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Emoji Submission

Q: Can anyone submit a proposal for an emoji?

A: The consortium has developed a submission process that is is open to anyone, from individuals to non-profits to companies to governments. The process involves factors for encoding that can be applied as objectively as possible to each proposal. Those factors are also applied to internal proposals from Unicode members.

Q: I suggested that you encode EMU. Why haven’t you done it?

A: The Unicode Standard ​defines the characters for the languages of the world, and ​underlies virtually every operating systems and digital device in use in the world today. Adding new elements to this software, such as a new emoji, is a complicated and deliberate process.

So that the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee can be objective in handling the many proposals for emoji, it has developed an emoji submission form that is required for all proposals. The key selection factors are establishing objective evidence for

  • high expected usage
  • distinctiveness (eg, "breaks new ground", substantially different from anything there is now)
  • broad scope (eg, can represent many different things)

Q: Why are the criteria necessary?

A: People need to make a compelling case that their proposals are stronger than the many others submitted, since there is a limited capacity for encoding new emoji characters each year. (That also means that if a proposed emoji does not make this year's release, it can bubble up to the top in future years.)

The process for encoding emoji needs to balance a number of factors. High among those is prospective usage — if a proposed emoji is not going to be used often by millions of people, then it is taking a slot that could be occupied by a more popular emoji. Another important feature is breadth: when there are multiple variants of an emoji, the usage just tends to be split among them, while a new kind of emoji permits new kinds of expression.

The consortium also tends to roll out small initial sets of new types of emoji, such as gender-neutral forms, so that it can assess the frequency of usage before adding more of that type.

Q: But what if I start a petition at Change.org?

A: The submission and selection process isn't affected by simple suggestions, nor by petitions, nor by letters/tweets from celebrities/government officials. People should instead focus their efforts on working together to provide compelling evidence in complete submission forms for the emoji they want. If people have ideas, they should try to connect with others so that that they can all can help put together a solid proposal.

Q: Can a proposal contain multiple characters?

A: Yes, but it must only contain a small number of very closely related characters. Anything else should be split into separate proposals. And whenever a proposal contains separate characters, each character must have the same level of justification and documentation in the Submission form, anyway.

Q: Are emoji limited in variety?

A: In theory, one could have emoji for 339 breeds of dogs, or 10,000 species of birds, and even variants of those (a large female Welsh Harlequin duck, looking over its right shoulder with an egg in the foreground). Yet that is only in theory: in practice there are many limitations — just not the same limitations as for other Unicode symbols.

Q: What are those limitations?

A: The only purpose to emoji is if they are widely deployed by major vendors. If not, there is no desire or ability to burden Unicode with emoji-like pictographic symbols that are not ever “emojified” by major vendors.

The vendors have indicated that they want to hold to an emoji “budget” each year of about 70 new characters (and limits on emoji sequences as well). Each additional emoji can be a burden on memory and keyboard/UI usability. The memory impact is especially important for mobile devices in emerging markets.

There is thus a limit of about 70 emoji per year. There are further limits on certain kinds of emoji: adding a human-form emoji, for example, typically results in the addition of 2 genders and 6 skin tones, for a total of up to 18 variant emoji. And it is the total number of variants that has the impact on memory and keyboards.

Q: But what if Unicode doesn’t add my EMU emoji?

A: There is always the option of using emoji-style images (aka stickers) for more specific objects. That is another reason to keep to an emoji budget; every Unicode character is encoded forever, and if emoji go out of style, there is no desire to have an excessive number of them.

Q: I submitted an emoji proposal and it was declined, even though it was well-formed. Can I appeal the decision or submit again?

A: If the committee declines a proposal, it is very unlikely to reverse that decision. Many factors may cause a proposal to be declined, including lack of compelling evidence for popularity as an emoji and lack of anticipated support by platform vendors. Proposals that may have potential are typically returned for modification instead. The submitter of a declined proposal may revise and resubmit the proposal, but this is very unlikely to change the committee’s decision.

Q: Is the process for adding emoji the same as for other characters?

A: Emoji are much different than regular pictographic characters. They are colorful, playful representations of persons, places, or things — and combinations of those (such as a person riding a bicycle). For emoji, rather than look for evidence of existing textual use — since emoji effectively cannot exist in text until they are encoded — the Emoji Subcommittee looks for evidence of likely high usage once they are encoded, plus a number of other factors. Like normal characters, there is a detailed proposal that must be supplied, following the directions at Submitting Emoji Proposals — however, that proposal is very different from the regular character proposal, reflecting the differences between them.

Q: What about non-emoji pictographic characters?

A: Non-emoji pictographic characters are typically limited to sets (such as Dingbats) that were encoded for compatibility, or for specialized domains such as math symbols or alchemical symbols. New non-emoji pictographic characters are subject to the same process as new letters or other symbols: common use as plain text characters in some body of literature, following Submitting Character Proposals.

Unicode is not open to all possible graphic images as non-emoji pictographs. The Unicode Consortium doesn’t approve non-emoji pictographic characters simply to fill in perceived gaps, such as fleshing out a complete taxonomic classification of animal species or varieties. See “Welsh Harlequin duck” above.

Q: Can emojification of an existing pictographic character change its meaning?

A: Even the most common of characters, such as an “A” or a “.” have different usages and meanings over time and across cultures. Emoji do as well.

There have also been cases where the Emoji Subcommittee has changed the recommended appearance of emoji from what someone might expect from just the formal Unicode name and representative black and white glyphs in the charts. These may also change between releases. For example, the default skin tone to a non-human color (such as Simpsons yellow/orange) when skin-tone modifiers were added.

Q: Where can I find out more information?

A: See the Limitations on Emoji Encoding, the main Unicode Emoji page, and the Emoji and Pictographs FAQ.