The Emoji Year in Review

A look back on World Emoji Day 2020.

Variety of emojis

by Paul D. Hunt

posted on 07-17-2020

Happy World Emoji Day! 🥳 As much of the world is still scrambling to get a hold on the current COVID-19 crisis, it may be easy to dismiss emoji as something frivolous and not worthy of attention when there are so many bigger issues to tackle at the moment. However, for those of us who are on lockdown orders to not leave our homes except for essential purposes, having emoji available to approximate physical contact has been a way for many of us to show empathy and maintain some semblance of lightheartedness during these trying times.

In the wake of the recent Coronavirus 👑 🦠 outbreak, some previously overlooked emoji have shown their worth. In particular the soap emoji 🧼 can serve as a reminder of the importance of frequent hand washing, and the masked emoji 😷 can help us encourage others to be considerate of others and to wear a mask when going out to public places.

We’ve also seen increased use of the raised fist emoji, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. ✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽✊🏼 Though the emoji has long been used to show support for Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities, it has risen in prominence with the Black Lives Matter movement this year

Gender representation in emoji get a major boost

The biggest story in emoji for me this year was the much-anticipated rollout of gender-inclusive representations on Apple iOS in October 2019 followed by Google Android in September. Google had previously made these designs available to Pixel phone users in May. These updates made the inclusive depictions the default forms 🦸🏽‍♀️ with masculine and feminine variants being accessed in combination with gender symbols. Although most of this interaction goes on behind the scenes, this was an important step in bringing both of these platforms into compliance with the original emoji specification that recommends that except for a handful exceptions, emoji should be depicted as “gender-neutral”.

This development represents the culmination of the work I had started in advocating for these changes in 2016. I’d like to thank those commentators that brought this issue to my attention as an area of improvement within the emoji system, as well as give a big shout out to Jennifer Daniel who did all the hard work to help bring full gender-inclusive representation into the world of emoji. Thank you! 🙇🏽‍♂️

Emoji kitchen

Google announced a new feature for its Android platform in February that gave users the ability to remix some emoji characters to create mashup stickers in their own emoji style. Unfortunately they didn’t anticipate that the masked emoji would have become so popular in 2020, because they would have come in handy for promoting good public health practice this year. Hopefully an update will include them. 🤞

Unicode 13 updates

The Unicode Consortium released lucky version 13 of its standard documentation which included 55 new emoji characters. Combined with modifiers and other characters in ZWJ sequences, these will result in 117 new emoji glyphs. There are several interesting trends that emerge in this new batch. Transgender visibility seems to have been taken seriously, and among the new emoji are an emojified version of the transgender symbol . This development allows for it to be combined to form a trans pride flag. But the most heartwarming development is that there are now masculine and gender-inclusive depictions of parents nursing their children.

Hugging silhouettes are an interesting development that allow for a third way (along with 👐 & 🤗) to indicate the importance of the virtual embrace. Personally, I find Facebook’s “care” react to express the warmth of the hug better. Perhaps we will get a ZWJ sequence combining 🤗➕❤️ in the future? You can never have too many hugs, IMO.

I really do stand by this recommendation.

A few iconic animals—the bison, beaver, and polar bear—join the lineup. And witches of Twitter and Instagram are bound to rejoice when everyone’s favorite familiar, the black cat, makes its way onto phones later this year. Some of my favorite foods are getting representation as well. I’ll be able to use the red pepper, or capsicum as we say here in ’Straya, when telling everyone who will listen about my new favorite party dip—muhammara. That olive emoji is going to come in handy for grocery lists. The characters for tamale and bubble tea are both bound to be big hits.

But my favorite upcoming emoji may be the magic wand and coin that I can use in combination with the 🗡 and 🏆 when taking notes in my tarot journal or when doing a remote reading for a friend by text. 🃏

New emoji delayed until 2021

As the world is currently experiencing a bit of degrowth, emoji concerns are taking a back seat at the Unicode Consortium until next year. The bright side is that if you’ve been sitting at home with ideas for emoji proposals, you now have until the end of next month to submit them. So put your best ideas into writing now so that we can have them in our hot, little hands in 2022. 📲

At Adobe, we believe that everyone deserves respect and equal treatment, and we also stand with the Black community against hate, intolerance and racism. We will continue to support, elevate, and amplify diverse voices through our community of employees, creatives, customers and partners. We believe Adobe has a responsibility to drive change and ensure that every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. We must stand up and speak out against racial inequality and injustice. Read more about the actions we’re taking to make lasting change inside and outside of our company.

We also know many people are still impacted by the current COVID-19 crisis and our thoughts are with you. The entire Adobe team wants to thank you, our customers, and all creators around the world for the work you do to keep us inspired during this difficult time.

Topics: Typography, COVID-19