MoMA licensed the emjoi through a licensing deal with DoCoMo. In December, the New York-based museum will display them in the lobby, using both standard graphics and animations. "In a sense, what we've really acquired is a new communication platform," Paola Antonelli told the New York Times.
Developing the 12 by 12 pixel characters for NTT DoCoMo was no easy task. To convey a host of information with just 144 dots, Kurita studied manga, street signs and Chinese characters. Some of the 176 pictograms, like a heart, laughing smiley and martini glass, are instantly recognizable. Others, like a red circle with three lines, are obtuse unless you know the translation (a hot spring!).
Used at the time to convey the weather and other messages, the symbols were a hit and copied by rival Japanese carriers. However, it took another 12 years for them to go mainstream. First they were translated into unicode in 2010, then Apple unveiled a much larger set for its original iPhone the following year. They've expanded rapidly ever since, and there are now almost 2,000 standard emoji and a freaking movie, something Kurita probably never saw coming.