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Ever wonder how (or why) certain emoji get made? Look no further than Jennifer Daniel, Google’s Chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee — the team that brings new emoji to life. Jennifer gives a brief emoji history lesson and explains how her work creating emoji is surprisingly akin to journalism. She also breaks down the emoji creation and selection process and gives a sneak peek into next year’s releases.

Transcript

Jennifer Daniel When one emoji loves another emoji very, very much, they get together, and they create emoji. [music ramps up, plays alone for 15 seconds, fades out]

Paul Ford Hello, everybody, it’s your friend Paul from Postlight and I am joined today with lead product designer, Liz Tan. Liz has been on the podcast before. Liz!

Liz Tan Hiii!

PF Liz, how you doing?

LT I’m good. I’m very excited about today.

PF Today is an exciting day because we have someone who is probably the single most influential designer on Earth.

LT I would agree to that.

PF That doesn’t mean best, that doesn’t mean, doesn’t mean anything, but it might be the most influential, and you’ll realize why I’m burning her after you’ve listened to her talk for a few minutes. Let’s just bring her into the show. This is somebody we have both known for quite a long time. We’re going to gently poke at her and make fun but but also with tremendous respect. Jennifer Daniel, I’m so glad you’re on our podcast.

JF Paul Ford. Liz Tan. Happy to be here.

PF Full disclosures, right. Like I overlapped with you at Bloomberg Businessweek. We got to know each other a little bit. Liz, you’ve known Jennifer for a while too, right?

LT I have not really sure we can really talk about it, I don’t know if Jen if you’re comfortable. But I know you from like when you made a Harry Potter magazine out of Urban Outfitters catalog. That’s how long ago I’ve known you. 

JD You missed the Victoria’s Secret version, that one is really spicy. [Jen laughs]

LT I know.

PF So Jen, what is your title? And what is your, what do you do? You work at Google, which is a little company, we should tell people Google is a search engine and advertising firm. But what what do you do?

JD I work at an ad based company called Google.com. And what do I do? I make emoji. I make a lot of emoji. I do other things as well! But like who wants to actually hear about all the things that a nurse does? You’re like, you’re a nurse. I get it, I get what you do. I don’t need all the whole rigmarole. But yeah, I make a lot of things at Google. And one of them is emoji.

PF What’s it—so you’re I think of you as Emojizar, is that like a fair, fair title?

JD I’m more formally the chair of the Emoji Subcommittee for the Unicode Consortium.

PF Damn! That is a good title!

JD It sounds pretty, that’s a big mouthful. It doesn’t sound nearly as fancy as CEO of Postlight. But you know.

PF I don’t think I have ever been—and I’m not kidding—as jealous of another human being, because that is like everything I love, like standards bodies. Oh, and you also have design, you have talent that I completely lack. Alright, wait, I think that you know, then we’re gonna flip the other ways like, “Oh, you design emoji!” But what do you actually—what do you do? What do you do all day?

JD It really isn’t too dissimilar from like any other job that requires video chat. You know, it’s just it’s a lot of meetings. It’s a lot of Google Doc making. It’s a lot of jiggling my mouse. It’s a lot of…

PF I really believe deeply in my heart, and by the end of this podcast, I will have convinced you both that there needs to be a cough drop emoji. First of all, what does that even mean? Second of all, what would have happen?

JD What if I told you it already existed? You’re only limited by your own imagination, Paul. Think, dig deep. So the thing about emoji is that people who go around thinking I need to add a new letter to the alphabet. Like what’s a new letter I can add to the alphabet? What they do instead is they play with words and jargon and slang and they create new words and new phrases. But they don’t think to themselves like ‘what’s a new letter so that I can convey this range of concepts?’

PF Okay, okay. Okay, so no new letters in the alphabet. Okay, but I still alright, so what now? Meetings over? [Jennifer laughs]

JD Yeah, everyone go home, time to pour yourself a drink. It’s more like, what can you do with the resources available to you? Just like anything else, like when you’re talking to someone, do you use body language eye contact, volume, cadence of speech? And online? What do you do? Do you use like the reaction bar? Do you use words or letters or pictures or memes or animated images?

