Shigeo Kurita

The Origins of Emoji

The very first emoji were developed for Japanese telecommunications company, NTT, in 1999, under the supervision of Shiegeo Kurita. I love that Mr Kurita wasn't a designer, he was a salary man who got assigned the task in his corporate job and ended up creating what is perhaps the most important visual language of our generation.⁣
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It makes my heart so happy that this original set of 176 emoji were added to the MOMA collection 3 years ago. Some of you might remember - a couple of years ago I created a tribute piece - my own pixel emoji designs as part of the Emojination exhibition I had. I still have art prints of these available for those who would like one on their wall too.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

The black and white image to the left is what can be traced back as the very first emoticon, which was printed in a magazine in 1881!! How cool is that.

The third image is "kaomoji" - which translates to "face character" (The word "emoji" combines the word "e" - picture and "moji" - character) Kaomoji uses letters and symbols on the keyboard to create faces that express emotions. These became popular from the late 80s, before emoji was born. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
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As an artist, illustrator and designer, I'm drawn to simplicity and love the challenge of communicating many ideas in just a few strokes or elements on a page. That's why I will always refer to these symbols, especially the 12 by 12 pixel masterpieces from the 90s, for inspiration.