In the late 90s, Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese interface designer created a collection of 176 emojis while working on the development team “i-mode” at the mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo. The service only allowed for 250 characters which gave Kurita the challenge to figure out a way to communicate in an expressive but short way. With all this bustling excitement there was a major problem. If you sent an emoji to someone using a different device, there was no guarantee they’d see it. This all changed when Google stepped in.

Original collection of the 176 emojis by Kurita.

In 2007, a team at Google started using code points which ensured that across different devices we’d all get the same emoji. Today, the Unicode Consortium is responsible for code points. The UC was founded to create a universal character encoding which was eventually coined “Unicode”. The text you see on the screen currently is comprised of Unicode characters and it looks the exact same regardless of the device you are on. Emojis remained exclusively a Japanese sensation, but Apple took note with the expansion of the iPhone into the Japanese market. In 2008, with iOS 2.2, Apple launched an emoji keyboard for the Japanese market. Soon after, the addition of 608 new emojis to the Unicode Standard was suggested by two engineers at Apple, Yasuo Kida & Peter Edberg. The plan was approved in 2010, taking the official emoji count with the introduction of Unicode 6.0. to a whopping 722.

Given the challenges to add emoji keyboards to an iPhone outside of Japan, it was hard to disregard the increasing popularity of emojis on the internet. In 2011, Apple introduced an official emoji keyboard to iOS for folks outside of the japan area and soon after Android followed suit.

The Unicode Standard provides a sort of blueprint for the shape of how an emoji should look. To the left we can see how different these emojis look based on the company. The styling is left up to the designers and as such this creates the drastic difference in terms of look between an apple emoji and one from microsoft.

Emojis come with their own meaning but sometimes people can misinterpret the meaning and change it around completely. The 🙏🏽 emoji can be read as a prayer or thank you but someone else can use it as a ‘high-five’. Most of us are familiar with the secondary meaning for the famous 🍆 and 🍑 emoji. Just don’t Google this at work.

No matter how we look at an emoji the impact it had on our lives is insurmountable. Today emojis are widely used everywhere. Ever wonder why there’s so many weather-related emojis in Apple’s original emoji set? It’s because it’s custom to start every email/greeting/letter in Japan by starting off with talking about the weather. They show up a lot in advertisements aimed towards the younger audiences and help the company seem more relatable.

Emojis are ever evolving. New emojis are being added to the Unicode Standard and you can get your very own too. Cultures from around the world are now depicted in countless emoji. They have become a way to transcend existing language, toward a global form of communication — one that everyone understands.

Emoji proposal to the Unicode Consortium: https://unicode.org/emoji/proposals.html

Software Engineer, gamer, and sketch artist