PF The audience can’t see this. But Jen just became so incredibly animated as she was telling us this, like her entire, all her hands, everything started moving at once. So it’s awesome. Okay, okay.

JD So yeah, I mean, I think like with cough drop, if we really wanted to convey the specificity that comes with a cough drop, you can use a number of existing ones right you can use there’s an emoji that is just a very nondescript, it looks just like a cough drop. But I think it’s called candy but it looks like it’s like a basically a circle, that’s wrapped in a little wrapping something you might see at your grandma’s house, right like in a jar. You could use that next to the emoji where it has someone with a little tissue where it looks like they’re sick. And if you want to convey that you, that’s it that’s probably sufficient because 85% of emoji are shared with words to clarify their intent. People don’t use emoji like a language. In fact, if emoji were a language, no one would use it. It’s very hard to learn a new language. Like, I would love to learn a new language I’ve tried to. I’m terrible at learning languages.

PF It’s purely supplemental. 

JD It is. The reason it’s so successful is because it works with how you already talk and behave. So it’s like punctuation, it’s like a little jeuge

PF Alright, so now you bummed me out. I’m sitting here holding a cough drop like a chump. But okay, but you’re saying like, all right, all right. No, calm down, buddy. You don’t need it. But certainly some new emoji get in?

JD Well, don’t be too bummed. I mean, like, you wanted to convey the concept of cough drop, and here you are, you can and you don’t have to wait. Unless you’re just bummed that you didn’t get to say you made it, which is more about an ego thing than about communication.

PF No, that’s right. I’m a trivial person, and I want to go to the standards body and convince them that I matter.

JD Well, first, you could become a member, like Unicode is like super cheap. You could become a member and attend, you know, not emoji meetings, but like standards bodies meetings, if you are as passionate about it, as you insist you are?

LT Watch out you Unicode.

JD Yeah, come aboard Paul!

PF Alright, wait a minute. Okay, what’s a standards body? Because our audience has no idea if they’re anything like most people. And what are standards bodies meetings like?

JD I love going to the Unicode meetings. They happen four times a year, they used to be in person. But due to obvious world events, we have been doing them digitally for over a year now. They, I mean, like you could think of standards just like anything else. Like, they just they’re just guidelines. They’re like general principles and rules that, you know, it’s probably listened to, if you’re going to be using it. You know, they’re not the police, you know, they’re not, they’re not forcing it. They’re just sort of like, you should probably do this. This is what we recommend for these number of reasons. But they don’t go around saying you didn’t follow our guidelines, no soup for you. Right? They just like, like, that’s on you. And they’re open standards, and anyone can contribute. And it’s a volunteer based organization. And everyone does it. Because they really care about communicating online, right? Before Unicode, you couldn’t send things in your native tongue digitally to another computer. Like if you’re if you spoke Hindi, for example, because it wouldn’t render.

PF It’s not just emoji, emoji are added on to Unicode, are part of Unicode, but like Unicode, which is a standard for all the world’s languages.

JD That’s right. So they they’re encoding all the world’s languages. So like, before they came around, if you wanted to send a message in Hindi from one device, and you want to the person you’re sending it to, to also read it in Hindi. Before Unicode, that was a real problem. So like, every letter that you read on a screen is assigned a code point, right? The letter A, it’s code point is UOO41. So when you say—

LT Wow!

PF That’s what I like to see. [Jennifer laughs] That’s great, that’s gonna be on the whiteboard. That’s wonderful. Okay, so there’s a special code point. So inside the computer in the memory is like, boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, and it knows it’s an A. And now everybody’s computer knows that’s an A, because they all agreed to talk to Unicode.

JD That’s right. When you send a letter A to someone, there’s a reasonable expectation, they will also see the letter A, because you’re all basically on the same database, basically. And this works for all letters, like in Hebrew, you know, Aleph, the code point is UOFT0.  And for emoji, that’s true, too. So each emoji is assigned a code point. So facepalm is you U1F926. I cannot do that for all emoji.

