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Interpreting Emojis at the V&A Museum

on Tuesday 30 January 2018 Written by Adam Bradshaw

Music pulsed through the grand arches of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum last week as it was transformed for its monthly contemporary late-night event: Friday Late.

The theme of “Systems & Secrets” filled the museums with talks and workshops on semaphore, encryption, body language, robotics, and more. Below the preserved wooden frontage of a Renaissance Era home, Today Translations’ very own Keith Broni delivered a lecture to a packed house. So busy was the talk that it had to be interrupted on several occasions to provide safety information to the tightly-packed audience.

Emoji Interpretation at the V&A - Today Translations
Emoji Interpretation at the V&A

With engaging wit, Keith briefly retold how he applied for the position of Emoji Translator at Today Translations and the media coverage of his recruitment, before diving headfirst into emojis.

He put forward that emojis sit at a crossroads between design, business, and ‘real world’ usage, all of which affect and depend on each other.  Delving deeper into the interplay between emoji design and usage, Keith also revealed how both traditional and contemporary culture affects both.

Take for example: Person with Folded Hands

Officially named “Person With Folded Hands,” the emoji may appear as a person with hands held together, or a disembodied pair of hands depending on your browser and operating system.

Based on description alone, it symbolises thanks in Japan, where emojis originated; in South and South East Asia a greeting; and in Europe and the Americas are prayer. Yet Apple’s decision to design their version as the aforementioned disembodied pair of hands, along with the ubiquity of the iPhone in North America and Europe, has seen many users interpret the emoji as a ‘high five.’ In turn, the prevalence of the emoji usage in this context has seen other software developers update their emoji designs to follow suit.

Jurga, David, Keith and Adam at the V&A
Adam Bradshaw, Jurga Zilinskiene, Keith Broni, and David Clarke of Today Translations at the V&A

The audience responded with insightful questions to round off an informative evening.

Speaking after the event, Today Translations CEO Jurga Zilinskiene said “It was a wonderful evening and great to see such a large turnout. I’d like to thank the V&A for inviting Today Translations to be a part of Friday Late.”


Images © Today Translations except 'Folded Hands' emoji by EmojiOne