March 27, 2018
The History of Emojis

By Maria Ruiz and Ashley Thielen

Nowadays you can basically communicate with emojis and perfectly understand what one another is saying. Emojis are all over our social platforms, spread through stores, and they even have their own MOVIE. Have you ever seen an emoji cupcake? What about a pillow, balloon, or t-shirt? You name it, they are all over the place. But where do they come from and who keeps making them? We’re here to tell you…

Before we flash back to the past, let us explain what exactly an Emoji is. An emoji is an icon that includes facial expressions, places, things, animals, and basically any common object. Emojis originated from Japanese “e” meaning picture and “moji” meaning character in Japanese. [2]

The Father of Emojis

Shigetaka Kurita a.k.a. “Mr. Emoji”, according to the Verge, is the father of the emoji as we know it. Kurita was an employee at a Japanese company called NTT DoCoMo, the predominant mobile operator in Japan. He was part of the intrepid i-mode team that sought to revolutionize Japan’s means of communication [1]. Kurita was frustrated with digital communication and how using just text was emotionless and could be misinterpreted or miscommunicated.

A very insightful Kurita quote from Storify explains his rationale for how he came up with emojis in the first place:

“Everything was shown by text. Even the weather forecast was displayed as ‘fine’. When I saw it, I found it difficult to understand. Japanese TV weather forecasts have always included pictures or symbols to describe the weather—for example, a picture of sun meant ‘sunny’. I’d rather see a picture of the sun, instead of a text saying ‘fine’.”

Him and his team attempted to convince big tech companies like Fujitsu, Panasonic, and Sharp to design the emojis themselves but failed to catch their interests. With a major in economics and no experience in design, he and his team went old-school and got to work by putting down their emoji-design ideas on paper, coming up with a collection of 176 characters.

After finishing their first round of designs he took them back to the big companies and in seconds they took Kurita’s emoji designs and incorporated them into their devices. Soon NTT DoCoMo competitors started to incorporate their own emoji designs to their devices making them more detailed and even added animation to them.

Emojis Become Global

By 2007. emojis spread to North America and adapted quickly! Since then, emojis have had different designs depending on the product used. That was when The Unicode Standard came along. Their duty was to ensure consistent handling and encoding of text expressed in a majority of the globe’s writing systems. In other words, Unicode Standard made the emojis compatible, if you send a happy face from your android device to someone with and IOS device, they will get the same emoji, just translated into the OS (Operating System) of their phone.

The Evolution of Emojis 

Emojis have been revolutionized these past few years. In 2014 emojis included images depicting African-American faces in their character sets. In 2015, users could hold down on specific emojis and choose the specific skin tone they wanted, making it a more diverse, global base feel of communicating. By the end of 2015, 185 more emojis were added, like the middle finger, the burrito, taco, unicorn, zipper mouth face, and many more. By 2016, the emojis got more gender diverse, when 100 new and redesigned emoji characters that focus on gender diversity were released. You can now see more female characters than ever and same sex couples. Additionally, by the end of the year, all members of Unicode voted against the rifle emoji and replaced the pistol emoji with a green water gun.

What will Emojis do next? 

Even the father of emojis couldn’t believe they would take off as they did in such a global perspective. As Kurita says, “I used to think that was true, just in Japan. But it’s the same everywhere.” Only Unicode knows what’s next for emojis… what new emoji do you want next?

If you want to request a new Emoji to Unicode you can through their website: http://unicode.org/emoji/selection.html


[1] https://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2016/10/the-surprising-history-of-emojis/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emoji

[3] http://www.iemoji.com/about/where-did-emoji-come-from

[4] https://mashable.com/2016/08/23/emoji-inclusion-aboriginal-flag-and-other-proposals/#fRCbT5oXLqqC

[5] http://unicode.org/emoji/selection.html


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