PF It’s still pretty good, though. I will say having gone to the Unicode Consortium website, not that I don’t visit it every single week. But like, membership is usually very expensive and prohibitive at organizations like this here. It’s like 75 bucks, like good, good for them. They actually want the world to join this thing.

JD They really do care about making language accessible online. That’s what they do. It’s, it’s the foundation of why people continue to support Unicode.

PF So how does, like how does avocado become avocado? Help us understand?

JD Think avocado. I don’t know if it was one of the original emoji, but it’s definitely one of the old school emoji. So there’s a great deal of emoji that are on your keyboard just because they originated from Japanese phone carriers. So they’re on there, you’re like why is—

LT Love hotel.

JD Why is love hotel on my keyboard? Surely if love hotel’s on my keyboard, I should be able to get neck massager. But actually a great deal of them just come from the legacy of where emoji originated. So very culturally specific and honestly, like of that era, like specifically the 90s, like they originate from the 90s. Then Unicode came in, basically they were very popular in Japan and folks in the West were like how can we also be popular in Japan? And Unicode had started about 30 years ago. So I think they’re relatively, they’ve been around for a while actually. And they were able to say like, this is actually something we can help with. Because on Japanese phone carriers, if you were sending one bitmap image to another one, you’re having that problem where it wasn’t rendering because you were on Docomo, and they were on SoftBank, for example. So Unicode said we can help with that. We can standardize it in some way. And that’ll make it easier. So they did that. Then, more folks started doing it. Then you started seeing emoji in Gmail, right? You started seeing all these little cute little animated characters in there, it pre Unicode, but they were like proto emoji, a dancing lobster and like a bouncing person hugging. And iOS was interested in as well, of course, so they started implementing emoji into their keyboard. And thanks to Unicode, they’ve they’ve become more standard so that when you send something on one device, it renders on another device. And here we are now with avocado emoji.

PF Alright, so giant organizations, not quite working together, but agreeing to support the standard.

JD I wasn’t around. But I do believe there was a great deal of collaboration required, because this is, this was a pretty intense and radical idea. Because Unicode had already existed for regular languages. What we are suggesting is that this was going to be visual. And that’s a pretty big step from what they were doing previously. So yeah, there is, there is collaboration! Or at least now in my era, back now in the newfangled days of emoji.

PF It’s nice. It’s not that giants are getting along. I mean, what’s the most recent emoji that pops to mind?

JD I mean, I’m working on the new emoji for next year. So that’s, that’s—so you’re way in the past, Paul! 

PF Are you allowed to talk about the new emoji?

JD Oh, for sure. The shortlist was published in January. There’s about 36 of them. I think if you google like alpha…emoji…candidates…Unicode…

PF Doing it. I’m Googling. I’m definitely not using Bing in this context.

JD So yeah, so we’ve been working on X-ray emoji, we’ve been working on—

PF Oh, we got troll! Troll’s coming!

JD Troll is coming. So these are all the emoji that will be in the next batch.

LT How does this get decided on? How do you decide what comes next?

