Talk at the Design Museum: Communication in a post verbal world

I recently attended a talk at the design museum called ‘communicating in a post-verbal world’. The panel discussion, chaired by Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Commissioning Editor at WIRED UK, was a fascinating debate about how emojis have changed how we communicate. The debate opened with each of the speakers showing a slide with a favourite emoji on. It was quite interesting to see the variety of reasons why people chose their emojis. Speaker Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia  chose and upside down face because of its many different meanings across different groups of people. He said that younger people had started to use this emoji in passive-aggressive messages when it was intended for more of a confused image.

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The panel included Alex Bec, managing director and co-owner of the HudsonBec Group. The independent group includes media company It’s Nice That, Lecture in Progress, and the creative agency Anyways that commissioned stickers for Google’s Allo messaging app.  well his credentials and very impressive,  I found him rather boring as the speaker and was getting a negative vibe from some of his comments.  it was good as he helped balance out the argument however he seemed fairly distant from the world of emojis saying he's doesn't really use them. Mercedes Bunz, a Senior Lecturer in media studies and journalism at the University of Westminster and former Technology reporter for the Guardian was fascinating to listen to.

 Instagram Stories from the talk

Instagram Stories from the talk

Jeremy Burge is the founder of Emojipedia, creator of World Emoji Day, host of the Emoji Wrap podcast and vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee responsible for vetting new emoji proposals. Jeremy is an expert on emoji use and the changing state of this modern communication tool. Jeremy was interesting because he was so engrossed in the world of emojis,  he knew everything that was to know and shared many stories of inside Unicode. Unicode is the organisation that dictates which emojis the big tech companies need to design next. He said that it can take years for an emoji to get approved due to the numerous people that have to vote on it before it is sent to a company such as Apple or Google to design. Jonah Jones, Who is my favourite speaker is a product designer who has designed for two of the top five most used apps in the world today. He has led design teams across Facebook, from sharing through Workplace to business tools. Previously Jonah worked at Google leading the design of Google Maps And had some fascinating stories to share. 

 Speakers with their favourite emojis

Speakers with their favourite emojis

It is interesting how these pictorial icons and now such a key part of the way we communicate. Many people are critical saying we are losing our language skills and that English is being ruined with small colourful icons, however, looking back at the history of language, imagery has often come before letters and alphabet. Hieroglyphics, cave paintings and many other markings from across the world have shown that there are so many different ways to communicate a message nonverbally. Emojis has become a universal language that everyone around the world can instantly understand regardless of their native language and regardless of weather, they have seen that emoji before or not. Emojis are recognisable to us because they represent physical objects that we can associate with, and everyone around the world can make some form of association with that image. Adding emojis into more text could help better communication between people of different languages.  

 These new emojis took up to 3 years to get approved.

These new emojis took up to 3 years to get approved.

They do of course come with their reasons for concern,  emojis can be interpreted entirely differently by different groups of people and different cultures. There is an ethical issue and ones of social responsibility. Apple was the first company to remove the gun emoji and replace it with a lime green water pistol.  Google and Facebook quickly followed suit as they shared a social responsibility to limit the use of firearm imagery in communication. Emojis are getting more and more inclusive with different skin tones,  same-sex couples,  both male and female icons for each job role and religious garments. They are truly a global language that can be very easily underestimated due to the novelty association and thought that they are not a real language. They work best when accompanying another language. I don't believe they are descriptive enough yet to be their own form of communication,  however, using them amongst languages such as English and Arabic can help bridge the gap as there is a shared understanding.

Mumedi, Design, ContextAdam Marsh