Want to Create an Emoji? The Emoji Creative Director Shares How

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If you use any of the 3,304 emoji available on Android devices, you’ve got one person to thank on World Emoji Day (#WorldEmojiDay), July 17 — Jennifer Daniel. Daniel has a background in illustration and graphic design and has been crafting tiny keyboard art since 2016. Now, she’s Google’s creative director for their immensely popular emoji program, and her designs are used every day by millions around the world. 

“One of my first projects at ‘the Goog’ was to craft a feature called ‘minis,’ ” Daniel writes on her website. The feature involved a combination of “neural networks and artistry to turn your selfie into a personalized emoji sticker pack.” Users would snap a selfie, and an illustrated version would be generated with a multitude of customization options. Since creating minis, Daniel has been an integral part of emoji culture. She has helped develop gender-neutral emoji, and was recognized by Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards in 2017, and has even become a hybrid linguistics, historian, and emoji translator.

But How Did the Emoji Come to Be? 

The history of emoji dates back over 40 years, with emoticons. According to Daniel’s research, these were designs made by combining existing keyboard characters. Emoji, as we know them today, really started to develop in the late 1990s and were first used in Japan.

“The word itself is Japanese,” Daniel writes in her post for the Google Design blog. “e (絵, “picture”) + moji (文字, “character”) = emoji.”

Thanks to Unicode — a virtually universal coding system that can be translated without much knowledge of other languages — Apple, Google, and Microsoft eventually started tinkering with emoji for their phones, tablets, and computers. And the coolest part? Daniel says this kind of coding language allows anyone to submit a proposal for new emoji. 

Here’s How to Submit Your Own Emoji Idea

“Anyone can submit an idea as long as they have a prototype of the emoji,” Daniel explains on the Google Design blog. But the work doesn’t end at the design concept: submissions must include “an explanation of how and why people would use it, and an argument for how the addition would improve the greater emoji ecosystem.”

Also, don’t expect your emoji design to pop up as soon as you hit “send.” The approval process is very strict and can take up to two years to complete.

Luckily, Daniel really loves engaging with people about emoji and emoji culture. Daniel uses Twitter to frequently tweet about her activities, ask for suggestions, and to see how people use emoji in their everyday lives.

A huge part of Daniel’s life revolves around her involvement in the
Unicode Consortium, which is a nonprofit organization for digital design and strategy professionals to work on a set of standards for emoji. Each year, they release “new” emoji, based on submissions, as well as work from consortium members. 

So, What’s Next for the Emoji? 

Lately, Daniel and other members have been hyper-focused on making the emoji experience as inclusive as possible. A transgender flag and the transgender symbol was added for 2020, along with “55 gender and skin-tone variants” for existing emoji, to represent all kinds of lifestyles and relationships.

Daniel does a lot of research to rewrite emoji stereotypes; most operating systems automatically assign a gender to emoji, which is why “every construction worker across major operating systems, by default, is a man,” or why “Google depicts a person in a sauna as female. WhatsApp and iOS show them as male,” according to an article in Fast Company.

As of now, the plethora of smiley face emoji are the most widely used, according to Daniel’s research. Moving forward, however, she and the other members of the Unicode Consortium are looking for ways people can express themselves without even feeling the need to include human elements. Part of this is for efficiency — “When you don’t have gender or race, you don’t have to develop 71 variants,” she tells Fast Company. But it’s also a way to examine how these parts of our real lives infiltrate our digital lives, and how we can evolve to be more universal in our emotional expression.

Tags: Pop Culture

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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