Who Invented Emojis?

The person behind the Original Emoji – Shigetaka Kurita

The development of emoji began in the late 1990s at Docomo, then called DDI. The first set of 176 12×12 pixel monochrome icons was created. The set represents symbols frequently used in Softbank Mobile advertisements at that time. This included smileys and common transportation such as airplanes, cars, and trains. These emojis could be seen on Softbank Mobile advertisement boards in Japan. This was a way to attract new customers. The company noticed that people liked these characters enough to apply them to their cellphones.

Initial Emoji success

After this initial success, they decided it would be more efficient to design a phone system using Unicode. Instead of currently creating unique icons for each handset. “Emoji” is the name of this project.

The development team wanted something fun but still useful so instead of creating smileys with full lips and tongues sticking out, they focused on creating symbols depicting daily life objects. They created emojis representing things like chopsticks, sushi, or even an abacus. The designs were clear and simple so users could easily understand what the emoji stood for without having extensive knowledge of Japanese culture.

The company believed that emojis would appeal to younger people who were using mobile phones for the first time and habitually used smileys or symbols when texting, so they also focused on creating emoji designs with pixelated looks. As pager devices have a lower resolution than today’s smartphones, the Emojis were designed in a lower resolution.

Another interesting aspect of Shigetaka Kurita’s Original Emoji design is his way of depicting skin tone. He argued that if companies wanted to represent people then it was necessary to have at least 6 different skin tones available rather than just one color because not everyone is alike. – taken from A History of Emojis by TechRadar.


The First Emoji Set

In 1999, the first set was born. At the time, cell phones had small screens with a limited number of pixels. This meant that emojis were simplified and had black and white colors. As a result, the 176 12×12 monochromatic emojis were created for DoCoMo’s mobile internet platform i-mode and launched on December 4th, 1999. Emoji history dates back to 1999 when Shigetaka Kurita’s emoji designed the very first emoji characters. He did so while working at NTT Docomo (the largest mobile phone operator in Japan).

Emojis quickly became popular in Japan, which led to their international expansion. Especially with communication, the usage of Emojis on Japanese phones and international phones took a huge leap.

What is the first Emoji?

The very first emoji was released in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita who worked at NTT Docomo (a Japanese phone operator). He designed 176 12×12 monochrome emojis to highlight commonly used symbols on their i-mode mobile internet platform. Similarly, the First set of 176 12×12 pixel monochrome icons was created for DoCoMo’s internet platform i-mode and launched on December 4th, 1999. These emojis were quickly adopted because they filled a gap between SMS languages and user interfaces of the time. There was no universal standard for displaying characters across different devices so these emoji designs filled that need. It wasn’t until about 2010 when smartphones hit the market that emojis started to become popular.

Emoji first came out in 1999

The First set of 176 12×12 pixel monochrome icons was created for DoCoMo’s mobile internet platform i-mode and launched on December 4th, 1999. In addition, these emojis were quickly adopted because they filled a gap between SMS languages and user interfaces of the time. There was no universal standard for displaying characters across different devices so these emoji designs filled that need. It wasn’t until about 2010 when smartphones hit the market that emojis started to become popular.

The Original Emoji Set – Smiley Face

The original emoji was the now-iconic smiley face:


Emojis quickly became popular in Japan, which led to their international expansion. Especially with electronic communication, the usage of Emojis on Japanese mobile phones and international phones took a huge leap.

Shigetaka Kurita designed about 200 emojis that were used by NTT Docomo (the largest mobile phone operator in Japan). These emojis filled a gap between SMS languages and user interfaces of the time. There was no universal standard for displaying characters across different devices so these emoji designs filled that need. But it wasn’t until about 2010 when smartphones hit the market that emojis really started to become popular.

First Emoji’s on Smartphone

Nokia – The first smartphone with Emojis

In November 2008, Nokia released its Symbian^3 operating system for its smartphones. This new platform came with “Unicode” which meant that any kind of character could be typed on the device which also included emojis from different platforms such as iOS and Android.

Apple’s Steve Jobs’ Opinion on Emojis

In an interview in February 2011, Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs explained his view on emojis: “If you want your phone to be like everybody else’s phone, you should have your phone turned off.”

In an ironic twist, Apple started to integrate emojis into their operating system since iOS 5. Jobs believed that users shouldn’t be able to use emojis on their phones. The reason? Mainstream people will not understand Emoji. However, after he died in 2011, his successor finally integrated emoji support into the iPhone’s messaging app “Messages” as well as keyboard.

