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.
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. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
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.