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Emoji and the Levitating Businessman


Riccardo Sartori

Unicode is changing, adding tons more icons and smilies. But what's new and why? Tom Scott takes us through the improvements.

 

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Riccardo Sartori

Posted (edited)

There is an aspect in emojis which define them as inherently Japanese, in a way subtler than the choice of subjects, but perhaps even more telling.

It’s the sense of direction.

The direction of virtually all and any emoji depicting (or implying) movement is from right to left.

This, for a westerner, instinctively reads as going back.

Edited by Riccardo Sartori
Inserting proper Unicode emojis deleted them and any subsequent text.

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Þorsten

Posted

So a westerner who sees any of these …

… is going to think, “Oh no, there is a bike/camel/train about to back up”? :smirking-face:

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Riccardo Sartori

Posted

Nice selection! :-)

However, those are road signals, meant to be seen from a point of view where directions are precisely encoded.

Try to express something like “I just arrived at the train station, now I’m running home” using emojis…

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Ralf Herrmann

Posted

 

The direction of virtually all and any emoji depicting (or implying) movement is from right to left.

​Damn. I never noticed that, but now that I know it, I sense that it is going to annoy me. 

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Þorsten

Posted

those are road signals

​And we have been conditioned by seeing them all our lives. Why should I accept a left-facing moose on a road sign as moving forward but (automatically) assume that a left-facing moose in another context moves (unnaturally) backward? This doesn’t make sense to me.

N.b.: Here is a an example of a western-designed signage font where vehicles face mostly left, in a context other than traffic signs.

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Riccardo Sartori

Posted

Why should I accept a left-facing moose on a road sign as moving forward but (automatically) assume that a left-facing moose in another context moves (unnaturally) backward?

​I never said “backward”, I said “back”, as “returning” (as opposed to going).

To make a different example, how many horse races arrivals have you seen on TV or cinema (or any other media) in which the finish line is on the left?

an example of a western-designed signage font where vehicles face mostly left, in a context other than traffic signs.

​In this case I think that, while the context could be different, the visual language is the same. 

​And we have been conditioned by seeing them all our lives.

​To elaborate on the specifics of road signs, a right-facing moose on a sign placed on the right of the viewer would have far less impact as a warning sign.

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Þorsten

Posted

The orientation of horse race finishes is simply a function of the counter-clockwise orientation of the track. Since it is vastly more practical to place the spectator stands outside the track, spectators will see horses passing them running to the right. The default camera position simply assumes the default spectator position. In indoor cycling, I have seen “left-moving” finishes from elevated cameras inside the track, e.g.

There simply is no Western cultural convention that suggests that anything moving to the viewer’s left is moving back (to something.)

Google stock photos of cars, e.g., Certainly no car manufacturer would want to embrace the notion that its vehicles move “back” (in whatever sense.) Yet, countless professional stock photos show cars (devoid of any context which would require this) facing left. Ask a bunch of children to draw cars and horses “moving towards something” and about half will draw them this way and the other half that way.

There are some informal conventions, sure. E.g., when United States coast-to-cost air travel is pictured in Hollywood movies, flights to the West Coast show the plane flying to the left of the screen; planes bound for the East Coast fly to the viewer’s right. Another cultural-linguistic custom, however, is to describe a journey to the West Coast as “going out West” and the reverse as “going back East” — irrespective (!!!) of the speaker’s primary residence or origination point of a round trip.

So planes “back East” fly to the right! This is the opposite of your supposed hypothesis.

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Ralf Herrmann

Posted

Apples and oranges …

The context was pictographic characters which are used along with text characters within a running text which has a clear reading direction. And in this specific context, the Emoji are in fact facing the wrong direction for Western left-to-right reading. The cars for example are not facing the reading direction, but the opposite direction. It’s subtle, but if it suggests anything at all, it would suggest a backwards movement more than a forward movement. 

 

 

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Þorsten

Posted

I was going to write something very similar — that, if anything, there may be a specific connotation within body text. But there is no way such a connotation exists in the wide world (such as on racetracks.)

But even within body text, I am at least somewhat skeptical. Yes, we write from left to right, but does this mean that we perceive the beginning of the line/page as being the past and therefore a graphic “looking into the future”/“moving forward” should always face right (and perhaps also down)? I don’t think we read emoticons in the same way we read text. In any case, at a minimum, there appears to be some tension between the most important parts of the page/view-port, the upper left (where, research shows, readers look first and perceive information more easily when scanning) and the direction in which we write. Sure there are people who would argue that having a graphic pointing/walking/moving away from the upper left is not a good idea in many cases (unless one want to convey the idea of moving away.)

And why do most vehicles and people that face to the side in Wayfinding Sans Symbols face to the left instead of the right, hmm? ;-) In most specimens I’ve seen, these symbols are used together with Latin left-to-right text.

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