Keep in touch: Emojis

keep in touch FINAL-01

Today we continue our digital exhibition ‘Keep in Touch’ with the newest form of communication, emojis. If you missed our last entry on braille, check it out here.

No words needed

Using emojis instead of words is a product of the Internet Age, allowing people from different linguistic backgrounds to communicate with each other, through ‘technological hieroglyphs’[1]. Emojis are usually small faces, expressing a range of expressions and emotions, but can also be common objects or animals. They are the first ‘language’ born of the digital world[2], designed to add emotional nuances and feelings to texts. In 2015 the Oxford Dictionary chose the “face with tears of joy” emoji for the ‘word’ of the year to highlight the significant increase in popularity of emojis across the world.

Emojis were created in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita, an artist and developer at NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese mobile phone company. The company came up with the idea of adding simple images to the text function of their pager service to attract younger customers. Kurita’s original 176 emoji are now part of the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and privileged symbols over faces[3]. The word emoji in Japanese originally meant pictogram[4].

KIT - Emojis

Emojis courtesy of

Emojis go global

Even though the majority of emojis have a common meaning, occasionally some of them may be misunderstood in some countries, due to differing cultural values. The thumbs-up gesture, for example, is a symbol that means ‘okay’ in most Western countries, but it can be perceived as an offensive gesture in countries like Iran and Afghanistan. Greater cultural diversity in the range of emojis was also reflected in the 2015 release by Apple of racially diverse emoji sets[6], where people could choose a specific skin tone. Sometimes the meanings conveyed through emojis may also be misunderstood, and because they are subjective[7], the written language remains important. Emojis, however, have become ubiquitous, enhancing informal communication in the 21st century.  


Tremeer, E., ‘Are Emojis the new hieroglyphs? A brief history of emojis and their purpose’,

‘Will emoji become a new language?’,

Get involved

  • If you could invent some new emojis , what would they be?
  • Challenge: create a sentence written only with emojis and send it to a friend. Can they guess what you’ve said?


[1] ‘History of Emojis’,

[2] ‘The Wired Guide to Emoji’,

[3] ‘The Wired Guide to the Emoji’,

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Emoji’,

[6] Schenker, M., ‘The surprising history of Emojis’,

[7] Tremeer, E., ‘Are Emojis the new hieroglyphs? A brief history of emojis and their purpose’,

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