Emojis, those cute, vivid images that liven up emails and texts, seem to come in all shapes, colors and sizes.
After all, there are more than 2,800 to choose from. Among the favorites: the smiley face, the thumbs up, the birthday cake.
But it turns out, there is more people want to say with emojis than what is currently available, including showing two people with different skin tones, together.
Since 2015, it has been possible to pick skin tones for many of the people emojis, such as the mermaid, firefighter and baby.
But it began to frustrate some users that they couldn’t show two people of different races holding hands or families with different skin tones, says Jennifer Lee, co-founder of Emojination and vice chair of the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee. They could only use the default yellow image.
WATCH: Tailoring the Emoji to Match the Couple
Frustration over lack of interracial couple emoji
“The interracial couple emoji was something we’ve have heard a lot of demand for in terms of people on Twitter,” she said. “People have gotten used to pressing and seeing all these skin tones whether or not it’s a thumbs up or it’s a woman who is a mermaid or a baby. They would long press on the multiple families and long press on the couples and be like, ‘Why is it only yellow?’ Because they were trained to expect skin tones.”
Turns out, the birth of a new emoji takes some work. Anyone can apply to the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit that is run by volunteers. They set the standards for text in all languages and oversees emojis.
“As our mission says, we want to make sure that every language makes it into the digital age,” said Greg Welch, a board member of the Unicode Consortium.
When it comes to emojis, Unicode’s goal is simple: To make sure that when a person sends a smiley face, no matter the age of the phone or the type of computer software, the receiver sees a smiley face. Unicode, which is working on bringing Rohingya and Mongolian to the Unicode standards, has overseen the tremendous growth in emojis since 2010.
Emoji — a new language
“If you think about a language like English or Russian or Chinese, it’s evolved slowly over the course of centuries,” Welch said. “If you look at emoji, in the last five years, it’s exploded in use. It’s exploded in its vocabulary. This is almost like watching a new proto language emerge right before our eyes.”
With the help of Tinder, the dating site, Jennifer Lee pressed Unicode for an interracial emoji. There were technical complications as well as some tough choices, which of the many emojis that show love or families should be the first to be able to show different skin tones?
Unicode settled on two people holding hands after much discussion, Lee said.
“One of the reasons that that is the emoji of choice is that two people holding hands does not have to be a romantic kind of relationship,” she said. “It can be two friends, it can be a couple, it can represent family members. We felt it was the most versatile of the different emoji.”
The approved interracial couple emoji will allow users to pick one of five skin tones and the gender identity for each person in a couple who are holding hands.
Unicode gave the code for interracial couple to companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and others. They will come out with their own versions of the emoji, as well as 58 others, including a new menstruation emoji, a falafel emoji and a deaf emoji, later this year.