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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Emoji. For some of us, it’s a second language. But did you know anyone can make an emoji? You don’t need funding. You don’t need to know someone on the inside. You just need a really good 10-page paper.
Emoji is actually a Japanese word that means "pictogram" or "pictograph." SoftBank, a Japanese wireless carrier, created the first known emoji set in 1997. When Apple launched its iOS 2.2 in November 2008, it had to create its own emoji so any emoji sent from SoftBank customers would show up on iPhones. The company gave the task to three designers.
Angela Guzman, Former Apple Intern: And so, when I was there, I just openly asked, "What is an emoji?" And they told me, "Oh, it’s like an illustration, and you’re gonna be drawing about 480 of them with your mentor." And I was like, "Oh, all right, well, here I go for three months making these illustrations."
Narrator: Fast-forward to 2019. Thousands of emoji have been added, depictions of existing emoji have been changed, and now anyone can propose an emoji. The first step is to submit your proposal to the Unicode Consortium. It’s a nonprofit organization that sets the standard for how text is represented and displayed across various programs and pieces of software. The Unicode Consortium deals with about 50 emoji proposals a year. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s because most of the proposals don’t even make it past the first round. Why not?
Greg Welch, Unicode Consortium Vice President: Well, you have to design an icon that still looks like a redwood tree, or whatever you’re interested in, even at extremely small size, because we use emoji in text. And that’s where a lot of proposals just fall flat immediately.
Narrator: Proposers also need to make sure their emoji align with Unicode’s 13 mandatory selection factors, turning their proposals into 10-page documents that include an overall explanation of the emoji, reasons why it’s needed, and data justifying its existence.
Sebastián Delmont, Arepa Emoji Proposer: So if you want to have a strong proposal, one, it should be an emoji that people will use frequently, often, and that a large number of people will use. Two, it has to be in that sweet spot of being specific enough to warrant a separate image and not general enough to be confused with other things that are not that emoji.
Narrator: That’s Sebastián Delmont. He successfully proposed the flatbread emoji. He’s also an active member of Emojination, a community of emoji enthusiasts that helps get many emoji proposals approved, like the hijab and the dumpling.
Once your proposal is ready, you submit it to Unicode via email, but the review process takes about a whole year. Why so long? Well, it needs to be approved from different committees within Unicode.
Here’s the journey your proposed emoji takes after it’s been submitted to Unicode.
First, the Emoji Subcommittee will review and refine proposals with those who submitted them. Some proposals may get rejected, but proposals that do meet all the selection factors will get passed to the Unicode Technical Committee.
This committee finalizes everything that will go into the Unicode Standard, like assigning a universal code for each emoji.
Six months in, the Draft Candidates list is created, which lists all the emoji that will be moving forward. Vendors including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook will all see the list and weigh in on the designs.
In the final three months, Unicode’s Common Locale Data Repository will establish a name for the emoji and record the name in languages other than English.
Finally, the last step: designing! In the first quarter of the second year, the final candidate list will be sent to all the vendors to start designing. Each vendor has their own style guide to follow.
Jennifer Daniel, Google Emoji Creative Director: Any time a designer starts an emoji, they read the proposal, they look at the reference icons, and they confer with experts on the subject. For the case of the deaf emoji, we talked to the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. We look at it very, very tiny and we say, "OK, are those legible when they’re small?" And, of course, we try to anticipate what other folks are doing, which is why we talk to all of our friends in the Emoji Subcommittee. And that’s sort of the process for an emoji.
Narrator: Once all the designs are finalized, vendors will roll out the new emoji set, usually around the time they update their operating systems.
Apple usually does it in the fall, around the same time iOS gets updated. From start to finish, it could take almost two years before you see your emoji on your devices.
So, if you have an idea, start working on it now. And pro tip: The best time to submit is the beginning of each year.
Angela Guzman: And when I came to the US, I didn’t speak the language, but I ended up drawing stick figures to sort of express my ideas and also be understood. And so working on the emoji decades later was really ironic, because it’s kind of doing that same thing of bridging those language barriers and having everyone understand one another. I think that’s really beautiful.
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