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Emoji Submission

Q: Can anyone submit a proposal for an emoji?

A: The Unicode 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: What is the reason behind the requirement to grant a license to the Unicode Consortium as part of my emoji proposal submission? And why is it necessary to certify that my emoji images are either my own inellectual property, or in the public domain, or the subject of an open-source license?

A: The Unicode Consortium openly and freely licenses its various standards and tools to all. See the Unicode License Agreement and Terms of Use. Free and open licensing is the bedrock foundation of the Consortium's mission to enable computers and phones to support virtually every language in use in the world today. Because the Unicode Standards are openly and freely licensed, anything to be included in the Standards must be available to be openly and freely licensed, including emoji.

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 Guidelines for Submitting Unicode Emoji Proposals, outlining the requirements for all proposals. The key selection factors are establishing objective evidence for:

  • high expected usage
  • distinctiveness (for example, "breaks new ground", substantially different from anything there is now)
  • broad scope (for example, 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, because there is a limited capacity for encoding new emoji characters each year.

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 or tweets from celebrities or 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: No. Proposals that included multiple emoj were accepted in the past, but now that virtually every category includes a rich selection of emoji, omnibus proposals are not accepted.

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 the Unicode standard with emoji-like pictographic symbols that are never “emojified” by major vendors.

The vendors have indicated that they want limits on new characters and 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 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: Emoji proposals declined within the last two years are not eligible for re-review and cannot be re-submitted during that time. Various factors may cause a well-formed proposal to be declined, including lack of compelling evidence for popularity as an emoji and lack of anticipated support by platform vendors.

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—because emoji effectively cannot exist in text until they are encoded—the Unicode 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 existing pictographic characters be emojified?

A: No. Such proposals are no longer accepted. Proposals for emojifying existing pictographic characters were accepted in the past, but that proved to be problematic for a variety of reasons.

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.