Emojis have come a long way since the late 90s, when 25-year-old designer Shigetaka Kurita was first tasked with creating a series of ‘picture characters’ for Japanese telecomms company NTT DOCOMO.
Today, they have become a part of our everyday discourse, whether that’s in our family WhatsApp groups or national marketing campaigns, while tech brands such as Apple and Google have invested heavily in developing emojis that smash stereotypes and speak to our times.
With the arrival of the biggest global pandemic since the Spanish Flu, however, our times have changed beyond recognition in the space of a few weeks. While other creatives have been using the lockdown as an opportunity to design uplifting posters or run virtual workshops, Jessica Walsh has spent the last few weeks putting the finishing touches to an entire library of Covid-themed emojis.
The idea for the project actually came out of a number of pre-coronavirus conversations among the &Walsh studio, Walsh tells CR, but has taken on a life of its own since the pandemic started to unfold last month.
“Frustrated by the limitations of the current emoji set, we started creating custom emojis last year as a side project. As we began developing ideas for new emojis, we realised how many of the feelings and moods of creatives could have their very own emojis. One idea inspired the next, and soon we were creating a library,” she says.
“As we continued working on the project through the pandemic, there was an entirely new set of emotions that we wanted to express through emojis. Working from home, social isolation and the crazy increase in screentime required their very own emoji set.”
Some of the featured designs depict scenes that we can all relate to, such as a baking emoji that nods to the plethora of banana breads and sourdough starters that now fill our social feeds on a daily basis, or toilet paper’s new found status as a luxury item post-panic buying.
Others appeal more directly to the unique neuroses of the design community, including a hand sanitiser edition of ‘will design for cash’, a series of client-related pet peeves, and even emoji versions of well-known designers such as Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister and Walsh herself.
The &Walsh team has also been busy creating a series of funny memes with the emojis and is challenging its followers to come up with their own creations to be in with a chance to bag some “cool prizes”, says Walsh.
“Now more than ever we need more ways to express ourselves, since communication is all digital,” she adds. “We’re also all going through unique and difficult times in 2020 that call for new language. We hope these can provide some delight or comic relief to people’s day … or just make it a little easier to communicate how shitty you’re feeling!”