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From Breastfeeding To Gender Neutrality: Unicode’s New Emojis Are Signs Of The Times

Beyond the hot button issues, the upcoming Emoji 5.0 set comes with fun zombies, vampires, a T-Rex, and even mermaids. Go wild!

From Breastfeeding To Gender Neutrality: Unicode’s New Emojis Are Signs Of The Times
[Photo: courtesy of Emojipedia]

Yes—new emojis!

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An expanded set of 69 emojis is rolling out this summer and it reflects changing politics (the flag of Scotland), expands diversity (a person in a headscarf), and honors our new favorite animal: the giraffe.

[Photo: courtesy of Emojipedia]
How Emoji 5.0 came about is a testament to one of the few areas where tech rivals willingly cooperate. Unicode, a consortium of giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google, oversees standard, “official” emojis. But how they are drawn and when they roll out over the next 12 months are company decisions.

Standard emoji symbols have been around since the early 1990s and the code behind them is universal across languages and cultures. In recent years, a major trend has been to draw human emojis in different skin tones with descriptions like “Boy: Medium-dark skin tone.” Or “beating heart.” Or “cigarette.”

Unicode issues a description and specifications for each emoji; then the tech companies make art to fit those specifications. The art for the new emojis will then be rolled out as updates by the tech companies over the months following the update.

Some companies even have two or more sets of emoji artwork—Google’s branded smartphones have a different emoji set from Gmail’s, and Facebook has an entirely separate set of emoji art for Messenger.

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Jennifer 8. Lee And The Dumpling Emoji

There’s a story behind almost every emoji. Unicode, for instance, frequently receives petitions to include new emojis in their annual updates. Former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee, the organizer of Emojicon and Emojination, led a campaign to get a dumpling emoji included in Emoji 5.0.

“In 2015, I realized that there’s no dumpling emoji, so I got into a conversation with designer Yiying Lu, recalls Lee, a non-voting member of the Unicode Technical Committee of the Unicode Consortium.


Related: Mexico City Is Getting It’s Own Emoji


“I was completely baffled by that—dumplings are a universal food; every culture has a dumpling! You have pierogis, ravioli, pelmeni. I thought whatever system in place was broken if there was no dumpling emoji!”

Other culinary basics in 5.0 include a sandwich, a takeout box, and the ubiquitous pretzel.

Highlights of Emoji 5.0

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Emojis evolve over time to reflect our world and cultural touchstones, pop culture and otherwise. Our obsession with vampires and zombies shows up in 5.0, for example.

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[Photo: courtesy of Emojipedia]

Gender, Politics, Race, And Equality

The default skin color on human emojis has long been a Simpsons-like garish yellow. However, in 2012, Unicode introduced an updated emoji standard with support for five different skin tones.

In 2017, the year’s new human emojis come in light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, and dark skin tone.

Religion and gender also come into play. The 5.0 set includes a person in a head scarf and a woman breastfeeding a baby.

Unicode also works to have emojis avoid gender stereotypes, and be gender inclusive.

“Today, society and science view gender as something which exists more along a spectrum,” says Paul Hunt, a typeface designer and font developer at Adobe, and member of the Unicode Consortium’s Emoji Subcommittee.

“I took it upon myself to do more to develop a proposal which would show what I call ‘gender-inclusive emoji representation’—androgynous enough to depict someone of every gender, male or female or somewhere in between,” he tells Fast Company.

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Three gender-inclusive emojis of a child, an adult, and an older person have been added to the new Emoji 5.0 standard.

Why iPhone And Android Emojis Look Different

Because Unicode only issues a standard with specifications for emojis, the same emojis will look different depending on the computer, phone, or app you’re using.

“Emojis look different because Apple has its own color emoji fonts, and Android vendors have their own,” Hunt adds. “(The same goes for) Samsung, Microsoft, Twitter, etc. Sometimes there’s a match between the exact emoji representation someone sends out and what platform they’re sending it onto, but this is the nature of fonts.”

This creates additional challenges for manufacturers, especially when new emoji are rolled out. Emojis are an entirely visual medium, and font designers and artists at tech companies want to make sure users easily understand they’re looking at a mermaid, a woman in a headscarf, or a pretzel. Because of this, emoji artists at tech companies tend to make their creations as cartoonish and easy to view on a small screen as possible.

The New Pictograms

Apple, Google, Samsung, and other vendors will roll out graphics for the new Unicode emojis over the next year; each company announces their new graphics separately.

And curious about what’s on tap for 2018’s emojis? Unicode has already released some of 2018’s emoji proposals; they include gender-neutral red-haired, curly-haired, white-haired, and bald faces, an evil eye charm, a mooncake, and a set of science-oriented emoji including a lab coat, a petri dish, DNA, and goggles. The science emoji are the result of a Unicode petition by GE and the American Chemical Society. GE was a sponsor of Lee’s Emojicon, which was where the science emoji initiative began to take shape.

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Emojis are, essentially, the cave drawings of the 21st century—an entirely visual medium of communication that lends itself especially well to smartphones and tablets. There have already been attempts to translate the Bible to emoji, and, soon, a big-budget Emoji Movie.

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