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How Are Emoji Made?

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Happy World Emoji Day! If you look closely at the calendar emoji, it reads July 17 (at least on most platforms), a date that is now marked as a celebration of pictorial messaging. But who decided we needed a calendar emoji at all, as opposed to, say, a shrug or bacon emoji, both of which do not exist (yet)?

An international non-profit called the Unicode Consortium—with members like Google, Adobe, and the Indian government—is the final decider of all things emoji. Unicode is the reason you can send someone a smiling poop or a purple eggplant, regardless of whether you’re texting from an iPhone or an Android, though the images might look slightly different to someone using a different device and software than you. 

The beginning

Emoji were introduced in Japan in 1999, but each phone carrier encoded the graphics in different ways, leading to some confusion—a person might text a friend a thumbs up, only to have it appear on a different phone as a thumbs down. And when Japanese users tried emailing emoji to non-Japanese-hosted emails, like Gmail addresses, the messages would get mangled. 

Unicode is how computers represent text. Instead of having to standardize fonts and text sizes and alphabets and symbols like the plus sign so that they can be read on all devices, characters are represented by a set of standard codes, which software on your computer or phone (no matter who your email provider or phone carrier is) reads and translates into the text you see.  

Google was a main force in standardizing emoji, because in 2007, the company partnered with the Japanese telecom companies that had pioneered emoji in the mid-'90s to adopt a standard code in order to bring the graphics to Gmail. Emoji were added to Unicode. In 2011, Apple added an emoji keyboard to iOS. 

In the process, the poop emoji almost disappeared, because the head honchos at Google felt a steaming pile of poop was sort of an offensive symbol. Luckily, a few key engineers showed them the error of their ways, and the poop survived, and thrived (especially in Canada, as it happens). 

Introducing diversity

Unicode mandates that most emoji be represented as gender-neutral, except for a specific set of emoji that include symbols like “man and woman holding hands,” “bride with veil,” and “man in business suit levitating.” Why can’t a woman in a business suit be levitating? No idea, but as of right now, them’s the standards. 

This year, the first racially diverse emoji hit the scene, replacing light-skinned default emoji with a range of skin tones. According to a Unicode Consortium report, emoji were intended to be generic, but, thanks to their Japanese origins, they typically ended up with light skin. Now, emoji code provides for five skin colors, based on a dermatology standard called the Fitzpatrick scale

However, software developers design their own images to correspond to the code, which is why Gmail’s emoji look different than Apple’s. The Unicode Consortium recommends that when designing emoji, default options for human skin appear as generic, non-realistic colors, like yellow, blue, or grey. The Consortium also recommends dark hair, because it’s a common hue on people of every skin color. 

New emoji

There are currently 38 new emoji on the table for release in the near future, including the aforementioned shruggie emoji. But, should you find your emoji keyboard constraining, you can submit new characters for consideration to the Unicode Consortium here. The group considers factors like whether the new emoji will be compatible with existing systems, whether the pictograph in question is expected to see high usage, and whether it’s distinctive enough from other emoji that people will be able to recognize it. The group has hard and fast rules excluding any new emoji representing deities, company logos, and specific individuals. 

But why should an international group like the Unicode Consortium bother with emoji at all? Do we really need to insert engorged purple eggplants into our communications? 

Well, yes. “In social media, emoji make up for the lack of gestures, facial expressions, and intonation that are found in speech,” as the Consortium wrote in a recent report on the pictographs. “They also add useful ambiguity to messages, allowing the writer to convey many different possible concepts at the same time.” In short, emoji allow us to fill in the gaps where pure text communication fails, better approximating a face-to-face conversation. 

You know? ¯\_()_/¯

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National Geographic Ranks The 25 Happiest Cities in the Country
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Feeling unhappy? Maybe it's time to move. National Geographic recently released rankings of the 25 happiest cities in the U.S. The results: Eight of the 25 locations are in the Golden State, but the honor of No. 1 happiest city goes to Boulder, Colorado.

The rankings are based on 250,000 interviews conducted in 190 metropolitan areas between 2014 and 2015. The survey—developed by Dan Buettner, author of the new book The Blue Zones of Happiness, and Dan Witters, a senior scientist at Gallup—looked for data points that are correlated with life satisfaction and happiness, like whether or not you exercise, if you feel safe in your community, whether you feel like you live within your means, and whether you feel like you are reaching your goals.

A map of the U.S. showing which cities made the top 25 happiest cities index.
Courtesy National Geographic

Of course, all that isn’t necessarily the result of your geographical location. But you don’t see cities like Los Angeles or New York—where wealth is also clustered—on the list, so presumably San Franciscans are doing something a little differently.

Take a look for yourself. Here are the 25 happiest places in the U.S., according to the results.

1. Boulder, Colorado
2. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California
3. Charlottesville, Virginia
4. Fort Collins, Colorado
5. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, California
6. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
7. Provo-Orem, Utah
8. Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut
9. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts
10. Anchorage, Alaska
11. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida
12. Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, California
13. Salinas, California
14. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida
15. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
16. Ann Arbor, Michigan
17. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California
18. Colorado Springs, Colorado
19. Manchester-Nashua, New Hampshire
20. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California
21. Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Virginia/Maryland/West Virginia
22. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota/Wisconsin
23. San Diego-Carlsbad, California
24. Portland-South Portland, Maine
25. Austin-Round Rock, Texas

You can grab a copy of November’s National Geographic to read more about the world’s happiest places.

The cover of Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones of Happiness and the cover of November 2017’s National Geographic.
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Here's How to Turn an IKEA Box Into a Spaceship
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Since IKEA boxes are designed to contain entire furniture items, they could probably fit a small child once they’re emptied of any flat-packed component pieces. This means they have great potential as makeshift forts—or even as play spaceships, according to one of the Swedish furniture brand’s print ads, which was spotted by Design Taxi.

First highlighted by Ads of the World, the advertisement—which was created by Miami Ad School, New York—shows that IKEA is helping customers transform used boxes into build-it-yourself “SPÄCE SHIPS” for children. The company provides play kits, which come with both an instruction manual and cardboard "tools" for tiny builders to wield during the construction process.

As for the furniture boxes themselves, they're emblazoned with the words “You see a box, they see a spaceship." As if you won't be climbing into the completed product along with the kids …

Check out the ad below:

[h/t Design Taxi]

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