Inside Emojicon 2016

Author: Barbara Palmer       


Illustration by Carmen Segovia

The word emoji translates to “picture characters” in Japanese. It’s been around since 1999, when a Japanese developer designed the first set of them to overcome the limitations of the tiny screens on early mobile phones. Since then, emoji have ballooned. And yes, there’s an emoji for that.

Today, there are more than 1,800 characters recognized by the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit organization that regulates emoji and approves proposals for new characters. They’re enough a part of modern life that they have their own event: Emojicon 2016, co-founded by journalist Jennifer 8 Lee and tech-communities expert Jeanne Brooks, and held at Bespoke, a combination co-working, tech-demonstration, and event space at a downtown San Francisco shopping mall.

AND EAT IT, TOO Participants dressed up as their favorite emoji for a festival-style opening-night party on San Fran-cisco’s Mission Street, where they could have emoji caricatures drawn, get emoji tattoos, and eat emoji food. In fact, the only food served at the party was food that has an emoji.

TRENDING At the conference, Jeremy Burge, founder of the online Emojipedia, which catalogs all things emoji, discussed the changing global emoji landscape. The site lists the top three most popular emoji, which currently are the red heart, the laugh-crying face, and the shrugging woman. 

BUT SERIOUSLY Emoji may be adorable, but with billions sent each year, they also carry enormous social, political, and cultural weight. Among the speakers at Emojicon was Rayouf Alhumedhi, a Saudi teenager living in Germany, who drafted a proposal for a hijab emoji (it was approved); Lucy Walker, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, who helped create a new set of female emoji designed to empower young girls; and Sara Dean, a design professor at California College of the Arts, who talked about the potential for designing emoji to be used during civic emergencies.  In addition to conference sessions, the program included a hackathon and a film festival.