When Shigetaka Kurita created the first emoji in 1999, he had to work within a grid measuring 12 by 12 pixels.
That’s a total of 144 dots, or 18 bytes of data, meaning that the Japanese designer’s complete set of 176 pictograms took up just over 3 kilobytes. A minuscule dose of information, but an enormous amount of meaning.
“If you were given the challenge of translating 176 ideas, including people, places, emotions and concepts into 12-bit symbols, all within 5 weeks time, most designers would faint at the idea.”
Pictograms and manga
The word emoji comes from the Japanese 絵 (“e,” picture), 文 (“mo,” write) and 字 (“ji,” character). Japanese characters, or “kanji,” are largely based on Chinese ideograms, meaning the language’s writing system is already highly pictorial.
“Both emoji and kanji are ideograms, but I did not find inspiration for designing emoji in the kanji,” he said in an email interview. “In creating emoji, I found inspiration in pictograms, manga, and all sorts of other sources.”