Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

I Was Just Now Thinking About Emoji

Microcosmographia v: I Was Just Now Thinking About Emoji

Microcosmographia is a newsletter thing about honestly trying to understand design and humanity.

How much do you love emoji? I used to really hate ‘em.

In 2002 I lived in Tokyo, and used an AU phone that felt like the future. But it drove me crazy that the cell providers in Japan had abused standards for their own gain by creating a bunch of mutually-incompatible encoding extensions to add these silly images to emails and web pages. It caused all sorts of problems when sending messages between different providers, or to people on computers.

Now, though, I am reading the totally fascinating Unicode Technical Report #51, which describes the latest round of proposals for the continued standardization of Unicode. This document represents so many things I love, all mixed together in one topic.

Technical specs are comforting to read because they remind you that there are people working very hard to make sure that technology behaves in a sensible and predictable way. This work is often undertaken as a labor of love rather than because someone is getting paid a ton of money to do it.

Visual design guidelines are exciting because they impose some order and constraint on what would otherwise be pure art, which I think makes it more fun.

Typography is a field dear to my heart, and emoji are introducing new dimensions of consideration to it.

Precise design writing in general is splendid. There is something thrilling about figuring out just how to describe a complex and nuanced topic in language with just the right amount of specificity versus ambiguity.

Maxcuteness is an aspect of emoji that I appreciate quite a lot more nowadays. Traditionally, the imagery used in tech has been cool and aloof. For decades, so much of the internet was strictly writing, which made the communication lean toward a certain academic and elitist style. But now when you can just be like 💃, the whole thing seems so much more welcoming and humanizing. All of a sudden all this cuteness and fabulousness has been introduced into previously text-only, black-and-white spaces, which seems like a return to how many people actually want to communicate.

Japanese pop culture is of course part of it for me, too. It has been weird and fun to see this quirk of my everyday experience in another country become a global communication phenomenon. I love how idiosyncratically Japanese so many of the standard emoji are, and how inscrutable some of them must seem to most of the world. 💮 (Oh, and I mustn’t forget Tofu on Fire — 📛)

Social justice even makes an appearance, with the impressive effort to make an artifact from a quite homogenous culture into a globally inclusive system.

Folk social practices are endlessly fascinating, and the embrace of emoji has generated so many creative ones. Like the use of 💁 Information Desk Person as an expression of sassiness, or 💅 Nail Polish as an expression of not caring what someone else thinks.

And fields like linguistics and semiotics are gonna have so much fun studying how all this global pseudo-language is getting used out there.

There’s even dry humor in the references to “accidentally sending your friends a hairy heart emoji”. And absurdity in the offhand mention of U+1F574 Man in Business Suit Levitating, which is like, what!? XD

Ultimately, I love all the taking seriously a thing that seems frivolous. Every time you’re tempted dismiss something popular as silly and not worth paying attention to, there is actually layer after layer of fascinating human behavior, subtlety, and sophistication to be found if you would just take it seriously.

An Anime For Your Consideration

Mushishi is a quiet, slow show about invisible spirits that cause weird phenomena, and a person who travels around a beautiful, timeless preindustrial countryside solving the resulting problems. I have never been disappointed with an episode. The moment the haunting opening theme begins, my mind calms down and focuses completely on the show. It’s like being hypnotized, and it’s just the sort of otherworldly weirdness and imagination that I like about anime, without any of the eyerolling immaturity.

Thank You And Be Well

Later than usual this time, but still kind of weekly? I hope you had a lovely Tuesday!