The untold story behind the emoji- World Emoji Day

On July 17th, the world celebrates World Emoji Day, global recognition of the influence of pictorial language and the revolutionary power of Smiley and emoji. However, very little is known about their evolution from the illustrations I created over 20 years ago, to the lovable icons used by billions today.

It started in the 1990s with the use of ASCII emoticons and people using punctuation marks to convey emotions, hundreds of these had been created as an art form but only 🙂 and 🙁 were really understandable and being used to communicate. I saw an opportunity to digitalise our own Original Smiley into a variety of emotions that corresponded to these pre-existing ASCII emoticons, in order to make sense of them. So in 1997 I set to work creating a directory of 3D digital icons. It was this year that the first digital Smiley appeared on a cellphone.

In 1999, Kurita of NTT Docomo created his emojis, which are actual pictures – in a similar way to Smileys. However, his original designs bare little resemblance to the modern emoji we see today.

It was in 2001, that I launched The Official Smiley Dictionary, which announced the “birth of a universal language.” The Dictionary contained 393 expressive Smiley icons these were launched online and published by Marabout.

During 2003, we renamed Smiley Dictionary to SmileyWorld and re-launched with 887 Smileys acrossa host of new categories. At this time I launched a licensing program that applied thousands of emotions, to a variety of products. This was also another breakthrough year in their use in technology with licensing deals placing Smileys on Motorola and Nokia phones.

It was in 2007 when Apple launched their first iPhone featuring their own emojis, which were available only to Japanese users. Interestingly these were also called emojis, the Japanese word for pictogram. These Apple emojis reproduced my original concept of icons sorted by categories and featured a set of emotions inspired by Smileys, but with a very different art direction. It was in 2010 that these emojis started being incorporated into Unicode, a standardised indexing system for characters, which allowed them to be used outside Japan and across different operating systems.

Fast-forward to today and thanks to Unicode, the emoji revolution has fulfilled my original vision to create something absolutely unique, a new form of language, accessible to all, irrespective of age, language, genders, race and religion.

As for the future of emojis as a trend? Their use is uncontrolled and they have a glut of generic products flooding the lower end of the market, whilst Smiley has retained its heritage as a creative brand, which carefully selects its partners.



Like this contributor? Find out more about him here: 

Nicolas Loufrani is the CEO and Creative Visionary behind The Smiley Company, one of the world’s leading licensing companies. His father Franklin created and trademarked the Smiley face in 1972. In 1995 Nicolas joined The Smiley Company and transformed the business into a strategically driven fashion lifestyle brand, rather than the traditional ‘nuts and bolts’ consumer merchandising licensing model that he inherited from his father. He achieved this by taking a unique design approach and placing the businesses emphasis on product creativity and the evolution of his London based design studio into the creative hub of the business. In the time since The Smiley Company has created truly innovative and inspirational products that allow Smiley to co-create with the most prestigious licensees, retailers and brands in the world to day.



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