I make emoji. More specifically, when someone comes up with an idea for an emoji they want on the keyboard, they need to write up a proposal to the Unicode Consortium, and Unicode wants to see a sample visual. That’s where I come in. Since 2017 I’ve worked with Emojination to create emoji designs for these proposals. If a proposal is approved, it—along with my image—is sent to the various vendors (Apple, Google, Twitter, etc.) for their designers to use as guidance. These designers then create their own emoji to fit in with their style and platform. In my early days as an emoji maker, I even noticed Google’s official design choices echoed some of my own, which is pretty neat:
I’ve designed somewhere around 200 emojis for proposals to Unicode. Of those, around half have been approved and are already encoded in the emoji “alphabet,” with more always forthcoming. Some designs have received a fair bit of press, including the hijab, woman’s flat shoe, one-piece swimsuit, and interracial/inter-skintone couple emoji, and some have even been acquired by museum collections, such as the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. You can read more about the emoji creation process in my interview with Adobe Create.
Q: How do you design an emoji?
Some time ago I helped my friend and Emojination founder, Jennifer 8. Lee, write an emoji design guide that can be read here. Though my style has changed since then (more detailed shading/rendering), the main points still stand and should be useful to any would-be emoji designers. Some day I’ll write a more detailed and updated guide!
Q: How many emoji have you designed?
Hundreds, if you count all the variations (for example, tamales went through a long process that required many many revisions/variations, and don’t get me started on meatball). Of course, not all proposals are approved. By my count, I’ve helped around 100 emoji come to fruition.
Q: What is the toughest thing about making an emoji design?
Probably figuring out how to make the image as “universal” as possible. We want to make an emoji that can be used by many people in many cultures all over the world, and all those cultures have different ways they use or depict the various objects we want to represent. For example, tamales can be wrapped in yellow corn husks or green banana leaves depending on the region. It’s difficult to make a decision on which one to use in an emoji, because you want to create something that's applicable to all tamale-enjoyers! Inclusivity is one of my guiding principles in emoji creation, and it can be quite a challenge to get it right.
Q: What is your favorite emoji?
My favorite to use is 👀. My favorite that I have played a part in making is 🧁. And of course, I’ll always have a soft spot for the hijab, women’s flat shoe, and interracial couple emojis, because they garnered a fair bit of press, and seeing my designs in the New York Times was pretty exciting. The hijab emoji was even a Moment on Twitter once upon a time, and more recently, it was acquired by the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, along with my interracial couple emoji designs.
Q: I have an idea for a new emoji. Where do I start?
If you’re looking for help writing the proposal, I recommend looking into Emojination and joining our Slack—we’re very welcoming!
Q: Can you design the sample image for my proposal?
Yes! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where Do Emojis Come From?, Adobe Create
The Fight for the One-Piece Swimsuit Emoji, New York Times
Episode 272: Person in Lotus Position, 99% Invisible
A mosquito emoji for public health awareness takes flight, John Hopkins University Hub