The Museum of Modern Art, New York has acquired the original 176 emojis designed in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita.
Created for Japanese firm NTT Docomo for use on phones and pagers, the 12×12 pixel images include weather symbols, moon phases, a hand doing a peace sign, and a cosmopolitan. At the time, Shigetaka was a member of the team developing internet software for the company’s mobile devices, and proposed a better way to incorporate images in the phone screen’s limited visual space. On release, they were popular in Japan for over a decade before taking off in the West when Apple included a larger set on its iPhone.
Paul Galloway, architecture and design collection specialist for MoMA, says these “humble masterpieces of design planted the seeds for the explosive growth of a new visual language”.
“Filling in for body language, emoticons, kaomoji (faces made with grammatical symbols) and emoji reassert the human in the deeply impersonal, abstract space of electronic communication.”
The acquisition by one of the world’s most important galleries speaks volumes of the importance of emojis to contemporary culture. The collection will go on display at the museum in December shown using animations and prints.