After years of texting highlighter-yellow handshakes to our friends, multi-skin toned handshake emoji are coming to our phones in 2022.
The Unicode Consortium, which — among other things — sets the standard for how text (emojis included) appears in modern software, has strived to create more inclusive emoji in recent releases. The most current example is interracial couples as part of the new iOS 14.5 emoji. While emoji appear as tiny icons, they require a massive amount of effort from conception to completion — and the handshakes involved even more work.
Google’s blog post about how the multi-skin toned handshake emoji was years in the making is indicative of that journey. Jennifer Daniel, Google’s creative director for emoji, explained why it’s been such an arduous process.
Every emoji is made of code; when an emoji can come in different forms, such as different races, that code becomes that much more complex. “If emoji are letters,” Daniel explained in the blog, “think of it this way: How many accent marks can you add to a letter? Adding more detail, like skin tone, gender or other customization options like color, to emoji gets more complicated.”
Along with a volunteer subcommittee, Daniel worked for two years to make the 25 different hand skin-tone combinations come to fruition. Unlike the current one-tone handshake emoji, these new emojis needed separate code for two different hands (and for many combinations, two different skin tones).
These emoji were supposed to be released in 2021, but due to COVID they’ve been pushed back to 2022. Regardless, these 25 combinations will be a part of Emoji 14.0.
It’s important to explore challenges like these, said Daniel, because the Unicode Consortium, Google, and many other key players in Big Tech (and beyond) want to emoji to be inclusive. “It’s easy to identify ‘quick solutions,'” she said, “but I try to stop and ask what does equitable representation really look like, and when is it just performative?”