Emojis — the little icons used to represent everything from human expressions to various foods — are wildly popular around the world as a form of expression and communication. But less widely known is that these little icons are chosen and managed by the Unicode Consortium, a nearly 30-year-old organization that's also responsible for all the letters and characters in our smartphone keyboards. Its members include major companies like Apple and Google.
The big question: So just how do these decisions get made? To find out, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva met with Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia and the vice chair of the consortium's emoji subcommittee. Here's some lightly edited answers:
What are some of the hardest decisions you guys have had to make?
"The hardest decisions are always about anything that multiplies the number of emojis. So it's easy enough to approve one new emoiji — to say, here's a softball because there's already a baseball — that's fine, it's fairly self-contained. Whereas when you talk about race, gender, hair colors in particular at the moment, like, that means there could be thousands more possibilities."
"This year there was the gender-neutral child, adult, and older adult added, and some people felt that was a good decision and were happy with it…[O]n the other hand then you get, 'What happens when you include them in the family combinations?'...and suddenly you get hundreds of combinations."
Is there an added dimension of difficulty because you want to be inclusive and represent people in the world?
"There's a responsibility there and how much does the responsibility weigh in? It's easy for me because I want to see more people represented...and maybe it's easy for me to say as a white dude, I'm represented on the keyboard pretty well already. [B]ut I start with what I'd like to see and work with the process to come out with an outcome…the system works reasonably well...the vendors [are] bringing their users' voices to the table...[I]t's how the skin tones happened — because people mostly contacted Apple."
iOS 11 has the Animoji -- what are your thoughts?
"I haven't played with them [myself]. I think it looks fun. [T]he clever thing is that it's got nothing to do with emoji. It's its own thing. It's more like a little movie-maker thing. I don't think it's gonna replace emoji in any way, it looks pretty time consuming...I don't think [when replying] "I'm gonna be there in 10 minutes" [you will send out] an animoji of you as a pile of poo to say that."
How often do you use emoji and how?
"Every day. Sometimes to be on brand. I'm mostly a clarifier — you say what you want to say, and then you add the emoji to clarify what you just said."
Read Kia's full interview here.