In my role at Optum, I work with a reporting and visualizations team based in Manila, Philippines. As we worked together to design provider and patient profiles, we opted to use icons to differentiate between the two profile types. Using a generic icon website, the team chose a white, male doctor.

I did not want our software to contribute to any notion of race or gender stereotypes (or any other stereotypes for that matter). This was particularly important to me, as my mother is an endocrinologist, and she's shared moments of feeling less than respected because of her gender.


It was time for a re-design!



This was the initial icon.

Here are my first sketches, using orange highlighter to represent Optum orange (our brand color) instead of a specific human skin tone.

At first, my response was to draw  female doctor - this was okay in terms of showing representation, but on my second pass I decided to draw something more generic.

This exercise raised some concerns and questions in my mind. If the goal is representation, what are the benefits and drawbacks of using a generic icon vs. one that showcases diversity? How have other people addressed this conundrum?


Key Research Findings

  • generic icons may still be perceived as male.

  • some alternatives suggested in this Medium article by Product Designer Michelle Venetucci Harvey include: animals, smiley faces, and abstractions

  • many systems rely on personal icons that change based on the user or by user choice.

In addition to research, I asked around the office - using my sketch and animal icons used in another Optum product as conversation pieces.


The generic image received a positive response and fell in line with other brand standards, while the animal-based icons were viewed as too whimsical to represent a doctor.

My boss, Dave, and I brainstormed ways to capture diversity, but ultimately decided to move forward with the generic icon.


I opened up Adobe Photoshop to create a digital version of the second sketch.

My team and the larger product team decided to adopt the icon and it was placed in our provider profile, shown below.


This was emphatically NOT a wildly successful project. But it wasn't a total failure, either.

I am not 100% proud of the icon itself. Despite it being on our platform, I still consider it a prototype. I think it is incrementally better than the original, but we as a health care analytics organization can do better to represent our providers and patients. And we are working on it!

Here's what I AM proud of:

  • I learned a tremendous amount by attempting to tackle this problem. There is no such thing as a generic human, and especially in the West, androcentrism often means that generic icons are read as Male.

  • As a designer and artist, this project heightened my awareness of representation, inclusion, and diversity. Health care affects everyone with a body and I am dedicated to celebrating all forms bodies take!

  • Even an attempt can be a contribution. It is unrealistic to think that each project I start will be amazing or that every problem can be tackled with one project or attempt. Like academic research, layers of people contributing and furthering the conversation will move the needle.

  • I started a conversation. I was able to point out an issue with the way we represent a population of providers. This lead to conversations with our brand and product teams to reevaluate some of our icon choices. The overall brand team is working on new icons.