Tuesday, July 19, 2016


So this post began in March 2016 with the usual Women's Day deluge of messages. Sincere, inspiring, witty, challenging all sorts.

And then I came across this link.

A group of fanatics (marketing guys for a hygiene company called BodyForm) somewhere in the world came up with the idea of 'emojis' depicting the experiences of a woman undergoing her periods. And they started an online petition for it Really, now! I didn't know you needed petitions to get designs approved on social platforms!

Clearly the originator of the idea had to be clueless. Because, besides all the obvious pinkness that you see in the Femojis, it is an established fact that even women over all these eons of evolution haven't yet been able to segregate, quantify, classify and label the entire range of emotions that emerge during this.... errr... period. Let alone design for them. I've been born fortunately numb enough to not experience too many. But I completely sympathise with those who have to endure the emotions. And those on whom these emotions are inflicted. The situation is not pretty. In more ways than one. Then there is always the counter argument, about 'emojis' for men's problems down under.

But this post is not about periods or women's day or feminism. I can talk about those issues on any day. March 8 means nothing to me. Except some discounts. Surprisingly, none of the book stores seem to have discounts. And I know, for certain, more women claim to be readers than men!

And as you figured out going by the sour tone of the first few lines. This is a rant. A long, irate, incensed one. One that is about simple things in life like design, emotions, and social jingoism. One that stayed as a draft for many months.

Cut to 18th July 2016
World Emoji Day! Yes! I found that out yesterday. Don't believe me? Here! See this! http://worldemojiday.com/

And so I am lamenting the lost art of pixel perfection and the sweet simplicity of designing emoticons that make you feel the emotion.

I cringe at the word 'emoji'. I don't know why. Age, perhaps? I am old enough on the World Wide Web, to have used Yahoo! Messenger as my primary mode of communication for an extended period (pun unintended) of time. But then, I would like to believe that smileys have been around since the times of cave paintings, when we communicated with fewer words. Ah! The cycle of life! We're going back to our primal instincts

My earliest memories of the Smiley are those of a free badge that received from somewhere and had pinned to my college bag. It did not seem like such a big deal then. Just a nice, cheery trinket to possess.

Later, I realised that this simple little doodle kept recurring in pop culture, across media.

(You can read about its origins in this article by the Smithsonian Mag: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/who-really-invented-the-smiley-face-2058483/?no-ist)

I really started loving this little piece of design quirkiness when I started using Yahoo! messenger. With limited number of pixels to work with, the designers of these emoticons came up with a mind boggling array of expressions.

Why did I love them so much? Because:
  • They were silly 
  • They were cute   
  • They were varied 
  • They were brilliantly consistent works of design 
  • They were animated without being annoying(We're talking of the turn of the century here, when anything animated was a jerky Flash video or a horrid blinking banner) 
  • You had keyboard shortcuts. Well-thought out, and fun to learn for those who loved them! Do you realise how annoying it can be to tab through and scroll through scores of emojis before finding the one you wanted to use? Isn't it simpler to just type it, after a few days of practice?)
  • They were called emoticons. Which made perfect sense in English, because that was my primary language of communication. Emoji simply doesn't make sense, even if I try to retrofit the term into the venerable 'Ji' suffix regularly used in many parts of India.
I mean look at these! How can you not love them?
Pardon me, but I will now go to demonstrate with emoticons just how sorely I miss simplicity and minimalism from pixel perfectionism. we have moved to pixel pollution in design.

Let us do a bit of comparison (I am aware that they render differently on different apps, OSes and devices. Why they are allowed to get 'lost in translation' still eludes me):

Take for instance, the cheesy GRIN.
Smiley is in a good mood Whatsapp - U+1F600

Please tell me which of the two above packs more attitude? More 'swag'? Just looks at proportion of the teeth to the rest of the face. A grin is defined by teeth. If your idea was to appear 'cool' when using emojis, you might actually use the Yahoo! one, had you the option.

The Whatapps emojis have been inspired by the Apple emoji set. Apple sets the benchmark for anything it designs. Or so we would like to believe.

But what the hell are these?!

Are they kisses? Pouts? Whistles? When do I use which?
Isn't this animated Yahoo! 'kissie' cooler? hotter? cuter?

This infographic from Android hunk perhaps might help clueless folks like me

Now we come to the bit where we want to make emojis socially relevant. Like the Femojis mentioned at the beginning of this post. It is a noble thought. It is fair-minded. Or maybe not. Just as I was catching my breath after ranting at Fair and Lovely's shade card, Whatsapp had to launch these. Wait! My skin tone doesn't match any of these! I am offended. Deeply. Those yellow smileys for all these years. How dare they think that all of us are emotional Chinkies? Just how dare they?

The sad part is that somewhere between all the political correctness brigades and the mad obsession over the highest resolution of screens, the simplest and most essential parts of design are getting lost.

Evoking a gender/race/religion/nation agnostic response to a neatly thought out 'humane' piece of design that invites the viewer to come forth and 'use' it. That is what the original yellow smiley did. The smiley for me has now become the 'saddy', and the 'WTFy' :(


p.s. The old Yahoo!Messenger which introduced all these smileys is soon destined to go extinct. But that deserves a post of its own.

p.p.s Since I began this post on Women's Day: Here is an example of effective yet simple icons

Of course,there was no need for the blue T-shirt. In addition to making the woman look 'bottom-less', it is also worth noting that the red cape is iconic in its own right and didn't need a blue Tee at all to get the meaning across. But overall, I like the subversive cleverness of this one, despite my design OCD (Obsessive Criticism Disorder)


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