Shigetaka Kurita. Emoji. 1998-1999

Shigetaka Kurita Emoji 1998-1999

  • Not on view

In 1999 the Japanese telecom NTT DOCOMO released the original 176 emoji (e meaning “picture” and moji “character”) for mobile phones and pagers. Designed on a simple 12 × 12 pixel grid by Shigetaka Kurita, emoji enhanced the visual interface for DOCOMO’s devices and facilitated the rise of the nascent practice of text messaging and mobile email. Drawing on varied sources including manga, Zapf dingbats, and commonly used emoticons (simple faces made out of pre-existing glyphs), Kurita’s set included illustrations of weather phenomena, pictograms, and a range of expressive faces. Simple, elegant, and incisive, Kurita’s emoji planted the seeds for the explosion of a new visual language.

The shift toward concise, telegraphic correspondence that began with the advent of email in the 1970s accelerated dramatically when messaging moved to mobile. The abridged nature of mobile communication tends to obscure tone and emotion. Emoji, when combined with text, allow for more nuanced intonation. Filling in for body language, they reassert the human in the abstract space of electronic communication.

Today, with nearly 1,800 in use, emoji are an increasingly complex companion to written language. Kurita’s emoji are powerful manifestations of the capacity of design to alter human behavior. Just as the design of a chair dictates our posture, so, too, do the designs of various formats of electronic communication shape our voice. Although emoji have advanced far beyond Kurita’s original 176 designs, the DNA for today’s emoji is clearly present in Kurita’s humble, pixelated, seminal designs.

Gallery label from Inbox: The Original Emoji, by Shigetaka Kurita, 2016.
Manufacturer
NTT DOCOMO, Inc.
Medium
Digital image
Dimensions
Dimensions variable
Credit
Gift of NTT DOCOMO, Inc
Object number
961.2016
Copyright
© 2018 NTT DOCOMO
Department
Architecture and Design

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.