The Unconscious Bias of Infographics

Graphics are an effective way to visually communicate information. Certain icons are chosen over others as they have the power to instantly make a story understandable. It’s not surprising then, that particular images have been used to portray specific data.

For example, this is an image that is easily recognised anywhere in the world:

If particular colours are added, the meaning is even more intuitive:

The woman and man icons, created at the beginning of the last century, are common ways to visually represent gender. They are intuitive (there is no language or literacy barrier) and therefore are now seen everywhere.

But are they still relevant?

Data visualisation should be without prejudice, letting data tell its own version of the truth. Can this happen if the icons used are filled with their own discrimination?

Why can’t a man wear a dress? Why can’t a woman wear blue?

Today's world should not still be using fashion to define gender.

So what are some alternative ways to visually represent gender?


The DNA level leaves little room for social influence. These visuals can often be confused with each other though, depending on the background of the audience.


The use of symbols to differentiate between genders is centuries old. They are still used today in various industries, including the study of genetics.


Representing a gender by a certain appearance is where society begins to have an impact. I’m not a fan of this method but it is effective in communication.


Objects can play on the difference in anatomy between genders. These are not always instantly recognised and only appropriate for certain audiences.


Being obvious and spelling out a gender is an effective way to differentiate between them. This does rely on the audience understanding a specific language.

Acceptance of the right to choose the gender you identify with, is only increasing - and I hope it continues to. Visual communicators need to ensure that their work doesn’t hinder this movement.

I love the message the team at It Was Never A Dress is spreading. They are redefining the message:

Visual communicators need to adapt to represent the society they are communicating to.

Are you aware of the unconscious bias in your visual communication?