JD Okay, so we talked a little bit about Unicode. So it’s a big group. And they have lots of different subcommittees, some focus on scripting, some focus on on specific languages, the committee that I chair is about obviously, emoji. And every year we get together and establish priorities for what we want to be focusing on that year. Otherwise, we’d be a bunch of feral cats that are just randomly encoding things. So about two years ago, we—oh no, one year, just a year ago, sorry, it’s been a long year—we converged on the idea of reducing the number of emoji we encode, and to identify more globally relevant emoji. And there’s like two ways to interpret what globally relevant means, you know, one is to say, what is globally relevant, it’s something that means something to everybody in the world, right. Another way to say globally relevant is, it is relevant to just a very specific group of people in the world, thereby making it globally relevant because it’s relevant to that very specific region. We’re talking more about the former, in this case. We want concepts that are broad and relevant so that when people look in their keyboard, they don’t think to themselves, ‘what is that? I don’t know what that is.’ You want them to be like, ‘I know how to use that.’ And it doesn’t matter if they’re wrong, because no one’s wrong with the emoji, right. So like, mate, which became an emoji, I want to say a 2019 is a very popular drink in Argentina and Uruguay. But you know, there’s like lots of different versions of matei. There’s hot mate and cold mate, you know, to someone who is not from that part of the world. They look at it, and they just see a coconut drink. They’re just like, oh, it’s a coconut drink. I know what a coconut drink is. Like, I’ve seen those in cartoons. And I’ve seen them in the movie, like I know, like it’s like vacation or like drinking on a tropical island. And so well, mate means something very specific to somewhere else in the world, it has still has global relevance. And that’s something that’s super important. So those are the sort of the priorities. So as we establish those, everyone’s on board for it, we then try to figure out how to execute it. One way we do that is we provide guidelines and lists for people interested in writing proposals. So if you are interested in hand gestures, Lauren Gawne, who’s a linguist who specializes in gesture, wrote, I think it’s just a two page document about what to consider when writing a hand gesture, like these are the things that work these are the things that are less successful, and then wrote an additional document that gave a list of possible candidates that would be worth considering for future emoji. We do that with a couple categories that did one for smiley’s. So then we create these lists for people to consider and then we review them, so we spend a lot of time reviewing. I will say that we were changing the process a bit which will we we normally, or historically have accepted proposals all year round, but that is deeply suffocating and distracting because we can actually get any work done because we’re just reviewing proposals. So we’re only reviewing proposals basically in the summer. And in that summer we review them, we also return them for modifications if we think there’s potential. We’re like, ‘oh, this one could work.’ But like, it really doesn’t have enough evidence of multiple uses. Right? It’s just literally representing neck massager. What are other ways that people are using neck massage are in conversations, right? Like, what are like more metaphors? Yeah.

PF So look, one of the things I like to do is look at standards, I enjoy it. I look at the standard for the Lotus emoji, which is one of the upcoming emojis for version 14.0. And nice emoji, looks good. Interestingly enough, it was submitted by Jennifer Daniel, in September 2019. So we’re still not, it’s still not ratified. Right? And still not officially part of the new emoji. But we’re definitely going on a year plus here. What am I looking at? I am looking at an enormous amount of data. We’re gonna link this in the shownotes. But I’m looking at all sorts of things about the the Lotus. Talk me through this document. Who’s reading this? What am I supposed to be learning here when I am standardizing the Lotus?

JD Well, that’s true, it takes about over two years to encode an emoji, although, because of COVID, the Unicode process was delayed six more months. So while this was on track to become an emoji earlier, it is it has been delayed. But yeah, I think the the structure of this proposal is probably a good example of how we review or help proposals are reviewed or evaluated.

PF So who drew the lotus? Like, that’s always what I think I’m, you know, I’m here with Liz. And I’m just like, designers are busy, people got to go get one and get them to do things. I can’t draw lotus.

JD I mean, I can’t either, but I drew this one. [Jennifer laughs]

PF It’s a good lotus!

PF Liz, do you want to critique it?

LT Not really. Not with the artists in here. My goodness.

JD There’s all kinds of problems with it.

PF We’ll do it after the show, we’ll do it after the show.

JD There’s a lot, like but the point is that you get that it’s a lotus. Like it does job sufficiently, where it doesn’t have an opinion.

PF It’s on a lily pad. 

JD It’s on a lily pad, which we did remove later down the process after many conversations with botanists. But in the original proposal, I did have a lily pad. 

PF See you say that like that’s normal. Liz, when’s the last time you called a botanist? Because of the work you were doing?

LT Never. [Jennifer laughs]

PF Yeah.

PF I don’t think you realize, as you’re talking to us, the amount of surreal things, right? Like, it’s just like, “Oh, yeah, well, we have to call a botanist, because you know, the lotus has global significance. And over 8 billion cultures are going to be interacting with this emoji.” Like it’s wild, because it’s, it’s like five pixels, but it’s so enormous. And yet, we don’t have giant launch events when these come out. Do we? 

JD No.

PF No. They just roll out on your phone. You’ve got a lotus now.

