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The Emoji Epidemic

Posted 4 years ago by Naomi Francis

Emojis are a global phenomenon amongst a new age of users.

We’ve seen them go from smartphones to big business advertisements and all the way to the big screen – yes, it has been confirmed that Sony is making an Emoji movie. Even celebrities have seen an opportunity to create their own brand of Emojis to connect with fans and count that cash: Kim Kardashian’s Kimoji almost broke the app store, Charlie Sheen’s documented his shenanigans with ‘Sheenoji,’ and even Dennis Graham, aka Drake’s dad, has joined the list. It’s clear that how Emoji’s make people feel is universally understood and has been harnessed into adding entertainment value to life outside of the digital world.

There are no signs of them slowing down either. 72 more are set to hit our screens this June – which include the all important avocado and bacon Emoji. This shows that design is not just about creating solutions and simplifying UI, but when done right, design makes people happy. And if that design can shorten a sentence or two, the lazy folk out there will keep your product afloat.

These tiny designs which are used worldwide were first created as a solution to a problem which no longer exists as technology has progressed but they serve an emotional purpose.

The Emoji was created in the mid-nineties, back when our mobile phones couldn’t handle text messages outside of a character limit, our inbox memory couldn’t sustain our popularity, and sending an image to a friend was too much trouble to justify actually doing it. Shigetaka Kurita, who was working on the launch of the world’s first mobile internet platform ‘i-mode’ at the time, created the first Emoji prototype. He believed that character limits could reduce the user’s ability to deliver sufficient information in their messages, and that including small images would resolve this and express emotion.

Kurita created 180 Emoji for i-mode within one month. He found inspiration in everything for his designs, even dedicating 10 days in Japan to solely observe human expression and deliberate which of the human emotions were essential to be replicated in his designs. He also found the symbolic representations known as ‘manpu’ in popular Japanese cartoon genre Manga, to be helpful. For example, by adding a drop of water onto a face, the expression came to represent that of ‘anxiety’. Kurita also found inspiration from pictograms, which became popular after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, when they had been used to translate signs for tourists.

Kurita’s creations were successful and took Japan by storm, but it wasn’t really until the smartphone arrived in the western world that we were blessed with the Emoji keyboard. It became a global phenomenon. The Emoji then made its way into the outside world and into the arms of advertisers. Companies found a new way to connect with the younger generation, like McDonald’s campaign which consisted of billboards filled with strings of Emojis telling a story. Following that, the likes of IKEA, Burger King and PETA have all used Emojis in their advertising campaigns, which just shows the range of audiences they resonate with. From fast food to environmental issues to furniture – Emojis can communicate all issues effectively.

Millions of people use Emoji’s on Twitter, but what if we could see them in real-time? Emojitracker allows you to watch the real-time usage of each one on Twitter so we can get a real idea of how key they are in self-expression. The ‘crying with laughter’ stat literally does not stop increasing – which shows that most of the things we share online are posted with the intent of bringing ourselves and others happiness. Watching this real-time account of Emoji usage on Twitter is like a window into the emotions millions of people are experiencing all at once.

It’s clear that social media is mostly used to communicate positive emotions. Everybody’s favourite photo album, Instagram, has found that nearly 50% of all their captions and comments hold at least one Emoji. After adding the ability to use them as hashtags, Instagram has been recording just how often they’re being used and what for. The most popular Emojis were ‘crying with laughter’, ‘heart eyed’ and the ‘heart’, which shows how much Instagram is used as place for users to go to enjoy their community’s posts and encourage creativity.

There’s a TalkTalk study which showed that 72% of 18-25 year olds find it easier to communicate their feelings using Emoji than words. Emojis have also crossed over into modern counselling methods. BRIS, a Swedish Charity for Children’s Rights in Society, devised ‘Abused Emojis’ which is a free app, with a range of symbols representing bruised faces and evidence of self harm. BRIS explains: “A complex reality demands a complex set of symbols. The ‘Abused Emojis’ make it possible for kids and young people to talk about situations where they felt bad or wrongly treated without having to put words on the situation.

