Sm;)e book charts the divergent graphic design heritage of the smiley

Compiled by DJ DB Burkeman and artist Rich Browd, the publication compiles dozens of visual interpretations of the symbol by artists such as Jeremy Deller and Norman Cook.

7 October 2020


“In the history of graphic design, I can think of no other symbol that has ever held such a duality,” writes DB Burkeman in the introduction to new book Sm;)e, charting the history of the smiley. The universal icon of the smile face on bright yellow background has, he explains, travelled from hippiedom through punk, acid house and rave eras, via corporate adoption to the emoji age, all the while “used simultaneously as both a positive mainstream driver and a counterculture subverter of that very mainstream”.

Put together with co-author Rich Browd, the book tells the symbol’s fascinating tale in detail, starting with its inception as a morale-booster for staff at an insurance company in 1963, and popping up everywhere from Hollywood films and TV shows like Dazed and Confused and The X-Files, to album covers such as Nirvana’s Nevermind, and graphic novels such as Watchmen. It then pictorially explores its many representations with artwork by Jeremy Deller, Banksy, Alex Da Corte, the Chapman Brothers, Norman Cook, James Joyce and more.

Burkeman himself has a series of serendipitous personal ties to the smiley’s history. “When I was a kid, my mom was a quasi-hippie,” he writes in the book. “Then during the 70s, when I was in my late teens and becoming a punk, I, of course, turned against all hippie associations… Fast-forward to the mid-80s, some of the original punk kids had grown up but were still driven by punk’s DIY spirit, except they were now helping sow the seeds of the acid house and rave explosion, by designing flyers, DJing and throwing their own warehouse events.” This was a culture Burkeman was deeply immersed in, a successful DJ and one of the key figures who brought the UK’s underground dance music scene and its aesthetic to New York City.

Later, in 1994, he and Gary Pini started their own electronic music imprint, and called it Sm;)e Communications – apparently the first time an emoticon was used in a company logo. The same year, Burkeman and Pini went on an A&R mission to meet Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, and were “greeted by a mind-bending display of smileys that the musician had been collecting for years,” many of which are featured in the book.

The book, he summarises, represents his and Browd’s “love of a symbol that has lived many distinct lives and is still being reinterpreted and inspiring creativity”.

Sm;)e launched a campaign on Kickstarteryesterday (6 October) asking supporters for backing to publish the book by December 2020.

GalleryDB Burkeman and Rich Browd: Sm;)e (images copyright © individual artists)


Misaki Kawai


Left: Anthony Sarcone; Right: Alex Fuller


Left: Ron English; Right: James Joyce


Left: Rob Pruit; Right: Sadie Benning


Left: Jeremy Deller; Right: Destroy All Monsters / Cary Loren


Left: Carlos Valencia; Right: Richard Prince


Left: Banksy; Right: Katlyn Reilly

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Image © Norman Cook, from Sm;)e by DB Burkeman and Rich Browd

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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