From the smiling face to the VHS tape: How an emoji becomes an emoji
(NEXSTAR) — From the slew of emotional faces to the countless country flags, there are more than 3,600 emojis on your smartphone. That doesn’t include the roughly two dozen that are expected to become available in the coming months.
Though it likely takes you mere moments to find the perfect emoji to express how you’re feeling, the process of becoming an approved emoji isn’t so easy.
To understand the process, we’ve got to go back over 30 years to the early 1990s. That’s when the Unicode Consortium, now known as Unicode, was started in Silicon Valley. The organization was intended to create a universal character set to be used by our developing technology, with early founders working for Xerox and Apple.
“Unicode decided to create a standard that, thankfully, the majority of the global community adheres to to ensure that the letter A will always be the letter A, across all of our digital devices, all of our Arabic numbers – 1, 2, 3, 4, those symbols – are represented correctly across these devices,” Keith Broni, the editor-in-chief of Emojipedia.org tells Nexstar. Emojipedia serves as both a dictionary and an encyclopedia to research and monitor emojis.
Vendors such as Apple, Google, and Facebook are now members of Unicode and send staff to help run the organization. Apple and Google, according to Broni, were key drivers in Unicode encoding characters that have become well-used in our digital communication: emojis.
In 2010, Unicode encoded its first-ever set of emojis. This included many faces, animals, hand signals, and other more basic characters. These were largely inspired by the sets that already existed in Japanese mobile phones, which were initially created in Japan in the late 1990s (hence why you can find a map of Japan — 🗾 — in your emoji library).
Apple users were among the first to experience the initial round of emojis, according to Broni. Then Google began to support emoji use within Android devices and Samsung began creating its own style of emojis, as did Microsoft.
Technically speaking, an emoji is comprised of a sequence of one or more Unicode characters. But even the most innocent of them — take the otter (🦦) or the VHS tape (📼) — has to go through an intense process before it becomes an emoji on your digital device.
First, Unicode invites the public — meaning you — to propose a new emoji. The proposal process is explained in detail by Unicode here, but selection is basically dependent on whether the image will work at the small size emojis appear as, adds to what can we can communicate, and would likely be used by a large number of people.
A draft list of emojis is expected to be approved by Unicode on September 13, meaning we’ll have new emojis within a few months, if not sooner. One of those is expected to be a plain pink heart emoji.
‘Pink Heart’ has been one of the most requested emojis, Broni says. It should look like the other heart emojis already available, such as the blue (💙) or orange (🧡) hearts.
It’s also important to note that once an emoji has been created and added to our libraries, it will, likely, never be removed. According to Broni, the basis of Unicode is to make our digital text readable by devices around the globe forever, and removing an emoji from our library would make such text unreadable. Emojis can, though, be updated, like the pistol or certain faces.
Regardless of how often they’re updated or how realistic they are, there are some emojis you may never use. Even Unicode Emoji subcommittee chair Jennifer Daniel has said the emoji keyboard can sometimes feel “like a junk drawer.”
“There are certain objects in there that maybe shouldn’t be an emoji, certain symbols, etcetera,” Broni says. This may include the aforementioned VHS tape, a trackball mouse (🖲), or maybe even the DVD (📀). In hindsight, they may be a bit of clutter in our phones, but these have helped Unicode better determine what sort of emojis will be useful further down the road, and whether certain proposed eemojis are worth adding.
If, despite the more than 3,600 emojis already available at your fingertips, there’s one you wish existed — like a desk or peanut butter or a bowl of mashed potatoes — you can make it happen. You may want to check Unicode’s list of emojis that have already been submitted.
Some of the recently proposed and declined ideas include an almond, a marijuana leaf, a solar panel, a wine bottle, and a 3D printer.
Unicode accepts emoji proposals between early April and late July each year.