Messaging services and social media sites alike see a plethora of Emojis every day, but we’re also starting to see them appear on a range of unexpected platforms – the Emoji just seems to know no bounds. Using Emojis to tell a story reached new heights when data engineer, Fred Beneson, translated every sentence of Moby Dick into its Emoji equivalent and called it ‘Emoji Dick’. Some others have now followed suit and created what they’re calling the ‘Scripture for Millennials,’ which is the Bible translated into Emoji.

Whilst I think translating the Bible into Emoji somehow makes it lose some of its glory, it’s amazing to see Emojis sweep all mediums like it does. So what is it that makes us love them the way we do?

As humans we are unforgivably social creatures, right down to our core. All of our creations are made with the purpose of becoming better connected – be that with our friends, family, society or information we consume. As technology changes the way we communicate, language evolves with it.

Text messages saw the arrival of a language abundant with abbreviation – but with the introduction of the QWERTY keyboard it was no longer necessary and it’s now less acceptable to be sending things like ‘c u l8r’. Phrases like ‘lol’ and ‘lmao’ still fly around but research has shown that since the arrival of the Emoji, their usage has fallen drastically.

Even in those dark days without the Emoji, we were still finding ways to express ourselves and make our messages more human. When we think about it, in face-to-face conversations our language never stands on its own like it does in text; we communicate using facial expressions, gestures, intonation and body language simultaneously. In both email and messaging, the absence of all of these non-verbal language components means it becomes easy to misinterpret a message, particularly sarcasm. So even before Emoji’s we naturally took to trying to find a way to enhance the meaning in our messages and developed emoticons like : ) or : ( or a personal favourite (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ.

“When you communicate on the internet, it is very convenient to have emoji, because it’s hard to express emotions only with text. If you look at history, after handwritten letters, there came the telephone. Then, electronic messaging emerged. There was always a demand for something that can express emotions.” – Kurita

There has been scientific research that proves we process Emojis as non-verbal information and read them as emotional communication. The findings show that when we look at an Emoji, the same areas in our brains are activated as when we look at a human face. This alters our mood and can result in us altering our facial expressions to mirror the emotion of the Emoji, and enhances our emotional response to a message.

So, it’s not just the fact that an Emoji is present, what matters more to us is the intent behind it. We feel and understand the emotion it represents and this connects us to the sender, providing us with the social intimacy that we crave as humans.

Research has found that the closer the relationship of the people messaging each other, the higher the number of Emojis used. We unconsciously mirror each other’s behaviour which acts as a sign that people are in sync with each other and represents comfort, trust and rapport. People now mimic Emojis, which makes sense because they symbolise real emotions, so the Emojis back and forth in our messages actually represent social habits we experience everyday.

It’s become common place for people to use their top 10 Emojis as their biography on social media or dating apps. This is interesting as it shows that Emojis may have a real link to emulating a person’s personality – which could explain why everyone’s ‘Most Used’ Emojis are so different. This also transposes to location. There has been research into each country’s most used Emojis and the results are pretty entertaining. For example, the UK uses the wine Emoji more than any other country in Europe, which truly reflects our booze-loving, binge-drinking, pub culture.

Not every Emoji is interpreted the same – we are complex individuals, with different likes, dislikes and senses of humour. This is why it’d be difficult for Emoji to replace text completely as there would be no way to regulate the meaning behind each one.

Each emoji has been designed with a purpose and meaning that we may have not registered and interpreted to be something entirely different, due to the variety in all our experiences. There’s a fun Emoji quiz that puts into perspective how wrong we can all get it. For example, what I had been thinking was a sassy ass girl flicking her hair is actually – drum roll – an ‘information desk person’. I know you’re all dying to prove yourselves in Emoji knowledge – so you can take the test here.

All in all, Emoji’s are encouraging a more social digital world.

From their design origin, based on the observation of real human expression, to the scientific research that proves we register them as emotional communication, we are socially justified in appreciating Emojis the way we do. In a world of text, these specially crafted designs brought what makes us human to the digital world and makes it easier for us to express ourselves and deliberate meaning in our messages. Language will always adapt with technology and in our bid to remain the social creatures that we are, will always find a way for technology to become more human.

Writing for Marvel. Writing for fun. Eating everywhere, all the time.

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