Steve Jobs

Mainstream people will not understand Emoji.

Android Emoji

Emojis made their first appearance on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) which was released in December 2010 by Google alongside its Nexus S smartphone. However, this new platform only supported the first version of Unicode which meant that they were limited to just 722 emojis from the old Japanese standard JIS X 0213.

Since Android 4.4 KitKat, Google now allows third-party keyboards as an input source for emojis. As a result, creating many solutions such as “SwiftKey” or “Google Keyboard”.


Find out more about Android Emojis in our blog!

Samsung Emoji

Samsung devices were the first ones to come with full emoji support out of the box. This happened at the same time they introduced their new TouchWiz interface with Android 2.1 Eclair (February 2010). For instance, all major Samsung smartphones and tablets have had extensive emoji and even included it in their virtual keyboard. Other OEMs like HTC and Huawei would follow suit and release emoji-supporting updates for some of their existing smartphones. However, even today most devices are using the old version, meaning that there are only 1674 emojis supported.

Emojis In The Media

In recent years, more and more advertisements are using Emoji.Β Big brands such as Google or Samsung are using the slogan #TurnOnTheEmojiKey. Apple even advertised with a focus on their iOS 8 emoji update. The update included new emojis from many different categories.

As a result of this growth in popularity, many news websites report about it regularly. Examples of this are:

  • “This Heart Emoji is the most popular Emoji”
  • “Adding Emoji to the list of candidates!”
  • Taco Bell started a campaign, adding whatever emoji you send to the menu.

Emoji Set – Emoji Dick

In 2015, the first book completely made of emojis was published. It is called “Emoji Dick” and it’s an English translation of a Japanese translation of “Moby Dick” where every word has been replaced by emojis.

The book was crowdfunded on Kickstarter and raised $3,450 from 91 people to publish this unique novel with custom illustrations.


The book is filled with only Emojis! How cool is that, you can find their Kickstarter here or look up their website here!

What are the games that use Emoji?

In April of that year, the first emoji-only game launched on iOS and Android called “Emojination”. The game is a word puzzle game where players have to guess the correct emoji from different characters.

In September 2015, Zynga launches Words with Friends 2, a popular turn-based multiplayer social network game that includes emojis in its regular gameplay which you can use to create different words with your friends. This makes it one of the most popular online board games worldwide with over 1 million daily active users.

#EmojiReads – Books in 140 Characters or Less

In August 2014, someone invented a new hashtag on Twitter called #EmojiReads. People started to tweet about their favorite book in only 140 characters or less. See below for some examples of the use of these Emoji Hashtags.

Chevrolet’s Emoji Press Release

In June 2016, Chevrolet released a press release for their new model Malibu. This press release contained only Emojis! This marketing strategy created quite a stir on social media and other news websites.


The Press Release by Chevrolet – can you depict what they meant with this?

Emoji Statistics

The word “emoji” is still not allowed in the Oxford English Dictionary, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a global phenomenon. As a result, in June 2015, Emojipedia reported that there were over 1800 different emojis across the major platforms, and by February 2017 this number has risen up to 2262. One of the quickest growing areas has been “Loudly Crying Face Emoji” emojis which went up from 13 to 76 during only 9 months! The word emoji probably derives from either Japanese e (η΅΅) meaning “picture” or kaomoji (ι‘”) meaning “face”.

Emoji – Emoticons keyboard

In 2003, MSN has first started using ‘Emoticons’ or ‘Smileys’ in their online chat. When communicating, using emoticons would create a more immersive experience. As well as enhancing the user’s experience when communicating with other people. MSN chat added a new feature to its Windows Live Messenger, which was an Emoticons or Smileys keyboard.

In early 2008, Apple introduced the iPhone with iOS and for the first time, smartphone users were able to use emojis as they wished. The release of this mobile device changed everything because it brought emojis into the hands of millions of people around the world. With such a big audience watching, social platforms started using emoji keyboards too and now all major platforms support them including Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp.

Emojis – JapaneseΒ typographic symbols became hugely popular in 2010 after Apple released their iOS with emoji support on its smartphones. Later in 2021, Apple introduced an emoji keyboard.

Finally, they decided to promote the feature. Strategic advertising led to this amazing result. By now, every day people are posting Emojis to Twitter. Current numbers are within half a billion.

Museum of Modern Art – Emoji

In 2014, the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City added a selection of emoji symbols to its permanent collection. The museum added the 176 monochrome Emojis to their collection. Reason for this: They have had a considerable impact on changing how people represent themselves. Together with how they now communicate through images.

