• Teri Sutherland

Happy World Emoji Day!



It’s World Emoji Day – and, while they may not be everyone’s favourite graphic characters, it’s worth celebrating their reason for being, and their designer, Shigetaka Kurita.


Shigetaka Kurita was only 25 when he invented those little graphic images that we all love today to shortcut our texting time. And that was exactly the point – to get around the original 250-character limit on the early mobile phones. To allow users to communicate more effectively in less time and with fewer keyboard clicks. Kurita created the first emoji in 1999 and only had 12 x 12 pixels to play with. When emojis were adopted by Apple around 10 years later they took off, and today we take for granted that the sky’s the limit when it comes to finding a symbol to help us express our thoughts.


An emoji for every occasion?

As a designer, I celebrate any form of non-verbal communication. But, while there may be an emoji designed for just about every situation, are emojis really right for every occasion? I’ve read stories about some companies that are creating their own custom emojis for use on internal communications. That seems fine, especially in our new remote working world, where staff morale is more important than ever. But I’d caution anyone tempted to use them in collateral that’s aimed at a wider target audience. That’s because the strength of emojis is also their biggest weakness – they can be interpreted in a split second and easily misunderstood. There’s no time to explain if you didn’t ‘read the room’ and got the message a little bit off target!


What do your corporate visuals say about you?

Emojis do make you realise how important your visual branding is – because it is also interpreted by your clients and your potential customers in a split second. What is your logo and your iconography saying about you? Is it sending the right message?


Emojis should make us think more about the way we communicate and why. They certainly have their place in our day-to-day world of fast-paced communication. They may not be right for every situation – even between friends – and certainly not for high-level business communication.


What’s our emoji legacy?

Kurita invented his form of graphic language towards the end of the 2000s – literally at the turn of the century! That’s intriguing because, apart from Japanese manga illustrations, Kurita’s other inspiration was the kanji script or modern Japanese logographic writing which uses symbols based on ancient Chinese characters found on inkstones and coins dating back centuries. It’s fascinating to think about our legacy in hundreds of years – if emojis were carved onto printing stones and found in digs, what would they say about us?


New York’s Museum of Modern Art included the original emoji set of characters in its collection in 2016. New York publisher and designer, Jesse Reed, has said: "The gallery’s emoji acquisition identified a language as not only functional, but beautifully considered and relevant to the design of life. What is design anyway? Relationships, communication, function, expression – emoji tick every box."


If this has started you thinking about your company’s visuals and you want to chat further, I’d love to talk more. Get in touch.