Standards Manual celebrates the Japanese ancestors of modern emoji

The upcoming book celebrates the work of designer Shigetaka Kurita and the original set of emoji he created for Japanese telecom company NTT DOCOMO in 1999

In 1999, 25-year-old Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita was commissioned by telecom company NTT DOCOMO to design tiny graphics which could be used to aid textual communication. These simple images were named ‘e’, which means picture, and ‘moji’, which means character.

Kurita’s graphics are the earliest known examples of a graphic language that has transformed the way we speak online.

New York-based publisher Standards Manual has announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of a book titled Emoji, which honours this seminal body of work. The book will showcase original sketches of all 176 emoji designed by Kurita, along with technical data about each character. Kurita has written an introduction for the book, which also features an essay by MoMA’s Paola Antonelli and Paul Galloway. (The museum acquired the original suite of emoji designs for their permanent collection in 2016; an acknowledgement of the work’s important place in communication history.)

Designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth spent time with Kurita in Japan, investigating the various aspects of Japanese visual culture which influenced his artwork.

Speaking to CR at the Standards Manual studio in Brooklyn, Reed explained what makes this work so special. “Shigetaka Kurita’s emoji resembles a design challenge that most of us will face in our careers — design a symbol that communicates a complex idea or object in the least amount of components necessary — the original 176 characters are a result of such a challenge,” he says.

The final suite of emojis is fascinating also because of the speed with which Kurita was expected to deliver on the challenge, explains Reed. “They were created swiftly, carefully, and with great confidence. Focus groups weren’t called in to justify Kurita’s concept, they simply created something and let society react — all [were] completed in just over a month.”

This month’s work went on to influence the way the world communicates. “This is a contribution to the history of visual communication that shouldn’t go overlooked,” says Standards Manual.

The cover of Emoji which features all 176 emoji. The book will be wrapped in a green vinyl jacket, a typical Japanese book making technique.

Standards Manual has previously crowdfunded a reissue of the graphic standards manual for NASA and Identity: Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, which showcases 60 years of work from the seminal New York design firm.

Read more about the project on this Kickstarter pitch, launched today. The campaign will run till May 30 2018.