There are 3,633 official emojis and more on the way next month: including a shaking face, moose, goose, jellyfish, pink heart and flute. Why do we need so many, and what should they be used for?
What is up with all the weird emojis? And now there’s going to be a moose?! Do we really need a moose?
What might not make sense to people in some geographical locations can be significant in another part of a country or world, said Broni. Think of it as a way to open your mind to what other people are experiencing on a diverse planet.
“You might think, ‘Why do I need a moose emoji?’” said Broni. “Well, actually, a lot of people across the world deal with moose on a frequent basis, and they’re pretty significant creatures. If you encounter one, you’re going to remember,” he added. “It’s a way to say, ‘This is something that I’m experiencing, or this is something that is adjacent to something I’m experiencing.’”
That said, it’s important not to take a design too literally, Broni said. That’s why there aren’t emojis for specific dog breeds, for example, so that more people find it accessible when trying to express the general concept of a dog over text.
“We don’t need a Jack Russell emoji … the dog emoji should cater to all. Not to get too highfalutin about it, but it’s very similar to, you know, Plato’s theory of forms [that whole, your reality might not be my reality, thing] is the ultimate version of this concept.”
Another example, he said, is the ginger root — a very popular component in a lot of Asian countries’ cuisine. But it also represents a warming presence in winter. So we have to look at what something will be used for literally and metaphorically.
Still, despite inclusive intentions, said Broni, the emoji-verse remains a bit skewed toward objects or concepts that are more familiar in countries that are particularly predominant on the international tech scene: the United States, Korea, Japan, China and parts of Europe.
OK, but no matter how much the creator and companies try to control the meaning, they seem to take on a life of their own (eggplant).
There is likely an intention that the creator has when they propose a new emoji, but everyone understands once it is out in the emoji-verse, it’s open to interpretation.
Take the peach. It was meant to just be a peach — as in the food, said Broni. But that’s not how it’s used (it’s used as a butt). And then there’s the chair, he said. It was floating around without a meaning and landed as a replacement for the laughing emoji after one person used it as an inside joke among his followers.
As for how the new emojis will be used, it’s anyone’s guess, he said. But you can read about an emoji’s original purpose on the Unicode Consortium site. Unicode is a nonprofit, international body made up of all the major players (Apple, Google, Facebook) that have “skin in the game when it comes to digital texts,” he said. It’s main mission? To make sure digital texts from different places and various devices can communicate with each other.
It’s actually pretty easy to propose a new emoji, but the selection process is long and competitive.
If you’re feeling like the 🤯 isn’t expressing exactly how you feel, but an aardvark exploding head would do the trick, all you have to do is fill out a form. Proposals for new emojis go through the Unicode, said Broni.
“As we expect communication to become more and more globalized, we need to have a standard that all digital text adheres to, to make sure that my device manufactured in South Korea is able to fully converse, as it were, with your device manufactured in, I don’t know, Texas. That is what Unicode does.”
But the window for new emoji proposals is short — April to July — and the approval process is long, Broni said. If you submit an emoji proposal in April of 2023, and it meets the criteria, it won’t get approved until September of 2024. And then it will only begin to arrive on different platforms anywhere from late 2024 to 2025.
And that is if it makes it through the tough vetting process.
“There’s a lot of oversight once a proposal has been submitted,” said Broni. “It’s going to be reviewed by what Unicode calls the emoji subcommittee which has volunteers from all of the various member organizations.”
The kind of emoji that gets 💯 approval
Unicode has a number of sources for emoji creators on how the (kind of complicated!) process works and what type of emoji is likely to be selected. But there are three main criteria your emoji needs to pass before it even reaches the next level, according to the website:
- Will the image work at the small size at which emojis are commonly used?
- Does the emoji add to what can be said using emojis or can the idea be expressed using existing emojis?
- Is there substantial evidence that a large number of people will likely use this new emoji?
The good news: Once an emoji, always an emoji, said Broni, and it will never be removed from the Unicode standard.
“One of the core motivations behind Unicode is not just to allow for contemporaneous communication but also allow all of our digital devices to be able to look at a piece of text script from, say, 2001 on a website and say, “This is what this character meant at that time. And this is what it should always mean, as long as you are adhering to updates to the standard ... that’s the same for emojis.”
Have we reached peak emoji?
We can’t declare max emoji capacity just yet, said Broni, but Unicode isn’t approving as many these days.
“Certainly, there is a lot more work being put into considerations about what will actually get used by people across different kinds of significant proportions of the global digital community,” said Broni.
But it also might be that it’s the format and not the number of emojis that is the problem, Broni said. Maybe emojis have “simply outgrown the keyboard,” and it might be time to rethink how we categorize them.
“Swiping through this library that mimics a keyboard might not be the best way to access the concepts that we use emojis to express,” he said. In the future, he said he hopes there might be a more intuitive and creative interface so that we more easily both appreciate and access these images.
Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for copy editing this article.