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"Creepy" Isn't What You Want in an Emoji, Microsoft

Microsoft TeamsEarlier this summer, Microsoft released new emojis for their platforms.  If you’re a corporate slave staring at Teams all day, there is a palette of these smiling faces to inject some humanity into your daily drudgery.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the humanity injected seems to be more of the scary-movie sort rather than the safe, neutral image software vendors want to provide.

Comments on Microsoft’s online forums include statements such as

  • “Creepy and inappropriate”
  • “Is Microsoft being run by pre-teens?”
  • “Embarrassingly childish”
  • “Faces are creepy looking”
  • “Who got that assignment, a 5 yr. old?”

Ouch.

This experience highlights how difficult it is to translate even basic elements of human behavior across cultures, not to mention contexts.  We all smile, laugh, frown, or snarl.  But what looks cute in a bamboo-latte-and-hallway-scooters San Francisco software lab plays differently in a J.P. Morgan boardroom, to say nothing of how it’ll look in, say, Seoul, Tokyo, Mexico City, or Lagos.

Emojis have been around for 25 years (having developed from the earlier emoticon conventions, where symbols such as :-) were used to make faces).  I suspect that the original visual set and its later extensions have become a neutral, globally accepted symbol set in people’s minds.  After all, there is no human who is hairless, colored bright yellow, and has an ear-to-ear grin, yet this emerged a symbol of a smiling human.

You might like or dislike the image, but at this point it’s a symbol you’re long accustomed to.  It’s sort of like a common traffic sign – your feelings on the shape, color, etc. don’t matter to you because it’s been part of your world all your life.  Here in the US, a STOP sign is red with white letters on an octagon.  I have never heard anyone in my entire life say “man, stop signs are so ugly – I’d really prefer blue”.   But if your city introduces a new sign, you will have an opinion on it.

Emojis may be similar now.  We’ve all seen them for so long that we process only the symbol’s value (smile, cry, etc.) but don’t pause to evaluate the artistic qualities.  But when a new emoji set comes along that replaces the symbols we know, we form opinions.

Particularly when the new ones are – let’s be honest – pretty creepy.

 

 

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