If you’re on social media like everyone else, then chances are you use emojis. Sometimes we communicate almost exclusively with emojis, so it’s fair to say that they’re important for self-expression and identity. These typographic icons are a visual communication system, as well as a fun and friendly way to express ourselves.
Emojis have evolved to help us fill in the emotional gaps when expressing ourselves online, so it’s more important than ever to see ourselves represented within the emoji library so we can accurately express ourselves.
An emoji is worth a thousand words, but only if you can find the right one
Emoji can help us approximate tone of voice and gesture to express ourselves in ways words often cannot. How many times have we used an emoji to soften the meaning of a comment or to illustrate sarcasm?
This is why it’s important to see ourselves represented within the emoji library — we can better express ourselves with an emoji depiction that feels right to us. This is more than just having a range of skin tones you see today. According to a survey by Adobe, 83% of global emoji users agree that emojis should continue to strive for more inclusive representation of individuals and their communities.
When you see or send an emoji, it’s likely backed by the Unicode Consortium and approved to be standardised across platforms. And the consortium has currently 12 full voting members who pay $18,000 a year for the power of voting on what emojis get approved. Nine of them are American multinational tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Shopify, and Netflix, with German company SAP, China’s Huawei, and Oman rounding out the voters.
This means that the decisionmakers are generally male and white, from a handful of multinational American tech corporations. According to Emojination, it can take over 18 months for a proposed emoji to complete the review process which includes gaining the approval of another international consortium, the ISO.
So how do we start representing the people with important stories to tell, that need to be heard, and enable them to share their points of view? It’s up to us to nudge the technology.
A more inclusive library of emoji 👪 for a more inclusive world
Despite the perceived frivolousness of an emoji, it is a communication tool. And many young people – 77% of Gen Z and 75% of Millennials – believe that inclusive emoji can spark positive conversations about societal issues.
For most people, especially multilingual users and Gen Z-ers, representation of their culture – like emojis of a hijab or hong bao – is seen as the most important, followed by age and ethnicity. Currently, only 54% of global emoji users feel that their identity is adequately reflected in current emoji options.
Over half of global emoji users wish they had more emoji customisation options which include elements like hairstyle or hair colour, accessories, body type, and eye colour. In fact, 78% of global emoji users also feel that more emoji customisation options can address gaps in inclusion as they’re an important communication tool for creating unity, respect and understanding of one another.
Customisation of emoji for aspects such as skin colour and hairstyle have, without a doubt, made the medium more inclusive. Many of us are already using the the options we relate to when communicating, like using the closest skin tone and gender. Nearly seven in ten global users that identify as members of the LGBTQI2+ community are likely to customise their emoji. The group that felt the least represented (at 37%) were emoji users with a disability or impairment, who felt they would benefit from emojis that show more “helping objects” – like wheelchairs, canes, or hearing aids.
Looking towards the future, do you know what new emoji users are most excited about? Person feeding baby (#1), bubble tea (#2), person in tuxedo (#3).
See a more inclusive future for emoji
Do you have an idea you think we should add to the emoji library? Fortunately, there are allies and resources that can help. Emojination – with the help of other organisations – have successfully embedded a number of culturally significant emojis like the sari, hijab, boomerang, piñata, matryoshka doll, long drum, arepa, and bubble tea.
These little cartoon characters have come a long way since the basic smiley faces or thumbs up, and as technology advances, they would enable interpersonal communication to be more inclusive, so that we’ll be able to see and understand each other better, and create a more cooperative culture that values diverse experiences and voices.