Why are many UI designers using round profile pictures in their designs recently? Apple, Basecamp, & Path chose to use round user profile pictures and it seems to be a real trend.
This trend really took off around 2022 when the border-radius property was introduced with CSS3.Before border-radius, creating something simple like creating a rounded-rectangle required drawing and exporting 4 images—one for each corner—and positioning them (usually with a table element) in the corner cells of a 3x3 HTML table, like this:Creating these four corner image assets was a hassle and took forever, adjusting the radius a bit meant creating 4 new corner images.Deploying these on every profile image across a large site would be a tough sell. You could maybe use an image processing library to auto-generate rounded profile images, but this isn't very defensible considering the cost:benefit.With border-radius (angelic choir), these concerns vanish. You can now round any element for free (ie. negligible technical cost).That should explain the sudden rise in circular avatars, but it doesn't answer why, of all the elements on a typical website, are avatars often the sole focus of our shiny new circle-making powers? Aside from the fact that it's clearly become trendy to do so, I believe I can build a solid rationale for why it may actually be an effective practice:To the human brain, faces are a banquet of conscious and subconscious information. Survival pressures have evolved in us an incredible capacity for facial recognition, we learn to read and imitate faces as early as 2 days old ! Even a static image doesn't stop our brains from generating a myriad of impressions and judgements. Many sales pages rely on what's called social proof  to persuade you to trust them. The mere presence of human faces (typically smiling) can positively affect one's impressions (conscious and subconscious) of whatever product/service/information one is assessing.So our brains are engaged by faces, and faces can positively affect the way people feel when they're on your site, perhaps we should move them up in the information hierarchy? The vast majority of web layouts are made predominately of rectangles, so what better way to make them stand out than using a circle? Being the only circular element gives avatars—and by extension, human beings—a unique emphasis amongst canvas of boxes.Finally, as others have mentioned, faces are curvy and round—it's why stick figures people draw typically have circles for heads. Face perception Social proof