The Flying Developer

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07 Nov 2009
3 Steps to the Perfect Avatar

Since posting my Gravatar how-to the other day, I’ve been thinking more about avatars in general. Specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out what makes a really effective avatar. I’ve distilled my musings into a  3 step avatar-creation process that I think will give great results.

Step 1: Find a picture of yourself.

Obviously, we’re going to need a picture to work with. The important part here is that it has to be of you. Twitter recommends this, and I understand why. An avatar should be unique, so that people can instantly recognize it and not confuse it with others. The most reliable way to do this is to use a picture of yourself. Using a picture of your favourite celebrity, comic-book character or pet might represent your interests, but you’re not the only person to have a crush on Nathan Fillion. I bet there are several thousand people running round the internet wearing Nathan Fillion’s face, but there should only be one person wearing yours. Unless you happen to be Nathan Fillion. (That’s an entirely hypothetical example, btw). What’s more, if you change your avatar at a later date, as long as you use another picture of yourself people will still recognize who is posting. Human beings are very good at recognizing faces.

Step 2: Crop the image as close to your face as possible.

The thing to remember about an avatar is that it’s usually very small. In order to make sure you are as recognizable as possible, you should make your face fill as much of the avatar as possible. Note that your face is not the same as your head. Here’s an example featuring yours truely:


Look at all that extra space we got rid of! All the elements of the image that I want to display are still there: The hat, the badge, and my face. All the details are a lot easier to make out in the cropped image as it hasn’t been shrunk as much as the other one to fit in the 100x100 space available.

Step 3: Use the same avatar wherever you go.

This is less of an issue if all your avatars are pictures of you, but it’s still a good idea. Services such as Gravatar make this really easy, because it does all the hard work for you. Basically, using the same avatar (and the same username) everywhere you go on the net allows you to build up a more complete model of your personality across different services. For example, if I use the same avatar on all the different blogs I comment on, then other people who also read those same blogs will (hopefully) notice that I’m the same guy posting on all of them.


Avatars are our visual representatives online. I think that my best (and most honest) representative is me. I am by no means claiming that this is the be-all and end-all of avatar advice, but I do think that it’s a good starting point. If you have other ideas, or points that you think I should add, please comment!

Thanks for reading! If you like my writing, you may be interested in my book: Healthy Webhook Consumption with Rails

David at 16:49


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