A brief history of the emoji

Ask any designer, we’re suckers for a set of brand guidelines. The past couple of years we’ve seen a trend in the reproduction of original brand manuals for the likes of NASA, New York City Transit Authority and British Rail.

The publisher’s founder Jesse Reed broke down the basic history – NTT DoCoMo is a large Japanese telecommunications company that was founded in 1991. Between 1991 and 1999, the company developed a revolutionary software called “i-mode”, primarily used for pagers and emails. A feature of i-mode was a pictorial component, and this is when the heart emoji was introduced to its interface.

Shigetaka Kurita was an employee working on the i-mode team, and in 1999 he was tasked with expanding the collection of “picture characters” (in other words, the emoji) into the i-mode software.

During a five-week timeframe 176 emojis were created and then released immediately. The emojis took inspiration from Japanese culture – Kurita credits magazines and common street symbols as important influences. At the time Kurita was constrained to a 12×12 pixel grid, due to the screen technology and data transfer rates. Compare that with today’s unlimited resolution, which see’s current designs ending up at least 256×256 pixels, giving designers to over 65,000 more pixels to play with.

The emojis we view today are more detailed, to the point that we have dozens of subtle differences in facial expressions at our disposal – but there is something pure and refined about the original set that can’t be taken away. Words are added to the dictionary all the time, but the written language develops much slower than the spoken one. Compare that with the use of symbol-based communication working alongside the advances in technology and you have a method of communication that continues at amazing speed.

Read more in this post by the woman who designed Apple’s emoji.

What was the first emoji and how have they progressed?

Here’s an excerpt from a quiz we made for a monthly meeting a few months back… (no phones allowed people – answers at the bottom of this post)

1. If you want to point an emoji water pistol at another emoji, which emoji should come first?

a. The water pistol
b. The other one

2. What percentage of all tweets contain an emoji?

a. 5%
b. 10%
c. 25%

3. Which creature – after humans – offers the best choice of emoji facial expressions?

a. Dog
b. Cat
c. Monkey

4. Which of these celebrities has not released a custom emoji library?

a. Kim Kardashian
b. Miley Cyrus
c. Charlie Sheen

5. The original emojis were made on a grid. Was it:

a. 10×10 (100 pixels)
b. 12×12 (144 pixels)
c. 9×9 (81 pixels)

1. b)
2. a)
3. b)
4. a)
5. b)

If you’re looking for support around design and branding – oh where best to place that emoji – then contact us today.

About markmaking*

mark-making* is an award-winning creative agency specialising in branding, campaigns and communications