Design UX

Everything you need to know about emojis

Emojis are emoticon images that are sent in a small amount of data by using a standard encoding. This encoding allows them to be used, when supported, on a huge range of platforms including iPhone, Android and desktop operating systems like Windows and Mac OSX.

Emojis provide a better variety of options, making messages more vivid than traditional emoticons or kaomojis (Japanese variation for emoticons). While emoticons are actually real images, emojis are represented by a group of characters that are encoded by the sender and decoded by the recipient.

There are emojis for a wide variety of subjects. Since they were born in Japan, many of them have meanings tied with the Eastern culture: popular foods like sushi, dango or people like a bowing businessman, a man wearing a face mask.

A bit of history

In the late 90s, Japanese cellphone users were increasingly using picture messages as a way to communicate. With the rapid growing market, phone operators were struggling to support the large amount of data produced by this evolving trend.

To address this issue, engineers from NTT DoCoMo created in 1998 the first set of emojis with the intention to facilitate electronic communication and significantly reduce the large size of sending picture emoticons. Years later, many of the pictograms were introduced in the Unicode standard,
allowing them to be used by other devices.


Emojis are generally sorted under five categories: People, Nature, Objects, Places and Symbols. Other apps can include more categories like Activity and Flags.

Hardware manufacturers and tech companies can customize their own set of images as long as they follow this grouping and meaning for each of the pictograms. Companies like Apple, Samsung, or even Twitter and Google have their own customized pictogram variations.

Many tech companies have their very own set of emojis.


Even though emojis are sent using the standard Unicode, the images must be preinstalled in the device/app in order to be displayed correctly.

WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram and Google Meet are some of the messaging apps that have their own set of emojis. Full color pictograms are also supported natively by operating systems including Android (since version 4.1 Jelly Bean), Windows (since version 8) and macOS X (since version 10.7 Lion).

Creating messages with emojis

A quick way to use emojis in Windows 10 is with the menu revealed by pressing (Win Key + period .). On macOS, this menu shows up when the key combination Command + Ctrl + Space is pressed.

In addition, third party websites like iEmoji and Get Emoji provide the chance not only to create, but also to decode custom messages using different emoji sets. Users can choose from a list of popular manufacturers like Android, iOS/OSX, Samsung, LG, Twitter and Phantom. This is quite useful if the app/device do not recognize the full color pictograms.

Emojis in email subjects

Adding emojis in email subjects are great way to attract attention in crowded email boxes. Depending on the type of campaign and how well they are implemented, open rates could be increased.

According to a study by the marketing services company Experian, 56% of the brands analysed were benefited with increased open rates. This means that subject lines with icons are a great way to keep users engaged and spark new interest.

Emojis in Email Subject Lines: Advantage or Impediment?
Emoticons in email subjects usually stand out in the mailbox.

General facts and best practices

The tests conducted by Experian bring some facts about embracing icons in email subjects.

  • Airplanes and umbrellas are among the highest numbers in open rates, nevertheless the selection of the right symbol depends on the content of the email.
  • The symbol grabs more attention when is placed as the first character of the subject line. Otherwise is quite unnoticeable.
Top 10 of most used emojis according to a study by Experian


There is near-universal support by email clients for emojis, however they are not supported in Outlook 2003 and Lotus Notes. A delivery test with a tool like Litmus is recommended due to the fact each device renders the image in a different way, and sometimes, not all the pictograms are included in a specific environment.

Final thoughts

Inserting graphics in subject lines tend to be a great idea to draw attention and make the communication stand out in a
cluttered inbox. Doing a delivery test is also good to check device support of the chosen pictograms with the large number of email clients available in the market.

Finally, split testing with different subject lines would bring interesting results about which of the emojis are the ones that give better open rates.

Further reading

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