New series of racially diverse emojis could soon be launched

5 Nov 2014

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Unicode, the consortium that sets software standards, has put forth a proposal edited by engineers from internet search giant Google and consumer tech titan Apple to introduce emojis with various skin tones.

The group has unveiled the plans in a proposed draft document. If launched, it would answer demand for the popular cartoon-like pictograms to be more racially diverse. The Unicode standard emoji was originally created for Japanese mobile users, though almost always are Caucasian in appearance. They began appearing on Windows Phone and iPhone in 2009.

“People all over the world want to have emoji that reflect more human diversity, especially for skin tone,” wrote Unicode in the proposal. “The Unicode emoji characters for people and body parts are meant to be generic, yet following the precedents set by the original Japanese carrier images, they are often shown with a light skin tone instead of a more generic (inhuman) appearance, such as a yellow/orange colour or a silhouette.”

Unicode propose adding five new skin tones based on the Fitzpatrick scale, a recognised standard in dermatology. The group has cautioned, however, that providing emojis for every human appearance variable will be impossible.

“Of course, there are many other types of diversity in human appearance besides different skin tones: Different hairstyles and colour, use of eyeglasses, various kinds of facial hair, different body shapes, different headwear, and so on. It is beyond the scope of Unicode to provide an encoding-based mechanism for representing every aspect of human appearance diversity that emoji users might want to indicate. The best approach for communicating very specific human images – or any type of image in which preservation of specific appearance is very important – is the use of embedded graphics.”

In March, an Apple spokesperson confirmed the company was working with Unicode to create more diverse emoji. In an email reply sent to MTV Act, the company said, “We agree with you (regarding lack of emoji diversity). Our emoji characters are based on the Unicode standard, which is necessary for them to be displayed properly across many platforms. There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.”

As the proposal is still in a draft phase, it's currently unclear if and when the changes will be rolled out.

Emoji image via Shutterstock

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Dean is a freelance journalist and editor covering media.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com