Museum of Modern Art Adds the Original Emoji Set to its Collection

Digital Trends
Think back to 1999 when emoji were first brought to mobile devices. Chances are you don't remember the original emoji, cutesy, minimal versions of the visual language of today. A few of them remind me of the item icons from Paper Mario 64, particularly the snowman, lightning bolt, and swirl (check the second grouping below to compare).

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The sprite-like primordial emoji-spawn were created by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita for NTT Docomo, a telecommunications company in Japan. Kurita's original set consists of 176 characters, the most basic of symbols that we've come to associate with the special keyboard on our phones. At first the emoji were simply black and white, but after a few years, six colours were added: black, red, orange, lilac, grass green, and royal blue. In our emoji-filled world, it's difficult to quantify exactly how many emoji we have access to considering that some variations are only available on certain phones/platforms/etc. However, with the inclusion of the latest batch of emoji (refer to Unicode 9.0), there are a whopping 1,851. Quite an improvement upon Kurita's original set.

New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has recognised that emoji language was born with Kurita. On 26 October, MoMA added the original set of emojis to its collection. To mark the occasion, the museum will be opening an installation in December to fully delve into emoji beginnings and offer a new look at classic favourites.

MoMA's Paul Galloway wrote a piece explaining the history and significance of emoji. In it, he says, "Filling in for body language, emoticons, kaomoji, and emoji reassert the human in the deeply impersonal, abstract space of electronic communication." As a society, we learn to exist within preexisting parameters, "The design of a chair dictates our posture; so, too, does the format of electronic communication shape our voice."

NTT Docomo marked their place at the forefront of innovation by bringing imagery to early mobile technology, sourcing manga, symbol languages, and basic emoticons to create a popular set of images. By tailoring images to 12 x 12 pixels, the telecommunications company pushed the era of a global, visual language into existence.

Paul Galloway's Piece
Originally, the emoji were made to display on NTT Docomo pagers, accounting for their blocky appearance. Kurita's iconic symbols were used to connect with potential customers through the spread of information. For example, the weather-related emoji were used to deliver weather reports whereas the hamburger, martini glass, and high heel were used in advertising local businesses. Inserting an emoji along with a business name clarified what a customer could expect.

From EmojiCon to the Unicode Emoji Subcommitte to lengthy-but-accurate emoji stories, this new form of communication has been embraced with open arms and willing souls. If you are attending EmojiCon in San Francisco, MoMA's Paul Galloway will be a guest speaker! Don't miss him.

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