Every parent has had this conversation with their children:  “Just because your friends are doing it, doesn’t make it right. If they jumped off a bridge, would you follow?”

Based on the latest Twitter update to the user interface, I am pretty sure the kids at Twitter weren’t listening when their parents asked the question.

Have you seen it popping up on some user screens? The giant cover photo with the avatar in the center? I know Facebook is successful with a huge timeline photo and a small avatar on the left and G+ has a huge photo with an avatar on the right, but just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right right for Twitter.

Facebook is about faces and images. The giant cover photo supports their core brand. At 140 characters, Twitter  is about words. Did they really need to spend the money to develop this new profile page?

Let’s assume some one drops by your Twitter profile, what do they see?  They are greeted by a large background image, a small avatar and your profile description in white text  on top of the image.

niki new twitter

The  structure of the page presents some unique challenges to all but the most talented designers. Why? Because the avatar sits in the middle of the image, limiting the image you can use.

While the Nike background is striking, It’s weird that the avatar covers the faces of the people in the center. If this was a company photo, whose face would you cover?

You also have to consider the bottom half of the image carefully. If the image is too busy, the white text with your name and description is difficult to read.  And white on a dark background?  While this sounds cool,  it’s really hard to read on a small screen.

mari smith

The image doesn’t go all the way to the top of the page, so your background image peaks through.  As you update your  cover photo, remember  it will be working with your existing background image.  Forgetting can lead to some less-than-flattering color combinations.

The narrow space doesn’t really allow for a lot of information, and too much text up top may not be the best way to use the space.

I think my friend Kevin Mullett has used the design constraints to his advantage.     I really like the effect he has created with his avatar sitting on a ribbon of images, but I am pretty sure he spent some time getting his avatar to line up correctly in the ribbon.  While this works for him, it is not something every brand will want to follow.

With regard to handling the white text which is generated by Twitter and superimposed on the image, both he and Peter Cashmore of Mashable came to the same conclusion– it looks best if  it’s displayed on a simple, solid color background.

pete and kevin

While this works if you have dark colors in your brand, how do companies with light or even white brands handle this? There is no good answer yet. While Facebook cover images offer brands lots of flexibility  to create something interesting and unique, the new Twitter photo with its text requirement allows everyone to look like their image was designed by a teenage boy.

For now, Roundpeg has decided not to play. We’ll stick with the solid gray default cover photo. We are going to keep the simple white background which matches our branding. In the meantime, we’ll hope the kids at twitter listen to the advice of their parents at some point and realize they don’t have to be like everybody else.