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Twitter avatars: choosing a brilliant one

April 15, 2009 11 Comments

A good avatar can make the difference between someone seeing your tweet - or skimming past.

The big avatar on your profile page (73 pixels square) is shown smaller (just 48 pixels square) everywhere else. An avatar that looks good when big, often looks rubbish when small. Here are some top tips for choosing a good Twitter avatar, including loads of examples (click the photos to see whose they are).

Use a good photo of yourself

Faces: bad

These are all bad examples of facial photos (I'm sure the faces are fine ;) ). They're blurry, badly lit, taken from too far away, have busy backgrounds - or are obscured by cats. They might work some places - but they don't work well on Twitter. (One face removed as per owners' request).

Faces: good examples

These are much better - you can see who the photo is of.

Lessons for photos of faces

If you're going to use a picture of yourself, follow these simple rules:

  • Use a well-lit photo (ie with your face lit, not with a bright background).
  • Concentrate on the foreground. Think about using a photo editor to replace the background with a solid colour (try a free online photo editor like picnik).
  • Concentrate on your face. A close up will be much clearer. We don't need to see your shoulders or chest.
  • You can still be creative - luminous zigzags, words, colour washes etc can all help your Twitter avatar stand out even more.
  • Don't use your mobile phone. Really - a picture you take of yourself using your mobile will look really bad. If you have to use it, at least get someone else to take it.

Use a cutout

Most people use normal, square photos. So a cutout can really stand out - you can use a symbol, a real-world object on a white background, or even a photo of yourself with a white background. Whatever you do, these often stand out much more than just a square photo.

If you're a company ... think about your logo

Logos: bad

If you're going to use your company logo, try to make sure we can work out who you are. Some things to look out for:

  • Words need to be readable - even if I squint, I can't read the words on the @orcon, @econsultancy or @jonathantorrell logos.
  • Crop your logo sensibly. Twitter avatars are square. Your logo might not be. @amazon might be more readable if they made the amazon bit bigger and dropped the .com. Whereas @guardiannews has gone a bit too far in cropping its logo ...
  • Think about the colours. I could probably read OMNITURE if only it wasn't white on a pale grey background.

Logos: good

These are all much better - you can see what they are or read what they're saying (even PC magazine, which has lopped the bottom of magazine off for some reason, is more readable than the bad examples above).

Be clear, whatever you do

As I said in the intro, remember most people see your avatar small - they won't bother going to your profile page to see it proper size. I can't make head or tail of these 10 ...

Think about illustrations

Most avatars are photos - so illustrations can stand out, whether cut outs or on a colour background (although see this post on photos vs illustrations - and perhaps the opposite view). Here's a guide to hand drawing them (although step 1 of being supplied with some artisitic talent is missing though!)

YOU can't have an animated one

You can only have an animated one if you can upload a GIF. But Twitter has now banned them. Thank god - can you imagine if we all did this?!? If you're already got one, you can keep it thought. Woopee.

Some definite no-nos

Some tips that ought to be obvious ...:

  • Avoid swearing. Don't have a logo where the letters - BS in this case -Â are short for bullsh!t in some countries.
  • Avoid Hitler. Don't use Hitler as your avatar (even if you are a comedian and it's a poster).
  • Don't stick with the default one. Change it!
  • No rude signs. Don't make what you think is a peace sign, but actually appear to making a v-sign.

Other things to bear in mind

  • Remember that they're square - don't try and cram in a rectangular one - if it goes through, it will get scrunched up and look rubbish.
  • Your file name survives - so on the off chance anyone ever looks at it, no swearing etc in the file name.
  • They are used even smaller in the 'following' box in the right hand side of people's profiles. The avatars are just half as tall (24 pixels) and wide here - so rubbish ones look even worse still.
  • It's your avatar - so do what you like with it!

So you can see how they stand out - or don't - here is a group shot of all these Twitter avatars:

Twitter avatars

Twitter avatars

Let the slagging off of my avatar begin ...

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