The Future

The Future

Perfecting the language of emojis

Google takes user feedback on how to make its emoji less bewildering; or, toward a theory of a less evil goat.

Some of the most-talked-about changes to the Google emojis—which are included as a part of the Android P Beta 2 software update pre-release—are the additions of red-haired, silver-haired, and no-haired individuals.

But here at The Outline, we’d like to focus on the harder-hitting stories: why did the goat, wolf, and fox look pissed? Why did the gorilla and camel look miserable? Why do the mouse and squirrel look so untrustworthy?

Jennifer Daniel, the creative director for Android emoji and author of the above tweet, said in a phone call with The Outline that only very specific emojis got major updates.“There has to be a really good vision why we’re going to revisit something, because it’s already a part of the lexicon that people are working with,” Daniel said.

Last month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai opened up Google IO, the company’s annual developer conference, by announcing that its cheeseburger emoji has been updated so that the cheese is on the burger, not inexplicably resting on the bread. Similarly, Pichai noted that the foam in its beer emoji had been attached to the liquid beer, not floating mysteriously above it. It seemed to be not just a way to lighten the mood, but a way of humanizing their vast team of designers and developers.

Everyone has an opinion on emojis, perhaps in part due to their ubiquity in modern communication—especially affection. Daniel noted that smiley, affectionate emojis tends to be used more than negative ones. But given the popularity of emojis in communication, Daniel noted that they’re subject to the same polarizing forces of opinion on much of the internet.

“People naturally want to understand their position in the world and where they stand on any number of issues,” Daniel said. “And I do think emoji has probably bubbled to the top.”

When you’re designing an emoji, Daniel said, you’re considering a combination of three things: update requests from users, what the emojis of other brands look like, and whether the emojis are legible, clearly representing what they’re intended to. (For instance, Google’s previous cricket emoji was actually a grasshopper. This will be corrected in Android P.)

Daniel said that emoji updates suggestions are often submitted as bug reports, which is a way users can submit feedback on most Google products. She said that some of the more impassioned emoji “bug” submissions cite the description of the emoji attached to its unicode in order to help make their case. Over the phone, Daniel read the bug submission for the salad emoji aloud.

“The Greek salad emoji includes a hard boiled egg. I’d like to suggest that this should be replaced with a cucumber slice, or other items. The unicode’s description of this emoji is a ‘bowl of healthy salad containing lettuce, tomato, and other salad items such as cucumbers.’ The inclusion of eggs is unnecessary.”

Basically, the complaint wasn’t about the visual beauty of the emoji. It was a political argument about what a salad ought to be, bolstered by unicode evidence.

But the salad emoji wasn’t the most frequently cited emoji in Google bug complaints. That honor goes to the upside-down-smiley-face emoji.

The current gradient on Google's upside-down-smiley emoji is darkest at the top.

The current gradient on Google's upside-down-smiley emoji is darkest at the top.

The gradients of Google's face emojis are typically darkest at the bottom.

The gradients of Google's face emojis are typically darkest at the bottom.

The current gradient on Google's upside-down-smiley emoji is darkest at the top.

The gradients of Google's face emojis are typically darkest at the bottom.

“The gradient wasn’t consistent with our other smiley face gradients,” Daniel said. “Those are the kinds of things that people are paying attention to. And that’s because people are using emoji, they care about it, they use it to express themselves.”

However, other updates can happen spontaneously once you take a critical look at an emoji.

“For some of the animal emojis, their heads were just too big—they were out of proportion,” Daniel said. “So while we were looking at their heads, we were like, ‘why does this animal seem so sad? And what is wrong with this turtle?’”

If you’re not familiar with the history of Google’s turtle emoji, he started out a joyful fellow. But he unexpectedly fell on some troubled times, and his happiness went away.

Why did the turtle stop smiling! (Note: the Android P emoji update to the turtle is not included in this image.)

Why did the turtle stop smiling! (Note: the Android P emoji update to the turtle is not included in this image.)

“The old turtle, before the redesign, was beloved by many,” Daniel said. “People were writing poetry about him. So I wanted to bring him back in some way while still being authentic to our new style.”

With that said, let’s take a moment and examine the Facebook goat emoji.

Facebook's conceptualization of the goat emoji is alarming.

Facebook's conceptualization of the goat emoji is alarming.

Very distressing. Mark Zuckerberg, if you’re reading this, hello, please discontinue the goat emoji if you’re going to be like this.

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