See images below for an impression of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection:


Picture taken from the website of MoMa. Resembles the display fo the first Emoji Set in New York.

What is the first Emoji language?

In 2007, NTT DoCoMo (the biggest Japanese mobile phone company) started adding support for emoji characters to their phones and they introduced an emoji font called “Emoji font” that allowed users to see and use JIS X 0213:2004 standard-based emojis with any vendor on any phone supporting the font. After that, all devices across different platforms could share emojis.

Unicode Consortium – Google

Google first introduced the private-use Unicode codes in 2006. By testing and promotion, they created the Unicode Standard. Together with the non-standard extension. In 2009, Google put its first emoji on its keyboard as a part of its Japanese IME.

In 2010 Google launched its “mojibake” project. This project allowed users to type emoji symbols from Shift JIS code directly into a search engine. This made it easier to find these symbols and convert them back to HTML entities.

Later in 2010, Google added emoji support with Android 2.1 Eclair. They made it only available on US English keyboards. This received criticism from France, who threatened to sue them. There was no French-related Emoji. That caused a big uproar from the French.

Emoji – Emoticons in Unicode

From there on out, many new versions have seen the light of day. The current announced version is Unicode 15.0 in 2022. There is a formal process to follow for the inclusion of emoji characters. This resulted in 722 emoji points.

Emojis – Back to how it all started

In 1999 Shigetake Kurita – who invented emoji – a software engineer at Docomo created the world’s first Emoji set to use on i-mode phones. Many Japanese telecom companies were trying to find ways to make their services stand out from the competition. In this, DoCoMo was no different. Kurita introduced emoji after seeing people misuse pictographs in China and Korea.

The First Emoji Set

The first Emoji set by Shigetaka Kurita – who invented emoji – included 176 pictograms. The name DoCoMo originated from the companies’ name.

These emojis became a huge hit. As a result, it became one of the first times that an internet company had gone out and created its character.

The First Emoji

The first emoji was the heart symbol which he created by combining two common symbols. Secondly, these symbols came from Japanese phone culture: a yellow happy face and an emoticon. However, he did not want to use Japanese kanji characters. This was because they are logographic, meaning that each character has many different meanings.

The Top 10 most used Emojis

People use emoji symbols for a variety of different reasons and there are so many symbols to choose from. This makes it difficult to find out which ones we use the most. However, we can get a general idea by looking at the data provided by Twitter and their emoji tracker service.

What the original Emoticon founder thinks of Emoji

Scott Fahlman, who invented the first Emoticon “:-)” says: “Emojis are ugly. Firstly, they ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a smart way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters.”

Museum of Modern Arts – NTT DoCoMo

NTT DoCoMo’s Shigetaka Kurita is currently collaborating with the Museum of Modern Art. Where they are displaying emojis in an exhibition entitled “MoMA Emoji: A Complete Set from Artist Shigetaka Kurita”.

Twitter adds Emoji Search Function

In July 2015 Twitter announced that they have begun testing a feature. Emoji Search is the name of that feature. One their website, this allows users to search emoji symbols by name. This was first only available for a small number of users. In the current day, anyone can search for Emojis on Twitter.

The Emoji Movie

In December 2016, a press release from Sony Pictures Animation came with an announcement. They would be releasing an emoji movie in the summer of 2017. Directed by Anthony Leondis and produced by Michelle Raimo Kouyate. “A comedy taking place in Textopolis, a city where emojis live.” was how they described the movie.

Gun Emoji disappears from Whatsapp

Whatsapp removed the Emoji Gun in November 2016. Moreover, this is usually a sign that a company will stop using a certain emoji symbol in favor of something else. In this case, Facebook had removed their version of the same emoji to replace it with a water gun instead.

In 2018, all Vendors commit to removing/replacing the Gun Emoji, for a Water Pistol Emoji.

Emoji – The story – the guy who invented Emojis

Who is the father of Emoji?

Shigetaka Kurita! We hope you found our world view of Emoji fun, and are willing to adapt to the language of Emoji! The MoMa display is currently active!

While emojis such as the Heart Emoji were first introduced as Punctuation marks (<3, :-)), in today’s age these little images provide much more information to our language than before. Moreover, if you are using the Emojis on iPhone or Facebook, be sure to check out our website. This way you will be up to date on the look of the Heart Emoji or other related emoji.

Of course, if you want to simply copy and paste your favorite Emoji. On our website, you can do so by going to the home page.