Thumbs down emoji in the various skintones offered by Apple (edit by Jasmine Weber for Hyperallergic)

In recent years, emoji have become more inclusive toward different cultural backgrounds and genders. However, the overwhelming majority of people worldwide think that emoji still fall short of representing their full range of identities, according to a new survey commissioned by Adobe.

Released on April 15, the Global Emoji Diversity & Inclusion report surveyed 7,000 frequent emoji users from seven countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, France, Australia, and South Korea.

The report found that 83% of global emoji users want the popular digital icons to strive for more inclusive representation. Of the people surveyed, only 54% feel their identity is adequately reflected in the current range of emoji.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, 80% of Black emoji users, 78% of Latinx emoji users, and 71% of Asian emoji users wished for more emoji options that reflect their personal identities. Of LGBTQ+ global emoji users, 72% expressed a desire for more customization options.

The report adds that less than half of emoji users with a disability (37%) feel represented in the currently available selection of emoji.

In general, users point to hairstyle or color, accessories, body type, and eye color as the top customization options which would better reflect their personal appearance. Culture was the leading category in which they wanted to see more inclusion, followed closely by age and race/ethnicity.

The report also indicates a generational shift, with Gen Z expressing more desire for inclusive emoji (41%) than millennials (39%), Gen X (35%), and Boomers (30%). The vast majority of Gen Z (79%) surveyed said they customize their emoji to better reflect their personal identity. In a previous study, Adobe found that 83% of Gen Z users feel more comfortable expressing emotions through emoji than a phone call.

Using an inaccurate emoji can be offensive, according to many of the respondents: 47% said that people should not use emoji skin tone modifiers that don’t match their racial identity, and 48% stated that using the wrong tone is insensitive and uncomfortable.

“Personally, I found the results of this year’s survey surprising, particularly with emoji users of all ages responding that greater options for representations are needed to help communicate important personal concerns such as localized cultural touchstones, gender/sexual identities, and the spectrum of users’ abilities,” Adobe typeface designer & font developer Paul Hunt wrote in a blog post on the study. 

Designing truly inclusive emoji can face technical challenges, according to Hunt. “Emoji are very small, and there is only so much detail you can fit into one picture character,” he wrote. “We are talking about manipulating just a few pixels, and it is difficult to do this in a meaningful way,” he explained in relation to modifying small details like eye color.

Adobe announced a partnership with Emojination, a grassroots organization that advocates for more inclusive emoji, to create more representative emoji for people around the world. Emojination members — whose motto is “Emoji By The People, For The People” — have successfully campaigned for the creation of more than 100 emoji, including icons representing interracial couples, hijabs, and sari garments.

“Emoji have evolved to help us fill in the emotional gaps when representing ourselves online,” Hunt wrote. “This is why it is so important to be able to see ourselves represented within the library — if we are not able to accurately express ourselves because we cannot find an emoji depiction that feels right to us, then we miss the opportunity to share meaningful aspects of our personhood with the people we are engaging.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...