JD It’s, I mean, like, if you had told me, I’d be working on emoji, I probably would have said, ‘what are emoji?’ but I also would have been like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ It just was not in my, like, thought process of career development. But as I do it, I’m realizing that it’s probably the closest to journalism in the tech world that I could probably get to, right? Because I am trying to figure out, I’ve just, I’m looking at how people are already behaving, trying to understand it more, talk to them, get a deeper understanding of it, and then talk to experts about it to make sure that I am understanding it right. And then figure out where that overlap is. And that’s, that’s really a lot of the emoji work, is like a journalist, surrounding yourself by people who know more than you, and putting it out in the world. 

LT But you’re also, you’re also designing these right? Like, as a designer, as Paul has pointed out, helpfully, I’m thinking about, like, how many versions of this lotus flower you drew, like, how many versions, you know, with or without the lily pad? How many petals you chose to put in here and the gradients are in here? I mean, those are decisions that you’re also making along with the research.

JD Yep. There’s, there’s more than one lotus drawing that happens, can’t just do the first one, or can you?

PF No one would expect the first draft. I mean, it’s interesting, because, you know, I’m projecting onto you, right? As we’re, as we were talking and you in the last minute or two, you showed me that I was totally wrong about something. Because what I was thinking was, because I knew you before, right. But I always thought of you as like, a designer’s designer, like really, really just like moving forward, very editorial focus, and so on. And I assumed that the hard part, the part that would be take the most focus, would be the like wrapping your head around the technical googly parts of this, but you actually really threw me a curveball there, which is no, that’s like you got that. It’s all good. You’d look at the Unicode standard. It’s byte codes, fine. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is figuring out the entire world’s culture like a journalist, and then translating that into design, which now that I’ve said it back to you. I’m like, ohhh, right? Tell us the story of how you landed in this position, because this is an unusual position.

JD It’s the same story of like how I worked in the news, you know, I was someone’s assistant for a number of years. And then they adopt, they were like, “Hey, I got a job at the Times, will you be my assistant?” And I was like, ‘yep, on my way!’ and worked there for a bit. And someone was like, “you know how to use a computer?” And I was like, ‘yeah’ and they’re like, “Oh, cool. Maybe you can make some charts!” And I was like, ‘I know how to use Excel.’ Yeah, sure, we can do that. And then they’re like, “Oh, you know how draw? Can you draw me this?” And I was like, ‘Sure, I could draw up peacock running away from its feathers. Yeah, sure, I could do that, too.’ It’s just being in the place, just showing up, just showed up to there, and—

PF Yeah and also being able to draw a peacock. [Jennifer laughs]

JD And Google’s no different, you know, it’s an engineering driven company, but you figure out what’s important to other people, and then you figure out how to navigate that space, you’d be what you need to be. And also you kind of teach people along the way how to, like, think beyond their current worldview. But emoji are this amazing thing that I know, you’ve mentioned a couple of times that I work for Google.com. But Google doesn’t own emoji. You know, no one owns emoji. Unicode doesn’t even own emoji, they just, they just create the plumbing, they just create the plumbing. So it can be distributed on different platforms. And that’s what is really great about it, is that no one can claim it as their own. Everyone can say what it is what they want it to be how they use it. And anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, man, because it’s just not true. That’s just marketing. So I think my connection to it was fairly organic. And I was just drawn to it. Because of circumstance, I was working on one of Google’s many messaging experiences, and you know, figuring out how people communicate it on it differently and in different parts of the world. And that’s so interesting. You know, that’s just that that’s always been interesting to me as a journalist, former journalist, I suppose and what I do now, and yeah, I call people from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to talk to them about our marine animals, or I talked to a cardiovascular surgeon about the X-ray emoji or an anatomical heart. And I do that because I have a history of already doing that. So I’m like building on, I probably wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t work in journalism.

PF That is actually I mean, usually, when a journalist calls you, it’s, it’s really bad, sometimes good, but often really bad. But I bet people are highly motivated and excited.

JD It’s interesting, because when you talk to these people, the the generosity of people offering their expertise to journalists and offering their expertise to Unicode. So they’re doing it freely, right, they’re not charging for it. They’re doing it, you know, whether they’re an academic or a biologist at a zoo. And so when I look to find additional experts, I start to find people who I’m like, oh, wow, I wish they were more part of our process, rather than just, you know, consulting on lung emoji, lungs plural, maybe they would be involved more in our process, but people don’t have time for the amount of work that goes into it. And so you really do have to go outside of the expertise of Unicode and talk to people.

