An Emoji Keyboard Designed for Women by Women: An Interview with Noemie Le Coz of She-Moji
Can a set of emoji characters and phrases take on the establishment by breaking down gender and racial stereotypes? How would you begin the design process? TypeThursday sat down with Noemie Le Coz of She-Moji to find out how.
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Stacey Sundar: Hello Noemie! Thank you for being here for TypeThursday.
Noemie Le Coz: Hi Stacey! Thanks so much for having me, it’s good to be here!
SS: Thanks for joining us! I understand you are one of the creators of She-Moji, can you tell us about it?
How Was She-Moji Conceived?
NL: She-Moji is an emoji keyboard, specifically designed to represent diversity in women. The project started when two of my close friends came to me after noticing a distinct lack of female representation in the emoji set at the time, and wanted me to help them change all of that — by creating something that celebrated women, and as a (quite literally) tiny shout-out to ladies all over the world.
SS: I understand She-Moji contains over 400 characters and phrases. Can you give me a little insight on the research you put into this project?
We quickly noticed that we didn’t have much competition, which really just validated what we were doing even more…
Noemie’s Research for She-Moji
NL: We started by putting together a bit of a competitive audit that helped us see where the real gaps were for emoji users out there. We quickly noticed that we didn’t have much competition, which really just validated what we were doing even more, but the exercise definitely helped inform stylistically where we could go — or for that matter, where we didn’t want to go! Keyboards like Kimoji and Blac Chyna were what we wanted to avoid — both from a stylistic point of view, and in terms of their messaging… both framed women in a very sexist way. Then we looked to the current keyboard to analyze both what we felt they were doing right, and where we could provide something new. Ultimately, we wanted the emoji style for She–Moji to feel super recognizable and as classic as possible, so we ended up drawing a lot of inspiration from the universally understood Unicode set, such as the face shapes, sizes and other small nuances. We also wanted to bring in some subtle Japanese gaming undertones, as a nod to emoji’s Japanese roots, so I looked into exactly what that looked like, with vintage Japanese manga comics providing lots of inspiration. Big eyes tended to be a common theme, which I really loved and bought into the first draft. While I have quite a bit of experience with iconography, and some basic illustration, I’ve never before taken on a task like drawing an entire emoji set, which comes with its own set of challenges, mainly due to their size — so I pulled as much emoji reference as possible during the entire illustration process to help guide me through the most challenging moments.
SS: It sounds like you really laid the foundation for your creative work in the research. Can you tell me how you ensured your icons were as diverse and inclusive as possible? Did you test She-Moji in focus groups?
First of all we made sure to cover a spectrum of skin colors, so that every girl around the world could choose one that felt like her own.
The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in She-Moji
NL: We initially made a super extensive list of the emoji that we wanted to make — based on our own assessment of the competitive gaps and, honestly, just what the three of us personally felt would resonate most with women all over the world. At the time, the standard emojis were limited to princesses, brides and flamenco dancers, so thinking up new options was really easy (and fun). First of all we made sure to cover a spectrum of skin colors, so that every girl around the world could choose one that felt like her own. We also looked into some research that had already been done online — through various polls, data from Unicode, etc — that had listed things like the most requested emoji, and read up as much as we could on where everyone had seen the gaps. We wanted to make sure that She–Moji represented professions and activities that weren’t always instantly represented by women, and that really brought a sense of empowerment — so we made sure to include options like astronauts, business women and Olympic medalists. Once we had our full list of our favorites — covering some obvious territories like doctors and cyclists, but also adding some fun ones like goths and rollerbladers — we narrowed down the list using focus groups and had ladies from diverse backgrounds tell us who they wanted to see more of.
SS: In addition to being so meticulously thought out, She-Emoji is strikingly beautiful to look at! Can you talk about your process for creating the characters and how you drew inspiration for such an extensive icon set?
NL: Thank you! I started the first draft of She–Moji by looking at the current emoji set, and picking up on the most basic rules that seemed to be working. First and foremost, each Unicode emoji uses a core shape for each type of emoji character — whether it be a face (expression), head and shoulder or full body. From that core base, subtleties are changed and added, to create the nuances that make up a facial expression or action… in a similar way to how a typeface is built. Things like reflections and gradients help create dimension and visual cohesion among the set, and giving all of the professions the same, optimistic smile helped create a distinctly ‘She-Moji’ expression.
While we wanted the She-Moji set to feel unique, and speak to the most diverse, sometimes fringe, audience possible, there also needed to be a level of neutrality to each, in order to do just that.
One of the biggest challenges was balancing these nuances. While we wanted the She-Moji set to feel unique, and speak to the most diverse, sometimes fringe, audience possible, there also needed to be a level of neutrality to each, in order to do just that. One way to solve this was by creating a branded color palette, which we applied across the board — a bright blue and bright red, with black and white to support. This was really inspired again by this idea of maintaining a level of classicism, which basic primary colors instantly reflected. Bright red also felt really right for She-Moji… it leaned slightly feminine but also had this engaging power and strength to it … and also felt a little Japanese.
We also tried to add little unexpected moments to the set, like the introduction of red hair and curls, as well as some eighties and nineties-inspired outfits — like our gymnasts and our turtleneck-and-wide-leg- pants-wearing bffs. Again, going back to the classics was really my main aesthetic driver. Glasses remained perfectly round, baseball caps took cues from Seinfeld and anything instantly recognizable would be borrowed, and amped up in cuteness and geometry.
SS: Let’s talk about the super cool phrases that are also in the icon set. What was your typographic inspiration?
NL: We wanted She-Moji to feel as current as possible, whilst still retaining some of the cuteness that emoji is loved for. I chose an extended typeface, Nimbus Sans Extended, which felt like the right balance of current and dry/neutral, as well as almost a little utilitarian. I think the choice was made to bring in a slight masculinity to offset some of the cuter moments of the set … and the extended cut, in red, also felt like a bit of an ‘announcement’, which I really liked. It was definitely an unexpected decision, but one which was chosen probably for that exact reason — to make a statement, bring in some boldness and a good level of confidence and strength to our messaging.
SS: Noemie, we thank you for being here with us at TypeThursday and for helping us understand how a thoughtfully designed emoji system can do it’s part in breaking down racial and gender barriers. As if all of this wasn’t enough, am I correct in saying that 50% of sales go to charity?
We decided on the Malala Fund for all that they, and she, stands for — providing free, quality, safe education for young girls around the world, and the empowerment associated with that.
She-Moji and the Malala Fund
NL: Yes, 50% of She–Moji’s profits are donated to the Malala Fund. We did a lot of research to make sure we found a cause that we all supported and one that aligned with the overall message that She–Moji is trying to send. We decided on the Malala Fund for all that they, and she, stands for — providing free, quality, safe education for young girls around the world, and the empowerment associated with that. We liked Malala’s message, philosophy and vision for the future.
SS: Thank you again, Noemie! I will be sure to get my own set of She-Moji right now!
NL: You’re very welcome, it’s been a pleasure! Excited to be spreading the word. Hope you love using our little girl gang!
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