't count, humans are not stick figures.

Does it matter? It's just a drawing, will anyone notice or even care?

Yes, it matters. I noticed. I care. I also noticed that smartphone users weren't deemed important enough to be "represented", which is entirely appropriate considering Stack Overflow's stepmotherly treatment to the mobile site version, but it also serves to alienate users from the developing world. See more details here.

The majority of the world population, and computer engineers, developers, etc. are not Caucasian (the US is currently fourth), are they accurately represented in the image?

No. I'm Indian, I have friends (shocking, I know) in Central America, South America, Africa, West Asia (that's Middle East for you Westerners), South East Asia, and China (among other places). Exactly which of those 10 or so people represent me and my friends? ... and no, all of them represent everyone is a cop-out and doesn't count.


However, all that said and done, here's my main problem with that image: They have made no effort to explain what that image actually means. (or at least not done it in a way that is obvious to an average user) Even their favourite "tooltip" is conspicuously missing from the image.

Unlike a certain other famous image pictured below:

Olympics Logo

The Olympic flag has a white background, with five interlaced rings in the centre: blue, yellow, black, green and red. This design is symbolic; it represents the five continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colours are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time.

Notice the difference? The Olympics flag tries to include at least one colour (or a shade close enough) from each country's flag, and states what the flag represents unambigiously. It doesn't leave the spectators to draw their own interpretations.

While some people could still complain that their flag has more colours, and they want every colour to be represented, such complaints can be more legitimately dismissed as non constructive because it is fair to say they weren't entirely ignored and a conscious thought was offered to including at least one colour from their flag.

This kind of approach seems to be missing here, leading to some people feeling left out or alienated.

  • I'm getting feedback together and need a tad more clarity, by doesn't even try do you mean that you saw no attempt, or the attempt was there, but it fell so short that there may as well have not been any? It's an important sentiment to differentiate, and I need to get that right when I go back to our product team. I also know I owe you an email it has been .. a little crazy .. lately, I have not forgotten. – Tim Post Aug 9 '18 at 15:48
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    @TimPost Don't worry about the email. Like I said there, (paraphrasing) I am not actually looking for a response, so you don't owe me one there. Anyway, I didn't mean to imply that there was any sinister motive behind the picture. I have just been a bit upset with being isolated in ... a certain chat room, and my concerns being dismissed, as well as the overall attitude shown here by people refusing to even acknowledge that other people have concerns and dismissing such concerns as "nitpicking", which got me flustered and this came out harsher than I would have liked. (contd...) – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 16:28
  • @TimPost Now, coming to your actual question, from the overall responses I have seen here (not just on this post), I get this feeling that this "alienating" of certain groups of people is the result of genuine ignorance. Thus, I guess it is a bit of both (or perhaps, somewhere in between). Hypothetically, if I do not know that in some part of the world, humans with 4 legs and 6 hands exist, I wouldn't represent them. That doesn't mean I intentionally excluded them. Something similar to that might have happened here. – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 16:32
  • @TimPost Further, I'm pretty sure if you look into the voting data (I'm not suggesting that you actually do), you can draw some correlation between the votes and the group that they belong to. I can already see that the question and this answer which suggest that there's a problem have been downvoted, and the answers which suggest there isn't a problem have been upvoted. There is some correlation with which group of people are the majority users on the site. – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 16:35
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    That was pretty helpful (and quite honest). It's important to get sentiment correct when we realize there are multiple ways someone could have arrived at feeling how they do. I'm going to take it back to the product team. FWIW, we did make an earnest and very conscious attempt at making sure we produced something that everyone (all colors, disabilities, genders) could feel good about, I'm sorry that what we produced didn't hit that for you. I'll relay this in our next meeting. – Tim Post Aug 9 '18 at 17:05
  • @TimPost I'm glad I could be of help. Generally speaking, while I do come across as abrasive, that is not intentional. I don't like sugarcoating feedback because insincere compliments might sound nice for the moment, but they cause massive damage in the long run. (burnt my fingers several times doing this). I prefer direct communication without "sandwich feedback" and other nonsense. This causes some people to dismiss my concerns as "not constructive" which flusters me and then I try increasingly aggressive methods to get my point across, which just goes on a downward spiral for some reason. – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 17:38
  • @TimPost The long and short of this is (at least for this specific case), it would have been much less controversial if the design team had written 4 lines explaining what the picture meant to convey. Then we would know what they were trying to achieve and would perhaps not feel as alienated. The way it was done here (certainly not intentionally) was "Here, this pic represents you! Go figure!" which caused a lot of confusion, angst, misinterpretations, arguments and mudslinging, because everyone tried interpreting it from their own world view. – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 17:43
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    If you have to explain what an illustration is representing then you have defeated the purpose of that illustration. The CoC clearly states (which has that illustration) it seeks to respect all types of diversity …join us in building a community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise or identity.” – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 19:04
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    @Mari-Lou A Either that, or the illustration was poorly done. Just exaggerating here, if I showed you a picture of a banana without explaining what it is supposed to mean, what would you think about the picture? – Masked Man Aug 9 '18 at 19:14

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