Digital transformation isn’t just about technology, it’s also about people and culture change. That’s why, at Rainmaker, we ‘work out loud’ with our clients, sharing openly and transparently as we go 👀.
This helps us get things done faster 🔥 and it also brings people along with us. Along the way, we’ve had a little help from some little unassuming images. Love ’em or hate ’em 🎭, we’ve found that emoji support our communication and build camaraderie between us and our clients by creating in-jokes and a colloquial shorthand.
Katie Baggs, a junior designer, talks about the use of emoji at Rainmaker, on Slack and out there and everywhere.
How do you express your emotions when nobody can hear you?
I’ve experienced just how important non-verbal communication is while working for eight years at a charity for people with learning disabilities. It brought home how verbal language is just one aspect of communication and I witnessed every day people using augmented and assistive-ware such as Pro Lo Quo, My Talk Tools, Makaton and other pictorial languages to express their needs, wants desires and their personalities. It emphasised the importance of customisable speech and language tools and honouring the needs of every audience involved when designing a service. Putting a person at the centre of the design process makes it fully inclusive 🎯🏆. And it is the way we work at Rainmaker, constantly keeping an eye out on the relationship between the service design process and the user, a constant back and forth of iteration, testing, validation and evaluation 🎉.
I saw an offshoot in a personal research project on accessibility and a parallel in people trying to express themselves through emoji. One of my favourite graphic designers, Jonathan Barnbrook, recounted in Creative Review recently a conversation he had with William Burroughs, the American writer and primary figure of the Beat Generation, early in his career. He asked Burroughs what he thought the future of typography would be and Burroughs replied: “letterforms would go back to hieroglyphs, similar to the ancient Egyptians…will there be a time when we use only these to express thought?” Perhaps we are on our way there with emoji already.
Talk Like an Egyptian? No!
Almost every day we create emoji to assist and support this growth at Rainmaker. Emoji can go someway to demonstrating the ideas behind speech and facial expression.
Ultimately we are trying to replicate human speech and all the signs and signals that go along with it. How do we do this? There are five ways to alter speech. This is done through tone of voice, the inflection, the pausing and phrasing and colour of our voice. We are also able to express emotions. It is more efficient to send one small picture than say a thousand words. Why waste time typing out characters when you can see it with a small picture? If you need to tell someone you are happy about something you can send a smiley face.
Characters in Search of Emoji
But when did you last attempt to insert an emoji and couldn’t find the right one? 😭 To understand this I commenced an #emojigaps project with service users at my charity and later, an open workshop/exhibition with the public. We identified the limited number of categories that emoji addresses. Workshops were conducted and new emoji designs were produced.
The engagement workshops encouraged people to create ‘new emojis’ based on prompt statements like ‘summarise your life in an emoji’, ‘re-design an emoji’, ‘make a useless emoji’ or ‘are there any emoji/categories you think are missing?’ People were then encouraged to ‘swap’ emojis (drawings or 3D models) to attach a different meaning to the creations.
One participant, an easy-going 30-year-old with Down’s Syndrome, told stories of being bullied. His final emoji was the Mexican Wrestler’s Fighting Mask based on ‘embrace your inner superhero’ workshop. When asked what he would do if he could go back to the moments when he was being bullied, he said: ‘I’d get my Mexican Wrestler’s emoji on to them, that’s what I’d do!’.
Participants were encouraged to ‘swap’ emojis and think about shared meaning that could be created between people, having no previous knowledge of the story attached to it. By way of example, whilst navigating life on London’s streets for my morning flat white, I have thought of using this emoji, just this morning!
Working on the project, I learnt that designs created for people with disabilities are often useful for everyone. And that a redistribution of power from designers and users creates universal designs.
On a Mission to Find the #emojigaps
Recently, I joined a panel of designers, Alan Kitching, Gavin Lucas (The Story of Emoji) and Rian Hughes and Jeremy Burge (of Emojipedia) at the Eye Magazine event #TypeTuesdays, to talk about my ongoing #emojigaps project and accessible communication. It was great to learn from the #TypeTuesdays’ panel that customisable emoji will soon be available from Unicode and that the process by which emoji are nominated and ratified could soon be opened up to everyone. A common theme in my research is people’s curiosity and desire to be able to customise emoji.
Whilst emoji characters cannot be defined, in a team environment they can still be exactly the thing that brings people closer together (when they cannot be in the same room).
The growth in culture change and flexible ways of working means people facilitating digital transformation need fresh new ways to express themselves when spoken language is insufficient and face to face contact is unavailable. The challenge we face is to find more engaging and useful ways to replicate the complexity and subtlety of face to face interaction. The benefits are more motivated, independent individuals, gaining confidence in their contributions that assist other team members and a business that is more motivated, and quite frankly, fun. Fun?, this is work 😜!
When a client or new contractor enters a channel we always give a polite 👋
On smashing deadlines 😅🎯
Or announcing good news 🎺
And for creating good rapport in our client channels we will add encouraging emojis such as 💁👏👍👯🐙
They’re good for congratulating co-workers on winning projects
👏👏 🍻🔔💎 🙀 and all manner of customised Slack emojis such as which Unicode really needs to get a wriggle on with …
Or just a simple ok hands to indicate the work is good to go 👌
Or thumbs up it’s done 👍
And when, very occasionally, something slips between the cracks 🍌
So, what’s next for communicating in the digital world?
New ideas for emoji are being produced everywhere. Being able to customise your own non-verbal communication will be what gets people expressing and connecting more. With even more contributions, more diverse styles, and from a wider range of people, I wonder which new categories will shock us the most?
My mission to find the #emojigaps began with a walk around the British Museum, researching ancient Egypt and hieroglyphics, to find that they were only used by royalty, priests, scribes and the rich. Where only a select few had the knowledge and access, today, ‘the gods’ words’ are available to all. We live in exciting times. Welcome to the conversation.