PF But this is like our industry in general, which I mean with this, I’m talking about the tech industry. At its absolute best, when you talk to technologists, they’re translating one domain into software, right? Like, I mean, that is a lot of work. If you get doctors like to complain, I mean, they’d love to complain. Every time I see my GP, he’s like “this software…” [Jennifer laughs] But you know, he’s not gonna go back to school and learn good UX practices. Like that’s not what he’s gonna do. He’s gonna yell at me about my cholesterol and like, so I mean, I think that the function the standards body provide tray is that when it does come time—it would be interesting to see a bunch of med students be like, I wish I had this emoji accepted. It might also be terrible, when you see how those people communicate. It’s grisly stuff, just absolutely grisly. And maybe we don’t need all that in our emoji that our children use right now. Because med students would just be like ‘X-ray, you should show lung with blood!’

JD What’s interesting about that is all how you frame it. Right? Think about like, even when you talk to clients, like you don’t like how you frame it will directly relate to the kind of feedback you get. So I don’t ask people, ‘how accurate is this anatomical heart?’ Well, I do ask that. But in addition to that, I also ask, ‘what are the features of an anatomical heart that make it an anatomical heart? What is emblematic of it? Is it all the aortic valves? Is it like the positioning? Is it the angle?’ Like, you know, because those are things the doctors talking about. Like he’s like, “well, when I’m doing surgery, I see it from this angle. But when people are looking at you, you see the heart from this angle, and like so which one do you want? Do you want, you know, you breaking the fourth wall here? Or are you are you doing surgery?” And so they’re thinking about it through their worldview, and your job is to kind of filter that and try to think okay, well, how will this be used in a communicative context? How will this render in a small size? and then you take away the details that are unnecessary. And generally the emoji that that we publish, that Google creates for Nodo emoji are not realistic, right? they attempt to be authentic, but they’re not trying to reproduce reality because like, our cameras are pretty good now. Like you need, you need a picture, like you can, you can get that. But the beauty of illustration—

PF Yeah I don’t really want a glistening red heart every time I want to tell my wife I love her.

JD I mean, that’s the beauty of, you know, the emblematic symbolic redheart as well. But like, you also you don’t want something from your biology class where it has like all the chambers in it, you could take it apart, you want something that just gives you a sense of, well—anatomical heart is interesting because it is more realistic than the abstract heart that we’ve come to use to mean love. But the beauty of illustration is that it can deviate from reality, right? It has it allowed, it’s more forgiving and softer, and can be cuter. And those are the kinds of things that we’ve tried to lean into.

LT You just described the role of a designer, I know you lean pretty hard on journalism, but asking the doctor to describe the different views. And then you interpreting that and simplifying that, to me sounds like, you know, you’re still you’re still a designer, Jen, you’re still a designer. [Jennifer laughs]

JD We’ve talked about this, I think Liz, sometimes the approach is design, but you execute like an illustrator, or maybe you execute like a PM, you know, or you know, like you just the titles are useful for certain conversations. And then the verbs you know, how you actually make the work can be different.

PF Is there is there competition between the major vendors? Like do you think to yourself ‘I wonder what Samsung is going to do’ after you drop that lotus in the conversation?

JD I think, in the past, there has been this weird thing where Unicode published their standard, you know, here’s our list of draft candidates, be fruitful and multiply, and they just kind of like, threw it over a fence, see who catches it, and everyone finds out in nine months. But a lot of what I’ve been trying to do since I became chair, and before I was chair was go, “Hey, have you talked to anyone at Samsung?” [Paul laughs] “Hey did you know anyone at Microsoft?”

PF This is the great mystery of consulting, I have this over and over in my life. I’m like, “Hey, have you ever gone over the hall there? Just said anything?” And they’re like, “Oh, no, no, no.” Okay, so if you get people in the room?

