At one point in high school I went to a workshop on making a great yearbook. It was interesting, got me out of a day of school, and really helped with the two pages of the book I actually got to work on. Besides that, I took out of it a few facts about portrait composition, mainly that looking right is generally associated with looking into the future and looking left into the past. Recently there’s even been some talk about Obama and his “looking into the future” pose, which definitely follows these guidelines.

But seriously, The Onion aside, every self-respection “Web 2.0” site out there has some sort of avatar available to its users. What does your avatar say about you? Well, I’m no psychologist, in fact I didn’t even take the course on it in college, but here’s what I think anyway.

  • Facing Right - Already covered, looking into the future. Possibly optimistic, probably at least positive in nature.
  • Facing Left - Again, already covered, looking into the past, possibly back through history.
    Nostalgic. May or may not be negative, sometimes may seem a little jaded.
  • Looking Straight Ahead - Sometimes dominant, sometimes playful, sometimes creepy. As with the next two seems to have more to do with the rest of the facial expression.
  • Looking Up - If straight ahead, can be submissive or unconfident, if facing right, increases positive feel, if left, seems narcissistic.
  • Looking Down - If straight head, definite dominance, if left or right, shows increasing negativity on past or future view.
  • Serious - Boring, possibly pompous; only has an avatar to get 100% on LinkedIn profile or because boss or some self-help personal-branding article said so.
  • Goofy - Fun, party-animal, not ready to settle down now, or potentially ever. Probably not the best worker-drone code-monkey but could make a great rock star.
  • Picture of Somebody Else - Personally, I find this quite creepy. Usually very hard to actually identify these, in my experience when meeting somebody in the real world and finding their avatar doesn’t match I get a little turned off. This can be pulled off ironically by using an obvious-not-you type of photo as more of a caricature, but I have only seen this pulled off well a few times.
  • Picture of Somebody Famous - The more famous the better, if the picture is not recognized by he majority of your audience it simply becomes “Picture of Somebody Else” and therefore loses its power. May also appear very stalker-like or just plain juvenile if done in a fan-boy manner.
  • Professional Portrait - See “serious” above, screams real estate agent, lawyer, sales person, or scammy-internet marketer.
  • Candid - Probably my favorite type. Seems sincere and real.
  • Group Photo - Lack of self-confidence or own identity, possibly critical of own appearance.
  • Caricature - Makes me wonder about self-confidence, but could be done in irony. Potential for inside jokes here. A good caricature plays on flaws, so this may say positive things about self confidence.
  • Animal(s) - Awe!!!1 OMG look at the cute kittens and ponies! I can haz cheesburger? Seriously. Unless you’re twelve or doing it for purely and obviously ironic reasons I usually look down on this as somebody I’m not even interested in listening to.
  • Logo or Mascot - Definitely used for self-branding or maybe just branding in general, if done well can be a great asset, but may also appear very spammy if done poorly. May say things about self-image or confidence, especially if hiding behind anonymity.
  • Object - Like an animal, logo, or picture of somebody else, this gives the user complete anonymity and can become very hard to read-into. Lots of room for irony or playfulness can allow personality to shine through, but if not done well it may just turn into a poor inside joke.

Now, please understand, I’m not necessarily criticizing ANY use of an avatar in one of these manners; in fact there is probably somebody out there that has a very good reason for using a pony for their avatar, and I’m sure they do it well. I’m just saying this is what my first impression of you is based on the two seconds I’ve had to see your avatar.

Well, what do you think? Am I right? Am I completely wrong? Did I just insult you and your mother with my analysis of your avatar? Just to remind you, I have no scientific backing for doing this, which I’m guessing makes it a better analysis, but if you disagree, tell me why I’m wrong.