Meet the man who invented emoji

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Posted

February 11, 2017 10:50:07

Meet the world’s most humble man.

Shigetaka Kurita is the creator of the first-ever set of emoji — the tiny little pictures on our phones we didn’t know we needed until we couldn’t do without them.

His set has been adapted, updated and expanded over the years to become the emoticons we know today.

But he doesn’t want any limelight or praise for what he did. He says if he hadn’t come up with the idea, someone else would have.

He shies away from the suggestion that he’s created a global visual language.

Back in 1997, Mr Kurita worked for a Japanese mobile phone company named NTT Docomo.

The messages that could be sent on the company’s phones at the time had a very limited number of characters.

“I came up with an idea that people could use weather pictures for weather information and sports pictures for news and it would make the content richer,” he said.

Mr Kurita created three categories of emoji — media, services and emotions.

The first 177 were released on a mobile phone in 1999.

He had studied economics at university and did not have any experience in design or programming.

“I made a list of what is necessary in the three categories and narrowed them down to user-friendly ones that are necessary when walking around with a mobile phone in daily life — this became the first set.”

That first set of emoji has recently been added to the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

“We love the beginning of this as a small kind of local story with Japan that then goes global and does something completely different,” design collection specialist at MoMA Paul Galloway said.

The unlikely artist says the news of MoMA’s acquisition came as a shock.

“It still feels like a dream,” Mr Kurita said.

“Having your name in MoMA means it will remain in human history and it’s a great honour that my creation has been appraised and it will remain.”

Mr Kurita says his favourite emojis are the smiling face and the heart.

“The heart is the reason why we decided to make emoji in the beginning,” he said.

“If you add a heart at the end of a sentence, any negative words feel positive.”

Mr Kurita received his salary from the company at the time, but has not earned any extra money from his tiny hieroglyphics since then.

He and his wife had to pay their own way from Tokyo to New York to see the exhibition at MoMA, and stayed only two nights because accommodation was too expensive.

Mr Kurita said he was overwhelmed by emotion when he saw the exhibition.

Thankfully, the people at MOMA found out he was coming and made an appropriate fuss.

Topics:

human-interest,

arts-and-entertainment,

art-history,

information-and-communication,

mobile-phones,

science-and-technology,

united-states



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