Jennifer Daniel: The Woman Ushering In The Next Generation Of Emojis
Jennifer Daniel has a job title that sounds made up. She’s chair of the Emoji Subcommittee for the Unicode Consortium. This means she decides on new emojis and monitors what these symbols add to our online lives. Significantly, considering past emoji designs have been accused of sexism, she’s the first woman in the role.
Daniel, who took on the title in 2020, acknowledges what she calls “some very obvious broken experiences”, but her approach to inclusivity has been to simplify.
“My instinct wasn’t to go more specific, but to be less specific,” she says, pointing to the ‘hand with index finger and thumb crossed’ emoji, sometimes known as the ‘finger heart’. “It was designed to be multiple things to multiple people for multiple reasons. If we had added a little heart at the top, it wouldn’t have had the flexibility.”
These tiny hieroglyphics have been with us, in one way or another, for around 40 years and their meanings are endlessly debated and changed; the thumbs up, seen as passive-aggressive by Gen Z, the nail polish emoji holding different meanings across generations (displaying an air of nonchalance to some and getting glammed up to others) and there are also the ones used in a way the Emoji Subcommittee did not intend. See the coffin for hilarious or the infamous aubergine. But Daniel is effusive in her enthusiasm for these moments. “I just love it,” she says. “[It shows that] language is infinitely creative.” Hence her favourites are not so much emojis understood by many, but the more intimate ones. “I talked to a couple and [they said] sending a heart emoji to each other was a little too serious. But they both love pizza, so that [became] their way of saying they cared about each other.”
In 2020, Daniel helped to create Emoji Kitchen, which allows users to blend two emojis together, portmanteau style. “You can hit the heart face and then [the] angry face to say, ‘I love you but I don’t like what you’re saying,’” explains Daniel.
While this seems like it could spell the next gen of emoji, Daniel says the future is actually a nod to the past. “If you go further back, [to] illuminated manuscripts, [you’ll see] text and images were blended… And now it’s coming back together. I think that’s really exciting.”
Lauren Cochrane is senior fashion writer at The Guardian and author of The Ten