The Unicode Consortium — the group in charge of all the symbols we use on computing platforms and how we use them — is taking 2023 to adjust to a new annual cadence in updating its guidelines after the COVID pandemic effectively knocked its March publications back to September. You might’ve noticed the new batch from Emoji 15.0 dropping on your Galaxies and Pixels since the fall. This means we’ll be seeing Unicode 16.0 in September 2024 and a smaller Unicode 15.1 update this fall. So it goes for the Emoji 15.1 standard as we get a preview of what it will bring.
Long story short, any new emoji we may get out of 15.1 will be cobbled together by sequencing existing emoji together as was the case with the Emoji 13.1 update. If input software isn’t updated to present these new options from the outset, users may generate them with the right combination of emoji and the magic of zero-width joiners — look them up if you don’t know about them, they’re amazing little tools.
We got a game plan preview for Emoji 15.1 from the Unicode blog today with a post from Jennifer Daniel, chair of the Emoji Subcommittee. There are two focus areas Daniel is concerned with this year: the depiction of families of all sorts in a single, sequenced emoji, and; directionality. She plans on addressing them by proposing 578 new designs for standardization.
Currently, there are only 26 emoji that depict families with room for one or two parents of different genders and zero, one, or two children of different genders.
“The inclusion of many permutations of families was well intentioned,” Daniel writes. “But we can’t list them all, and by listing some of the combinations, it calls attention to the ones that are excluded.”
The hope is to make room for other variables such as generations, skin tone, other physical factors, and the inclusion of as many parents, guardians, kids, and even pets as possible. Getting all those familial combinations pressed into a single emoji will be a difficult task, so we’re told to expect ZWJ family sequences to come in phases over coming Emoji version releases.
As to directionality, you may have noticed that most design maintainers will usually face certain emoji — usually vehicles and people, sometimes faces expressing motion — toward the left. By letting users code for directionality (definitely to the right, maybe even going up or down), Unicode can adopt Emoji 15.1 to cultures that read both left-to-right and right-to-left. It also just gives storytellers more versatility in how they express themselves without the need for a return.
In addition to families and right-facing trains, other new emoji sequences to watch for include limes (🟩+🍋), nodding or shaking head (↕️ or ↔️ + 😊), broken chain (💥+🔗), and a phoenix (🐦 +🔥).
The Unicode Technical Committee meet this month for a first discussion on the various new proposals. We’ll learn more about what gets whittled down with more missives in the spring and summer.