A world full of emojis

In 2010, a new trend emerged in electronic messages and web pages: emojis. There is an interesting journey behind these cute little images, and it is definitely worth to understand how and why they were initially created.

Emojis (less known as pictographs) are images encoded as text and exist in various genres: facial expressions , common objects , food , places ⛰️, activities ⛷, animals and most of what you can think of . The word comes from the Japanese (e ≅ picture) + (moji ≅ written character). 2823 emojis exist in total (as of today) and it is estimated that about 6 billion emojis are sent every single day.

Emojis as a mean to express yourself

Let’s have a quick overview of the importance of emojis and why we should blog about them. Emojis were created as a new mean of communication allowing people to express their emotions and feelings. Since written text can be vague, messy, and imprecise and people might lose the sub-meaning of it, emojis can help people express themselves by giving meaning and emotions to the text (as they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words). Emojis can go as far as allowing people to have an identity in the web. For example:
– The hijab emoji created by Rayouf Alhumedhi, the teen who wanted an emoji of her, helped the members of the muslim community to be represented in the digital world.
– The sauna emoji, proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affair, promotes Finland’s cultural heritage making it the first nation in the world to have a national emoji.

The history of emojis

The first set of 176 emojis was created by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999 for the Japanese cell phone carrier NTT DoCoMo. It is important to notice that the first emojis were sent before the picture messaging was available and it was a basic 12×12 low-resolution pixel grid. Kurita created the first emojis based on observed human expressions and other objects in the city to facilitate electronic communication, and to create a distinguishing feature of NTT. Each symbol was specified as a unique 2-byte sequence, which corresponded to the unique code of the emoji. However, since a standard did not exist between the Japanese carriers, different codes were interpreted as different characters in different phones. This created some problems, like sending a from one carrier could be interpreted as on another. When Google decided to launch Gmail in Japan, it noticed that emojis were already very popular  and hence wanted  to include them into their emails. Apple also joined Google’s quest, together they approached the Unicode Consortium and requested the regulation of emojis universally.

Creating a new emoji

Everyone can submit a proposal for an emoji, you, me, literally everyone. The proposals for the emojis originate from two sources: 1. the committee itself that realizes there is a need for a specific emoji and 2. the public that would like to use a specific emoji. The public can suggest an emoji through a written report addressed to the Unicode Consortium as explained here.

First, a draft of the proposal is presented to the emoji sub-committee, which gives the applicants feedback on improvement. If they agree on the proposal, they forward it to the technical committee of the Unicode Consortium for the final decision.

The Unicode Consortium has then a meeting with the voting members that vote on the proposals acceptance. The committee that decides on the universal lexicon has 12 full voting members that are interested in text-processing standards. Nine of them are American multinational tech companies such as: Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Symantec, and Yahoo; and the other three companies are the German software company SAP, the Chinese telecom company Huawei, and the government of Oman.

If the proposal is approved, a representative glyph (black and white text representation) is released to the vendors that incarnate the glyph into a colorful emoji representation on their devices according to their own design guidelines, such as: colors, simplicity and dimensionality.

In order for the proposal to be approved, the committee has to be convinced that there is a need for this specific emoji. Thus, the proposal should contain some research facts that demonstrate the need for the emoji, such as: the number of hashtags on Instagram or the trend of similar icons. The icon proposed should be also distinctive from other similar emojis. While it should not be too specific, it should also not be too broad or vague to be applicable. Lastly, the emojis cannot be associated to logos or any specific brand. Thus, each emoji should be eligible, aesthetically pleasing and globally representative to be approved.

Fun facts about emojis

  • The Emoji Movie was released in 2017, which despite the low rating, emphasis the cultural importance of emojis nowadays.
  • World Emoji Day was created by Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge in 2014 and was set to 17th of July to celebrate emojis, because everyone loves emojis.
  • Oxford Dictionaries announced that 2015 Word of the Year was not a word at all, but an emoji — more specifically the “face with tears of joy” emoji , which is one of the most frequently used emojis of all the time.
  • People have been really creative and used emojis not only for texting and social media, but also to represent song lyrics , press releases ,  movie subtitles and even to write the emoji version of the Bible (yes, that’s exactly what I meant, you can now order the “Bible Emoji” online). (check video)

Last summer, when I wanted to post a picture on instagram of me snorkeling, I realized that no existing emoji relates to snorkeling or scuba diving. That’s how I became interested in how emojis are created and by whom. I got really excited when I read on the Unicode Consortium’s website that anyone can submit an emoji, so I thought that it would be interesting to go through the experience of creating an actual emoji. Below I attached the design of my scuba diving icons, and I am currently working on the proposal for the consortium. I hope that my emojis will be approved by the committee and if they don’t, I am happy I tried graphics design for the first time and went through the experience. In case, my scuba diving emoji proposal gets approved, it will be available for everyone by 2019. Until then, there is still a long way to go …

Scuba-diving Girl Emoji

Scuba-diving Girl Emoji

Scuba-diving Boy Emoji

Scuba-diving Boy Emoji


Thanks for reading my first blog guys, hope you enjoyed it and let me know if you decide to create your own emoji. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

This entry was posted in UX and tagged , , by Maria Gaci. Bookmark the permalink.

About Maria Gaci

Maria Gaci is a graduate student at the European Institute of Technology (EIT Digital), a double degree program with major in Digital Media Technology (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden), specialization in Hypermedia (Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland) and minors in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Her research interests include social robotics, multimodal interaction and 3D graphics. She is also interested in child education and women in computer science. Her hobbies are photography and bouldering.

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