There’s been a debate going on at Owl HQ for a while. Emojis – a fun way to illustrate your messages or an unnecessary annoyance that gets in the way of a real conversation? Whichever, emojis are said to be the fastest growing language in history.

I like them, I’m not sure why. Well actually I do. I like cute things. I like anything kitschy Japanese-y (where the emoji originates from). I like them for the same reason that I was a big Hello Kitty fan when I was younger (and maybe still am). It’s why we have Astro Boy on probably weekly. Why I enjoyed Spirited Away and why we love watching Pokemon. Really, what’s not to like about these happy, simple, little faces?

And I like that some of the emojis are a bit Japan specific. It’s not every day you need an icon for a kimono, some unrecognisable fruit and veg, a bento box, sushi, and different types of rice, but they’re a ‘nice to have’. Just in case.

Even Oxford Dictionaries can appreciate an emoji. They chose the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji as its word of the year for 2015. It was the most used emoji in that year. In a blog post, Oxford Dictionaries said that the emoji “was chosen as the ‘word’ that best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.”[ OD president Caspar Grathwohl stated, “emojis are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders.”

But, problems can arise with interpretation and the device you’re using. People will always interpret things in different ways. For instance, I’ve just learnt that the painting nails emoji is meant to denote ‘meh/whatever’, not, ‘sorry I’m painting my nails tonight’. And some devices don’t support emojis meaning the receiver sees a blank box or question marks instead of your intended meaning.

A recent study has shown that people that use emojis in emails are seen as less competent and colleagues are less likely to share information with them. It can harm job prospects and a smiley face is only perceived as a smile when the sender is already known to the receiver. So here is the crucial emoji rule (much the same as marketing rule) no1 – know your audience. Don’t use emojis in messages to colleagues, clients and bosses. Only use between friends.

Of course I’ll always be a big fan of words, they’re pretty powerful after all and can invoke all kinds of feelings. It’s just that in the right context, say, including a picture in a message to a friend (NOT colleagues or bosses), is just an appreciation of a cute picture and nothing else. It’s liking the design of something in the same way you’d appreciate any other piece of design or visual.
Yes, I am a fan and I’d much rather end a text with a ☺ than a ‘X’, but I won’t be caught queueing up outside the Odeon in Oldham to see the new Emoji Movie.