This week, the Unicode Consortium, a group that oversees the way text is coded into computer-readable language, published a study outlining their proposed plans for further expanding the emoji library to include more diverse options. Unicode writes:
People all over the world want to have emoji that reflect more human diversity, especially for skin tone. The Unicode emoji characters for people and body parts are meant to be generic, yet following the precedents set by the original Japanese carrier images, they are often shown with a light skin tone.
Unicode Version 8.0 is adding 5 symbol modifier characters that provide for a range of skin tones for human emoji. These characters are based on the six tones of the Fitzpatrick scale, a recognized standard for dermatology
The lack of diversity in emoji has been widely discussed for the past few years, and Unicode is notoriously slow moving in fixing these problems. However, if they follow through with the guidelines put forward in their paper, we can look forward to at least five skin tones for emoji heads, as well as sexuality-inclusive options like two people of the same gender holding hands. In addition, it will be possible to change the skin color of emojis which only feature isolated body parts, such as the finger nail painting emoji or prayer hands emoji. However, as The Guardian pointed out, these updates wouldn’t allow people to send an featuring an interracial couple. They wrote “adding a brown swatch to the kissing couple would make both the man and the woman brown. To correct this, if desired, the consortium suggests using a combination of single and multi-person emojis to get the point across.” Clearly, even if these changes are implemented, there will still be room for improvement.
Unicode’s reference to Japan is not arbitrary. As we reported earlier this year, emoji usage in text messaging was enabled by phone companies in Japan, where the service went viral. Unicode was forced to adopt these symbols in order to maintain global compatibility with Japanese texters. Almost all emoji have come into being, not because of intentional design, but because of unforeseen developments like this: anyone proposing a new emoji to Unicode must prove the symbol is already widely used. It’s not surprising then that it has taken this long for Unicode to inject diversity into these symbols–ones they didn’t even design–but we hope to see them step up to the challenge.