Emojis are a language of their own but when it comes to communicating with them, what does one do when there’s no emoji to explain what you mean?
For designer Yiying Lu, who splits her time between her birthplace of Shanghai, her adopted home of San Francisco and Sydney, the city of her studies, stumbling upon the startling absence of a dumpling emoji while texting with a friend was the catalyst for an entire movement towards the democratisation of the digital symbol.
“I think languages are evolving [and] emoji is a visual language that transcends the linguistic barrier,” Lu tells SBS Food. “A picture is worth thousand words.”
Reaising that the dumpling was gastronomically relevant to a staggering number of cultures – from Georgia with their khinkali to Japan with their gyoza – Lu decided to take matters into her own hands. Considering she’s a designer for multi-national brands as big as Pepsi, Disney, Twitter and Microsoft, the matter was definitely in the right hands.
So began the two-year journey to securing a permanent place in the digital dictionary with a dumpling emoji. The original design, the animated GIF artwork dubbed the ‘Bling Bling Dumping’ which Lu had conceived as a front-on, 2D rendering with an anthropomorphic face and flashing heart-shaped eyes, was sent back to the friend she was originally chatting with, journalist Jennifer 8. Lee, and the project snowballed from there.
“[We] discovered that in order to get our dumpling emoji published, we need to get the approval from Unicode Consortium, a Silicon Valley-based group of computer and software corporations and individual volunteers with backgrounds in technology, encoding, and linguistics.”
Lu and Lee became members of the Unicode consortium, attending virtual and in-person Unicode Technical Committee meetings where new emoji ideas would be canvassed, critiqued and discussed.
“The committee like my design and also asked me to create the other three, the chopsticks, fortune cookie and takeout box,” all of which, explains Lu, are included in the newest update due this week.
After submitting the initial four designs in January of 2016 and having to tweak due to feedback (food emojis are generally shown at a 45-degree angle, for example, and don’t feature faces), they resubmitted the designs a year later and received the final tick of approval six months after that.
“It takes about six months to about one year to get the proposed emoji to get approved. In our case, it was two years all together from the begin of the idea of a dumpling emoji, to having it on everyone’s phone,” says Lu, who is now based in San Francisco but moved to Australia in 2002 and lived in Sydney for several years while studying at the University of New South Wales and UTS. "I absolutely enjoyed my time in Sydney, as it’s a very multicultural, dynamic and engaging city," she says.
This week, after a delay from the initial July 2017 release, Emoji 5.0 will come to international phones with four of Lu’s design genius: the dumpling, the iconic Chinese takeaway box, the fortune cookie and the chopsticks.
“It is wonderful to be part of the community that shapes up the global communication culture in a more open and democratic way,” Lu says. “The Emojination community is growing with more artists and writers to contribute their time, skill and talent to shape our future of communication. Also, we have been receiving feedback and thoughts from social media platforms from people around the world.”
Lu's designs reflect the ongoing expansion of emojis, reflecting how people live and see themselves.
"People enjoy seeing themselves reflected in the world around them, and emojis are no different - representation [will] continue to be looked at for a future update," Jeremy Burge, editor at the Emojipedia, told SBS.
- additional reporting by Sam Carroll.