Behind the ☺️: How The Unicode Consortium Controls the World’s Emoji

Like everyone, I’ve come to embrace emoji, the cute yellow faces and icons that make up a growing part of the world’s person-to-person communications. However, like many things I use in my daily life, I never gave much thought to where emoji come from – or how new ones are created.

Wired, the world’s foremost chronicle of digital culture, recently published an article about the history of emoji. It also revealed that there is a complicated – and strictly enforced – process for creating the new emoji that populate your touchscreen keyboard.

Emoji were created in 1999 by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita for i-mode, an early mobile Internet platform popular in Japan. Taking inspiration from ASCII emoticons and pictographic Japanese kanji characters, Kurita designed the iconic smiley face and other early emoji by hand.

Since then, the number of emoji has grown exponentially. However, I was surprised to discover that the process of getting a new emoji added to the lexicon is highly regulated by the 12-member Unicode Consortium (comprising tech and telecom corporations like Google, IBM, Facebook and Oracle). There are a few rules (no corporate logos, no representations of deities or specific persons, living or dead), but approval of emoji is largely up to the judgment of the Consortium. Designers must submit a written proposal for a prospective emoji, speculative data on how often it might be used and a black-and-white icon design.

The Unicode Consortium then decides which to approve, based on usefulness, clarity, and potential cultural or religious issues. So, next time you text a friend, remember the people that are working hard to determine if the emoji on your phone are 💩 or 💯.

Matt Helgeson

Matt draws on his years as a journalist to create expertly targeted approaches – and brings them to life with clear and concise copy designed to capture the imagination of audiences. As a senior editor at Game Informer, the world’s largest video game magazine and website […]


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