New York’s Museum of Modern Art has acquired the first set of emojis, comprised of 176 icons designed by Shigetaka Kurita.

MoMA will feature the icons at the museum’s lobby in December, alongside other representations of graphics and animated art. The museum announced the acquisition last Wednesday, arguing that emojis fill in for the lack of body language and human expression in electronic communication.

MoMA Emojis
MoMA has acquired the original set of 176 emojis. Image credit: Shigetaka Kurita/AP

“Emoji tap into a long tradition of expressive and visual language. Images and patterns have been incorporated within text since antiquity,” the museum wrote on its blog.

Key elements of digital communication

The emojis were first implemented by Japan’s national phone carrier NTT DOCOMO. It was the company that managed to keep the lead in mobile technology, being one of the first to implement basic Internet services on their mobile devices.

At first, cell phones were only able to receive text messages and specific strings of data through the internet. Kurita was recruited to develop a method for allowing better communication while taking advantage of the limited display ability of cell phones, which resulted in the creation of emojis.

Emojis were immensely successful and immediately copied by Japan’s mobile carriers, and later by globally distributed apps and smartphones.

Emojis allow users to convey emotions and expressions without words, which is a crucial factor of communication. When email was first implemented, people saw that they needed to express themselves through what was available in electronic mediums, often resorting to typographic smileys such as the famous “:).” Japanese characters allow for a much broader spectrum of smileys, known as kaomoji.

Japanese people use honor prefixes and specific greetings in their daily lives, something that was not ideally conveyable through electronic communications. According to MoMA, emojis allowed this to occur much easily. Emojis were subsequently implemented by most major digital companies, such as Google and Apple, which led to its global acceptation as tiny icons that can say more than just simple words.

“Shigetaka Kurita’s emoji are powerful manifestations of the capacity of design to alter human behavior. The design of a chair dictates our posture; so, too, does the format of electronic communication shape our voice,” wrote Paul Galloway, MoMA’s architecture and design collection specialist.

The first emoji was created on a 12 x 12 pixel scale, but now they show a much more intricate design and color availability. New emojis are added to the global collection every few months, and some developers have dedicated themselves to track the use of emojis on different web services. Some emojis even proved to be controversial, such as the gun emoji that was eventually changed for a toy gun emoji.

In San Francisco, emoji aficionados may enjoy Emojicon, the first convention dedicated to emojis, which is also recognized by MoMA. MoMA’s exhibit will display the evolution of emoji and allow visitors to learn more about the importance of these symbols in forthcoming digital communication methods.

Source: MoMA blog