Most of us, especially younger generations, cannot imagine our texts without these little yellow faces. Same as teenagers, adults find them practical, easy and fun to use. Instead of writing “I have a splitting headache,” you can click on a little frown with a hand, touching the head. Your message will be understood, loud and clear!
Before these new emojis, during the ’90s, people were using emoticons. They were simple facial expressions, named icons, made out of various combinations of punctuation marks. For example, if you want to inform someone using an emoticon that you just shrugged your shoulders because you don’t have a clue, you can type this combination “ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯,” and most people will instantly know what you mean.
But, let’s travel even further back in time. The year was 1881, and the first four emoticons were presented, in the satirical magazine “Puck.” They have been named “vertical emoticons”, drawn with punctuation to show joy, melancholy, indifference, and astonishment. According to the authors, this was a new form of “typographical art”, and “a small specimen of the artistic achievements.” There were some indications that icons have been used even earlier, in 1862 and 1648, but eventually discarded as typos.
One hundred years later, during 1982, the emoticons were “officially” incorporated into a computer language. Little did they know that only eight years later, they will evolve and become emojis, the mainstream language of the 21st century.
Emoji or smiley is a graphic symbol, or better it’s a colorful pictograph (pictorial symbol) that is nowadays able to function as an independent language concept, applicable as a word or phrase, and it can be used inline in text. Pictographs can represent faces, weather, food and drink, animals and plants, vehicles, buildings, as well as emotions, feelings, and activities.
The first emojis were created by Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita and company Docomo. Kurita’s task was to create icons, usable to present certain information or situation, as an option for Docomo’s pagers. Kurita created 176 symbols in total, and some of them were inspired by Japanese comics and graphics. They’ve been used, for the first time, for the launch of the NRR Docomo, the world’s first major mobile internet system.
Most symbols were informational, weather, traffic, or technology related. However, as never before, with these emojis, it was possible to add emotional significance to the information. Furthermore, the new “language” offered an opportunity for people to make a statement without using an exact word. For instance, the user was able to say “I love warm weather”, by choosing just two symbols, the heart, and the sun.
Soon after the Docomo’s launch, Japanese users instantly fell in love with emojis. This positive reaction forced competitors to start designing their own sets quickly. Unfortunately, or should we say luckily, this unusual race created an unprecedented crisis. In order to communicate with emojis, people were forced to have mobile devices made by the same producer.
As a response to Google’s petition and its suggestion to create worldwide accepted international symbols, applicable on different platforms, in 2007, a non-profit corporation, the “Unicode Consortium” was invited to develop emoji Unicode Standards for mobile devices and computers, as well. After realizing the importance, Unicode accepted the invitation in 2010, primarily focused on standardizing the encoding system. As a result of this, emojis will show in every language, and on any device or platform accurately.
Judging from the details presented in Unicode Technical Report #51, encoding was just the beginning of the process. People prefer their emojis to look more like them, to have more human diversity, such as skin tone, for example. Therefore, Unicode Standards were upgraded with Version 8.0 (mid-2015) when six skin tones of the Fitzpatrick scale was added, based on a recognized dermatology standard.
It seems that the technical part of the standardization was and is less complicated, compared to the political, cultural, gender or religious issues. Emoji’s customizing abilities will be used in the future, probably more often than before, as word swiftly accepts different ways of reflecting, socially and individually. Just a few years ago, we did not care about memes. Today, we are already able to choose some of the world’s most popular, from the emoji section on our phone. TV shows, movies, even scandals are waiting in line to be a part of the “show” since people already consider emojis as a part of their regular communication.
With every new yearly update, we see more modern versions of old symbols and also some brand new ones on our devices. The 2017 set brought female and gender-neutral options, new facial expressions, elves, genies and vampires, highly requested sandwich, pie, and takeout. In 2018 people with gray and red hair color finally got their representatives, while most recent additions included emojis for people with disabilities.
The most interesting part that many people are not aware of is that anyone can submit the proposal for a new emoji. However, it has to be done according to Unicode’s rules. The document should propose the image of emoji, name, and ways of use. The main idea is to make new symbols globally recognizable, in such a way that everyone can comprehend the meaning.
Obviously, emojis are the universal language of the future. But, where will they go from here? With advanced technology, almost everything is possible. Apple’s Memojis and Animojis, available on iPhones, are now able to follow the movement of a user’s face with a front-facing camera and create animated videos and images.
Whatever the future holds, the most crucial part of emoji story is to keep them global, consistently designed, usable for every device or platform and, of course, inclusive, respectful to all diversities, gender, racial and LGBTQA sensitive, and more.
Are they just emojis? Well, yes and no.