Thirty years ago, it was common to send a message in let’s say … Hindi and the person on the receiving end would just see a bunch of boxes (!!!??) …. unless they too had the same font installed on their computer. Oy. The internet was unable to handle the worlds’ languages. No no no. This won’t do.
The Unicode Consortium stepped in with a mission to digitize written communication by providing a single character set that covers the languages of the world. Every year they publish and specify the rules, algorithms, and properties necessary to achieve interoperability between different platforms and languages. Now, in the year 2021, it’s reasonable to expect when you send the letter “A” from your phone the person receiving it will also see the letter “A” from their device.
So what is the deal with emoji??????? If Unicode standardizes the rendering of character sets why why why would there be any risk associated with sending a jubilent happy grin emoji?
Well, blah blah blah emoji were limited to three semi-compatable phone carriers in Japan blah blah blah Unicode was asked to help so more people could use emoji blah blah blah everyone went off and designed them however they wanted blah blah no one could agree what “dizzy face” meant blah blah blah people hated emoji blah blah blah people love emoji blah blah blah there aren't enough emoji blah blah blah there are too many emoji.
So here we are today and while emoji have generally aligned on meaningful characteristics for the most frequently used emoji … the risk of being misunderstood is not a problem of the past. Unlike the letter Q or E, we are hard wired to read micro differences in facial expressions — the slight raise of a lip, the delicate shift of an eyebrow — these nuances are not trivial. The design of emoji require just as much deep design alignment as their encoding does.
Last year I co-authored a paper investigating if there was a reduction in variance of interpretation (yay, yes there had been!!) but you’d be surprised at how much energy is required to get a megaphone to face the same direction nevermind how a mouth should or shouldn't quiver on woozy face 🥴.
With new code-points added every year, the Emoji Subcommittee’s process has evolved to prioritize meaningful alignment across emoji fonts ……… ….. . but there was one emoji that refused to budge.
UGHHHHHHH. These are TWO DISTINCT EXPRESSIONS. One (❌) is clearly “dead” or “knocked-out”. The other (🌀) is definitively “dizzy” or “hypnotized”. One code-point illustrated in two very different ways.
Some vendors (top row) were faithful to the original designs from Japan.
Other vendors (bottom row) were faithful to the name of the emoji (“Dizzy face” also commonly associated with spiral eyes)
So here we are now. (✖╭╮✖)
I mean ꩜﹏꩜
Only two ways to solve this:
Convince four corporations to change their design to match the other half (but which half????)
Propose a new emoji so everyone can have both x eyes and spiral eyes (this still requires modifying the existing codepoint but without it being perceived as a regression).
With vendors evenly split on the design I wanted to dig deeper: is there sufficient evidence that “spiral eyes” and “x eyes” are distinct expressions? Or, are they variations of the same thing? Is this a modern visual trope or a long-standing visualization? Is it found in pop culture around the world or primarily one region? Perhaps it was regional. Is Western convention “spiral eyes” but Eastern convention “x eyes”? Au contraire! There is sufficient evidence that both “x eyes” and “spiral eyes” exist in the same illustrated universes and deliberately chosen for different scenarios:
This made the next step pretty clear: let's add a new emoji so we can have both “x eyes” and “spiral eyes”! But, do we add “face with x eyes” and “dizzy face" retains spirals OR add a “face with spiral eyes” and “dizzy face” stays true to it's OG emoji roots? 😵💫😵😵💫😵😁
Well, enough time had passed since the intitial proposal that the 4/4 split had shifted — we now had a 5/3 split (Facebook shed their spiral design to X's in late 2019). And with backwards compatibility at risk majority-rules so we modified the proposal: “Dizzy face" shall now have x-shaped eyes (😵) and Unicode will add a new emoji with explicitly a spiral eyes expression (😵💫). This would require vendors with “dizzy” spiral eyes to modify accordingly. Earlier this year this emoji landed on your keyboard of choice with the Emoji 13.1 release. :))))))
But wait, there's more! Later this year, the second most wanted emoji for committing crimes of miscommunication is FACE WITH HAND OVER MOUTH.
Fortunately, this case was more clear cut — iOS is the clear hold-out — making all your light snickering appear to be SHOCKED on their platform. smh. THESE ARE CLEARLY DIFFERENT EXPRESSIONS!!
A proposal to disambiguate the two was approved (basically adding a new emoji with explicitly open eyes with a hand covering the mouth) and will roll out sometime in 3024. Lol jk 2022. Sometimes autocorrect has a great sense of humor. 💀😵💫😵