Introducing: Emoji Kitchen 😗👌💕
How can we reconcile the rapid ever changing way we communicate online with the formal methodical process of a standards body that digitizes written languages?
This week’s newsletter is gonna be a bit different.
I’m gonna talk about something that is not Unicode sanctioned. I know, I know. If you are a Unicode purist you can smash delete on this email and move on with your life.
If you are still reading … I have a treat for you!
Welcome to … Emoji Kitchen. 🥳🥰😈
Emoji Kitchen has been around for a while but for those unfamiliar: it’s an experience that lets you combine any two emoji to create a totally new expression. (Think ZWJ on steroids.) It’s a bit of a mad scientist experiment, a “straw man’s argument” borderline “devil’s advocate”(?) challenging a lot of what I’ve written in this newsletter.
Emoji: Broad concepts are best because they are globally relevant
Emoji Kitchen: May I interest you in a bouquet of hot dogs? 🌭💐
Emoji: Should be a well established visuals we’ve all seen before
Emoji Kitchen: Give me poopnado 💩 🌪️
Emoji: The best emoji represent the idea of something, not literally reproduce reality
Emoji Kitchen: If you combine DOG with BIRD I’m gonna bring you a German Shorthair Pointer 🐶 🐦
Emoji: New emoji should provide compelling evidence to add it over others of a similar type
Emoji Kitchen: I love pretzels.
Emoji: Should not be overly specific
Emoji Kitchen: Here is a mer-unicorn 🐟🦄
Emoji: Very few are selected every year
Emoji Kitchen: we've drawn over 30,000 images in just a few years lmao
It's quite a ride. Or, as Ryne Hager from Android Police has written, “This has quickly become my favorite Gboard feature — possibly even the favorite feature on any software keyboard I've ever used, and I'm sure I'm not alone.”
Full disclosure: I work in the Emoji Kitchen 😅. I love it. It forces me to challenge certain assumptions and commonly held hypothesis about emoji. Like … what makes an emoji “good”? Is their global popularity primarily driven by their usefulness? If that's the case, frequently used emoji are “good” and “useful”. What are the most frequently used emoji? They tend to be symbolic (❤️, 🍀, 🎉), representative of multiple concepts (🐷, 👑), primal (, 😂), and obvious/generic/universally relatable as possible (✨, 💕, ☀️). And then …. there is Emoji Kitchen.
Variety, specificity, and surprise are the spice of life in Emoji Kitchen.
Despite LOOKING like emoji, they don't operate like them. For starters, instead of relying on the Unicode Standard to create ZWJs Emoji Kitchen's combinatorial results output as stickers. (Remember, once the Unicode Technical Committee adds an emoji to its tome it has to be maintained foooorrreeeevvvveeerrrrr and it needs to be backwards compatible and future proofed and interoperable and and and …) But!!!!! Because Emoji kitchen doesn't output as a font (DYK? ✨true✨ emoji ARE FONTS) it means emoji kitchen can do things Unicode emoji can’t do!!!!
This means interoperability is a non-issue because Emoji Kitchen can render anywhere that supports images! Ah yes, the freedom to design a spider avocado without having to anticipate how another font designer may draw it 🕷️🥑! It also means these emotes can be more ephemeral and don't have to live forever like emoji. They can change! They can be deprecated so we don’t have to live with yesterday's memes (or technology ☎️📟📠🖲️💽💾💿📀) in our keyboard tomorrow!
Language is for the people, by the people. And, the more people build emoji experiences on top of Unicode (rather than exclusively relying on Unicode to add new characters) the more the citizens of the internet can operate at the speed of language online. Emoji have been around long enough that people want to play with them like we do with words—mashing them together, turning nouns into verbs, breaking them apart to create entirely new concepts. Language is infinitely creative just like art and music, and with features like Emoji Kitchen, your phone’s keyboard becomes an even richer canvas for expression.
Emoji Kitchen illustrates what many take for granted with our native tongues: language is ✨powerful✨ when a finite number of glyphs can Do It All (very naughty conflating language and writing here, don’t tell the linguists). Unicode has digitized healthy, well established boundaries to work with (here is 🥺 and 🔥) and emoji kitchen goes buck wild.
This shift away needing to add “more emoji” to creating more experiences that leverage the existing set is an important evolution for the future of emoji relevancy. Unicode can’t encode every concept in the world, every ingredient in the planet, every muscle contortion of your face. Emoji were an invention of asynchronous text communication but now we have real time communication that isn't limited by SMS! That's why experiments like Android's Emoji Kitchen (or Apple’s Memoji, Slack's custmoji, and Twitter’s hashmoji) help us understand the world of today. Each of these are very different in their own right: Emoji Kitchen embraces what you feel like, Memoji focuses on what you look like, and custmoji is entirely user generated. The fluid nature of communication is fleeting and infinite … and it is beautiful.
So, while Emoji Kitchen is very much an experiment in challenging the “emoji status quo” it is somehow also demonstrating what the status quo could be … give or take a thousand years. 📆
With that, I wish you the happiest belated “World Emoji Day” especially to you illegal emoji out there. If you have an Android device I recommend downloading Gboard and giving it a whirl. If you don't have a phone running on Android … you could consider getting one lololol or trying it out on a number of unofficial websites (tsk tsk! I don't approve!!! 🤬) (but my favorite is probably this Twitter bot. Tweet any two emoji at it and it returns something fun).