Calling all emoji enthusiasts: This summer has a “Con” for you and it’s going to be ~fire~ ~smiling face with sunglasses~.
In less than two weeks, the second-ever Emojicon will be held in Brooklyn. It’s an event for designers, techies, emoji enthusiasts, and everyone in between. Emojicon’s mission, like that of the organization Emojination that helped birth it, is to make emojis more accessible and welcome every population.
According to Jeanne Brooks, who cofounded both Emojination, the pioneering group that joined the Unicode Consortium and got it to approve a dumpling emoji, and Emojicon with collaborator Jennifer 8. Lee, the idea behind both is to cultivate a “community of folks who could move the [emoji] conversation forward.” It first began in 2016, when both Lee and Brooks realized there were few ways for people outside outside of the technology scene to have a say in emoji creation. Together, they helped launched the first Emojicon in San Francisco, which had more than 1,000 attendees, and helped cultivate the Emojination online community. Ever since, Brooks has wanted to throw another event.
What exactly is Emojicon? “Emojicon is a celebration of all things emoji,” Brooks says. She wanted the event to have technical components, for those people focused on submitting new emoji ideas, without sacrificing any of the more fun, celebratory aspects so that everyone feels included in the event. There will be an art gallery of emoji-inspired art, places for even younger folks to interface with the community, and of course a party.
For the more tech-minded participants, though, Brooks specifically wants to “raise awareness around Unicode and what the process is.”
For the uninitiated, Unicode is the nonprofit corporation that holds the keys to the Unicode Standard. Among many other things, this means the group controls which symbols get to be included in the emoji library and which do not. The organization’s membership is dominated by large technology companies, and for most of Unicode’s existence, Brooks says, the members have been “very white and male.”
Through Emojination, Lee is now a non-voting member, adding another much-needed voice to the conversation. Brooks describes Lee as a “liaison” between the members of Emojination and the old Unicode guard. It’s been a couple of years since Emojination has begun working with Unicode, and now there’s a chance to take things even further.
That’s where this latest Emojicon comes in. Given Lee’s seat at the table, Brooks wants the community to devise ways they can change Unicode for the better. This upcoming event will focus on understanding the ways emoji can represent people, and how new symbols could help illuminate these issues. Brooks says she wants to spur conversations about how emoji could communicate “things that are invisible.” For example, mental health and emotions are two things that emojis are known for illustrating, but their use could be even more robust. Sure, a smiley face may mean you’re happy, but could emoji be used to better symbolize more nuanced and usually unseen human phenomena? “We’re doing a deeper dive into what [these invisible things] mean . . . and what that might look like,” says Brooks.
Additionally, she wants Emojicon to be a place where people can think about the entire emoji approval process. The current system, she says, isn’t great. It’s a very bureaucratic rigamarole of drafting a proposal, presenting it to the committee, responding to suggested changes, convincing voting members, and doing that all over again until it’s either approved or denied. It takes a very long time (sometimes years!) and often favors those who are enmeshed in the system. “What we want to do at Emojicon is open the space to imagine what a new process could look like,” says Brooks.
Beyond this, Brooks sees Emojicon as a blank canvas for the community. What makes the Emojination community so great, she says, is that so many different people from all walks of life are part of it. Between the artists and linguists and technologists, “I think what we’re really trying to do is explore the multidimensional aspects of emoji in our culture.”
“We’re here to celebrate emoji and how we’re able to communicate,” says Brooks. “The world is pretty dark right now, we want to create a space of celebration.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Jennifer 8. Lee is a voting member. She is a non-voting member of Unicode.