As we saw in part 1, emoji did not arise in a vacuum. In designing his suite of icons, Shigetaka Kurita selected subjects that would be both recognisable and useful in the context of NTT DOCOMO’s new mobile internet service. Smiling faces (😊) and broken hearts (💔) conveyed emotion; trains (🚆) and planes (✈️) called up ticket booking services; videogame controllers (🎮) denoted mobile games; and so on. But the way in which emoji were and are presented — embedded among our letters and words while simultaneously being distinct from them — has always been as important as their content. In this respect, emoji owe as much to ancient scrolls, medieval books and typewriters as they do to pagers and mobile phones.
It’s January, 1776. You’re a printer in Delaware, one of thirteen restive American colonies chafing against British rule. The Continental Congress, the colonies’ nascent collective government, has recently passed an act creating its own currency and you’ve been tasked with creating Delaware’s issue of banknotes.1 This is your response:
At the heart of Shady Characters’ recent redesign are the text and display typefaces of Satyr and Faunus, both designed by Sindre Bremnes of Norway’s Monokrom type studio. Shady Characters, of course, is all about unusual marks of punctuation, and I was glad to see that both typefaces came complete with a handy selection of special characters. Even so, there were a few marks missing: the interrobang for one; the numero symbol I use in many post titles for another. As I chatted to Frode Helland of Monokrom about the minutiae of web fonts, though, he suggested that he and Sindre might be able to add some new characters to help Shady Characters live up to its name.
Computers are not typewriters: this is evident. Even so, it’s easy to forget that Christopher Latham Sholes’ mechanical marvel was the wellspring of the QWERTY, QWERTZ, AZERTY and similar keyboards we use to interact with our laptops, tablets and smartphones. Sholes and his invention play supporting roles in the Shady Characters book, too: the typewriter helped popularise the @-symbol even as it savaged the em and en dashes, but there was always one symbol on Sholes’ embryonic QWERTY keyboard that I never quite got to grips with. Take a look at the leftmost key on the third row of Sholes’ keyboard, as shown in his 1878 patent for “Improvement in type-writing machines”.1 What on earth is that? Or rather, what on earth is this: ‘⋮’?
Things have been frantic around here lately. Mostly, I’ve been busy reviewing the proofs of The Book, of which more soon, but I’ve also written a pair of articles for other publications, both of which were a lot of fun to address.