A Glimpse Behind The Scenes of Everyday Phenomena: Emoji’s

27 November 2017

By Ina Weber - Have you ever been annoyed by the new design of your favourite emoji? Or, you don‘t have one because there is no emoji of your favourite sport, animal or facial expression? Well, I was wondering recently who actually decides about new emoji’s and what they should look like and as it turned out, emoji’s are a lot more complicated than I thought. 

Decisions about emoji’s are made by a nongovernmental organization called ‘The Unicode Consortium’. The aim of Unicode is to create a standardized coding system through which every letter and symbol from every known literate culture in the world can be represented on computers and smartphones. Since emoji’s are treated like text, decisions about them also fall into Unicode‘s field of responsibility. Once a year, the voting members of the consortium decide which new emoji’s will be added and subsequently tech companies like Apple or Facebook develop the specific visual design of the new emoji’s for their platforms.

The consortium however does not come up with its own ideas, but decides about suggestions. In fact, everyone can make a suggestion by handing in an official proposal. A quite remarkable proposal for example was handed in by Rayouf Alhumedhi, a sixteen year old high school student from Vienna, who made a case for a hijab emoji and finally succeeded earlier this year.

So everyone can become involved – that means everyone who is willing to really make an effort and invest time to go through a multi-staged process. An official proposal to the Unicode Consortium has to include sufficient arguments that prove not only the demand for a specific emoji, but also its relevance for people around the world. Unicode has set up a high number of rules which regulate what can become an emoji and what not. For example, new emoji’s must be visually clearly distinguishable and it should also be impossible to express them through combinations of already existing ones. Logos and brand-related symbols are excluded. Furthermore, the object or activity that is desired to become an emoji should not just be a temporary trend, but rather be integrated into everyday cultures and also have a history.

At first, it seems odd to have so many official regulations for something so trivial. But consider the following aspects. One of the basic rules in the world of emoji’s are: once an emoji is added, it will never be removed from the Unicode Standard, which currently includes 2.666 emoji’s. Therefore, they have to represent activities, objects and feelings people can relate to also in a few years from now. In addition, emoji’s are an integral part of communication all over the world and therefore have to be universal enough to make sure many people from different cultures can relate to them.

An interesting question in that context is whether emoji’s can be seen as a new kind of universal language. Thanks to their visual character they can be used by people who do not speak the same language to communicate on a basic level. But meanings of emoji’s are very debatable. In different cultures and languages, an emoji can have contrasting connotations or can be combined with others to create different expressions. What can be said for sure, is that emoji’s have become an integral part of modern pop culture.

For everyone who is very curious now to know more about the world of emoji’s:

The website https://emojipedia.org/ lists all existent emoji’s with their intended meanings and also gives many insights into related topics and questions. Emojipedia by the way is not just a geeky hobby, it is a full-time job and a decent source of income for its founder Jeremy Burge. Further interesting or funny websites are http://www.emojitracker.com/, a website that shows you the real-time use of emoji’s on Twitter; http://www.hijabemoji.org/, the website of Rayouf Alhumedhi and her campaign for the hijab emoji and https://www.macintosh.fm/, a podcast featuring a mini-series about the creation of the brand-new yoga and meditation emoji. 

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