Emjoi craze a smiley-faced success story
‘World’s fastest-growing language’ meeting a need, according to creator
From a humble smiley face with a box mouth and inverted V’s for eyes, crude weather symbols and a rudimentary heart — emoji have exploded into the world’s fastest-growing language.
There are now about 1,800 emoji characters. They cover everything from emotions and food to professions, are racially diverse and have become an integral part of the smartphone age.
The digital hieroglyphics are regarded as so significant that New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which is home to works by Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, is exhibiting the original 176 designs.
Shigetaka Kurita, the man who created the characters, is still surprised by the success of his idea, but said he was meeting an obvious need.
“It wasn’t only Japanese who felt inconvenienced when they were exchanging text messages. We were all feeling the same thing,” he said.
Keenly aware of how text messages could be misconstrued, he wanted to create visual accompaniments to help articulate tone.
“With a heart, the message can’t be negative — whatever the text says,” Kurita said, describing his motivation to include the sign.
Kurita is in New York this month to visit the exhibition honoring his creation.
“These 12 x 12 pixel humble masterpieces of design planted the seeds for the explosive growth of a new visual language,” said Paul Galloway, a design collection specialist at the museum.
Among Kurita’s ideas for original emoji was a pile of feces.
“I made poo. It’s childish, but I thought it’s good to have something that makes people chuckle,” he said.
Today, a smiley-faced poop is one of the world’s most popular emoji, though according to the emojitracker website, a face with tears of joy is the symbol that is used the most.
Despite being popular in Japan around the turn of the century, it took another decade for emoji to really take off globally.
The success is in part due to the soaring popularity of smartphones, which has resulted in a jump in mobile messaging.
It is estimated emojis are used by 92 percent of the “online population”, according to the 2015 Emoji Report, released by a digital marketing firm. In the same period the Oxford Dictionary chose an emoji as its word of the year.
This month, a London translation agency said it was seeking for an “emoji translator” to help meet the “challenges posed by the world’s fastest-growing language”.
“We have turned a corner in writing, whereby phonetic script and visual symbols are being integrated more and more,” said University of Toronto anthropology professor Marcel Danesi, author of The Semiotics of Emoji: the rise of visual language in the age of the internet.
“In some ways, (emoji) have rendered communication much more fluid and effective.”
Shigetaka Kurita, creator of emoji characters