JD Some folks are interested in emoji for different reasons than others. So I tried to get the people who care about it for the same reasons and certain conversations and for different reasons and other conversations that there can be like meaningful progress. So, you know, I do talk with folks at all these different companies and to varying levels of detail. Some folks don’t need it, right. And it’s like, I don’t want to waste my time with them because they have it under control. And other folks maybe don’t and they want to, maybe their release schedule is nine months ahead of everyone else, so they can’t wait to see what everyone else does. They have to do it earlier. So just getting people in a room or virtual room, to talk and share and get them involved in the process of evaluation as well so that by the time Unicode already approved an emoji, it’s kind of too late to have those conversations, because at that point, you already have to do it. There’s already a code point assigned to it. 

LT I feel like we should at least let the listeners know a little bit about, you know, what happened to blobs even if they are before your time just just so people notice get off your your back about it.

JD We can have a brief moment of silence for our blobs. 

PF Yeah, those blobs are good. You didn’t kill the blobs?

JD I didn’t kill the blobs. We are bringing back a lot of what made blobs cute and uncomplicated back into nodo emoji. I mean all the animals are back, we got the cute turtle, we got the cute bird.

PF People should follow Jennifer on Twitter where she has been publishing turtle variations on a daily basis. 

JD That’s Emoji Kitchen. So that is an interesting evolution of emoji that maybe is out of scope for this conversation.

PF No, no pitch it, what’s Emoji Kitchen?

JD Emoji Kitchen is a real fun little feature. So if you’re on Android, Android only friends!

PF I have thank God! One thing for me! [Jennifer laughs] I’m like, Pixel! Here we go!

JD Oh, yeah, baby!

PF Alright, let’s go through, I’m gonna go get Emoji Kitchen.

JD You don’t have to get it! It’s on your phone, my friend.

PF Oh it’s on your phone? Oh my god. Oh my god.

JD Just open your keyboard.

PF How do I get to emoji kitchen? 

JD Well, what app are you in right now?

PF Twitter. 

JD Okay, so just click on the emoji button. You see all your your friendly emoji.

PF I’m in there. Recently used include syringe because I got a vaccine and the turtle! I’ve been using the turtle!

JD Okay, click the turtle. What happens?

PF [Paul gasps] I get all these options for the turtle! There’s a monkey turtle, a sad turtle. A turtle on a ghost head! How did that happen? 

JD Hit any other emoji. And it will combine them.

PF Pumpkin. [Paul gasps] Turtle pumpkin!

JD There you go, bud.

PF How the hell did you do it? How did you make turtle pumpkin?

JD Send these to Liz Tan. Because she can’t, until she comes on over.

LT I’m on the other side. I’m on the dark side.

PF Okay, so not everything combines.

JD No, there’s about 15,000 combinations. So you know…

PF Can I make a suggestion? Start adding syringes to things so we can communicate vaccine emotions. 

JD Sure. [Jennifer laughs]

PF Okay. Slow turtle vaccine is one of the—pumpkin vaccine! Maybe I guess that’s why I don’t work at Google.

JD Syringe is on the list, actually. Um, but you could also hit microbe and you got a bunch of micro variants or the mask, you can combine the mask with just about anything.

PF That’s cool. So you have to do this manually, though. You’ve had to make 15,000 combos?

JD Yeah. [Liz laughs]

PF Machine learning needs to get in there.

JD Who wants machine learning when you have five fingers? [Jennifer laughs]

PF Last thing, young people on the internet are saying that certain emojis aren’t cool anymore. What are we gonna do? Are emojis going to be something that they associate with old millennials?

JD Possibly. I mean, the fact that emoji are still relevant today is a totally tubular. [Jennifer & Liz & Paul laugh]

PF I mean, frankly, I don’t want you to answer that question anymore than that.

LT That’s perfect.

PF It is, yeah. This has been rad!

