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3 Jul, 2016 16:07

Sad face: The marathon journey to getting your new emoji approved (PHOTOS)

Sad face: The marathon journey to getting your new emoji approved (PHOTOS)

Fall down the rabbit hole of emoji manufacturing and it becomes immediately apparent that it’s quite a complex, convoluted process - one that’s liable to leave you with an ‘Upside-Down Face’ rather than a visage streaming ‘Tears of Joy’.

The great epoch of the emoji began in Japan back in 1999.

Among the first images created were a happy and sad face, along with a rather rudimentary light bulb created by Shigetaka Kurita, a worker with Japanese mobile company NTT docomo.

The bright idea was to counter limited text space on early Japanese cellphones while communicating basic messages. The emoji has since whipped up social, cultural and political discussion around the world.

“At first, I came up with five or six different faces such as the smiley face,” Kurita explained in an interview with Ignition.

“They needed to be dotted to be digitized in the end… I was working with a sense of creating a new alphabet. It was an attempt to create texts rather than a sense of making pictures.”

Today there are upwards of 1,600 official emojis and countless other derivatives - like Kim Kardashian’s backside. Unamused face.

A new batch of emojis due to be released in June 2016 included: ‘Rolling on the floor’ laughing’, ‘Drooling Face’, the ‘Call Me Hand’ and a Prince. Frustratingly, there is still no ‘Tumbleweed’, but the emoji pipeline has spawned a ‘Selfie’.

Unicode Consortium

While Kurita laid the initial groundwork, the Unicode Consortium, based out of the San Francisco Bay area, now oversees the approval process for an emoji or digital character.

It’s a non-profit corporation, made up of software producers, research institutions, companies such as Google, Facebook and, interestingly, the government of India, who one must approach to get a text or symbol entered into the global lexicon for computer devices.

The group’s mantra is to “enable people around the world to use computers in any language” - which means they don’t just deal in those tiny smiley faces you send to your mates on Whatsapp. The emoji does seem to be the subject which generates most interest, though.

The consortium operates a system known as the Unicode Standard, which assigns a unique number to a text character or symbol.

Thus, Unicode has created a consistent coding ledger used in modern software and computing. For example, the letter ‘A’ has a Unicode number of U+0041 - while the code for the Russian Ruble is U+20BD.

The coding system has since been adopted by tech giants Apple, IBM and Microsoft.

Creating an Emoji

So how do you get new designs past the emoji legislators?

Well, it’s a bit of a marathon. After a lengthy application process, which could take at least two years, Unicode estimate that they accept only about 60 new proposals each year.  

People hoping to have their idea added to the Unicode list must first wade through the reams of already-proposed characters in the pipeline. Duplicate characters or similar designs won’t stand a chance.

The consortium’s sprawling website carries a four page form with which applicants must approach the enigmatic ‘Emoji Subcommittee’ - co-chaired by Google’s Mark Davis and Apple’s Peter Edberg. 

According to the subcommittee, factors taken into consideration before approving emojis include compatibility with different platforms, expected usage, and image distinctiveness.

For example, they say, there is no point asking for a ‘Stew’ emoji when one could easily use ‘Pot of Food’.

Interestingly, deities apparently make for poor (and most likely divisive) emojis. Which is probably why images of Jesus Christ or Allah are absent from the Unicode world.

In 2001, the proposed encoding of Star Trek Klingon Script was rejected for a number of reasons, one of them being the lack of use in published writing.

While the individual design and subsequent use of an emoji is left up to companies such as Apple, Twitter, or Google, the consortium’s effective bible of characters guides creators with basic chart images.

Social impact

Millions of the colourful glyphs are used across social media each day, as evidenced by the constantly updating Emojitracker.

Indicative of how emojis have been become a mainstay in society is the growing push for greater diversity among its images - for example, new cultures, national flags, skin tones, and foods.

Unicode explain the emoji was never really meant to be anything more than a series of simplistic, generic images, but as the list of new characters grew, so too did the feeling that many people or expressions were being left out.

In 2015, the consortium advised on color modifiers for human emojis, paving the way for Apple, one of the biggest emoji vendors, to include racially diverse characters in its iOS 8.3 update.

The drive for variety has not only centred on race, but also hair color and food. In 2015, a Spanish rice company set up an ad campaign to have a traditional Paella emoji created. The adverts became some of the most popular in the country, The Local reported.

‘Shallow Pan of Food’ which depicts shrimps and is described as “commonly associated with paella” was approved in the recent Unicode 9.0 update, according to Emojipedia.

Meanwhile, redheads are still fighting for their first emoji representation.

A Change.org petition set up by Ginger Parrot last year garnered nearly 18,000 signatures demanding ‘glorious gingerness’ become an Apple emoji.

“Redheads… they’ve been missed out. Again. If you say you’re going to diversify, why not add a few red-haired emoji into the mix?

“Natural redhead may be rare at less than 2 percent of the world’s population, but that is 138,000,000 iPhones waiting to happen,” the petition estimated.

Similar petitions have also been created for tacos, the mankini and blow-up sex dolls.