JD I mean, the thing about internet right now is I do feel like there’s this weird thing happening where like, lockdown boredom is making the over 30 crowd act more like teenagers. And they’re playing these weird games online about status. Because there’s a lack of being able to do it. There’s no socialization opportunities outside of the internet. And so that’s why you see millennials, like reacting to Gen Z’s and the straight pants and the flared pants, and like, you’re gonna always have like people saying, what’s old is new. You know, it’s like a whole cycle. But the emoji are no different. I think they’ve remained relevant for a really long time. But how we use them is rapidly changed, rapidly changed, like, like, they’re not for text messaging exclusively anymore. And that’s awesome. But don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, don’t let anyone tell you how to use an emoji.

PF [Paul in old man’s voice] I’ll use emoji however I want! Well, I’m gonna use emoji till I die. Let’s be clear. And it’s very exciting in a way that maybe, maybe this is just me being nerdy. But the two things for me are that how much of the work that goes into these is cultural, not technological. To Liz’s point earlier, like design is a kind of research in journalism. And the other is that like, just that a good standards body linking things together has been worth enormous cultural authority. And that’s kind of cool that because Apple, Google, Samsung, everybody else, like they’re not motivated necessarily to get along. But we do need our new big alphabet, which includes pumpkins, we need more pumpkins.

JD Well, you know, it’s funny, I think that people really think of big tech in this context is sort of like arbiter, this, like, accidental arbiter of how we communicate. But like, again, they’re just the distribution of what we’re already doing. I do believe that to be true. I think they’re really, it’s a really easy headline in general, you know what I mean? Like, it’s just like “Google and Apple add, salute face emoji for to support our troops!” And it’s like, no, no, we didn’t add it to support our troops. We added it to like, have a soft way of acknowledging when someone messages you something and you want to just say, yes, I got it. Like, it’s actually quite chill, like, we’re chill here, guys. We’ve been saluting for a really long time, we will continue to support our troops. We will also use it to support our troops. But like it’s not—

PF I mean, that’s the thing. That’s the reality. That’s the way language works, right? Like people are going to use it to support the troops, others are going to use it ironically, others are going to have—but the thing you’re saying that I think is critical here, right, is that a truly open ended $75 membership standards body came to believe that the salute is a signal part of human communication and has been for a long time, it should be represented in this big visual grammar. That’s what actually happened here. And then a whole lot of things follow on from that. And so there’s all kinds of interpretations of that because it’s language.

JD It’s fluid. It’s unstoppable. 

PF Alright, well, Liz, we gotta go. There’s over 500 million things that we probably could be talking about here.

LZ There are so many things, so many questions still, but.

PF But Jennifer Daniel, if people want to get in touch with you, assuming you want that?

JD Well the emoji font that I work on is open source. So if you’re interested in using it, it is available on GitHub and you can freely use it. It’s called noto emoji. Emoji Kitchen is a feature that is near and dear to my heart, and it’s available on gboard for those who are on Android devices and it combines any emoji. Well, most emoji. Many emoji. Many other emoji!

PF Certainly puts a turtle in a jack-o’-lantern, real nice.

JD Really cute turt-o’-lantern and I’m on the TikTok, I’m on the Twitter but yeah, I’m on all the medias, I’m an old lady so you can find me on Instagram.

PF Well that is, that is good everyone should follow Jennifer Daniel and you should look through Noto emoji because there is a lot going on. Wow. This world is vast and extremely cute. Alright, Liz, did that answer all your questions?

LT Yeah, I think I’m all set. I don’t think I need to talk to Jenn for at least another pandemic or something. [Jennifer laughs]

PF Feels like Jenn, you know, she’s real smart. She’s just real smart, it’s always fun. Alright well good. Well, Liz, I don’t know if you know this, but if people need to get in touch with Postlight, they can just email hello@postlight.com, that’s all they need to know.

LT That’s right and we’re on all the social channels if you want to do the tweeting, the instagramming, we’re around.

PF Everybody knows, get in touch and we love you. That’s all you need to know. We love you and we want to help you and lots of people get in touch even if they’re not sure how we can help. Little nonprofits, all sorts of stuff. We always try to answer and be helpful. So go ahead and get in touch. We’re feeling very generous, because I just looked at 9 million pictures of hearts while we were doing this interview as I was [Jennifer laughs] Lotta hearts! Lotta hearts. Alright let’s get out of here! [music ramps up, plays alone for 3 seconds, ends]