Emoji in mobile applications — a trend that cannot be ignored

Profile photo of Maria Kovalevich
Maria Kovalevich
Jul 04, 2019
8 min
Categories: Design
The girl holds in her hands halves of an orange near her eyes
The girl holds in her hands halves of an orange near her eyes

In 2019, the trend of emotional experiences is gaining momentum. More and more designers are integrating the emotional component into mobile interfaces. That makes the user experience more engaging and enjoyable. And the most popular way to express emotions in digital communications — emojis.


Emoji — the best way to connect with your user 🤗

Emoji transforms today’s digital communication. Instagram study says that emojis increasingly push text out of our messages.

Emoji is already an integral part of our daily communication, and not only in social networks and chats. Each of us has a couple of favorite emojis. Perhaps you even have your own set of emojis, it might even form your digital identity and be instantly recognizable by your friend.

Today, emoji is not only the native language of those millennials or gen Xers. Even their 👵🏽 👴🏼 have adopted emojis and use them easily.

That is why more and more applications are starting to use emoji. Even such exclusively business product as LinkedIn capitulated to emoji and rolled out emoji reactions in April 2019:


Even boring enterprise apps like Salesforce recommend using emojis to speed up onboarding and adoption of this complex tool. The reason? People are more engaged and active, all thanks to a couple of strategically well-placed emojis 😀.

5 Ways You Can Use Emoji 😊 to Delight ❤️ Your Users and Drive 🖥 Adoption - Salesforce Admins

What makes emoji so popular? They add emotional nuance to otherwise flat text. And, most importantly, this language is understood by everyone around the 🌍. It’s like a lingua franca in the digital era.

A bit of history

Humanity uses symbols for communication since the beginning of time from cave paintings to codified systems. People used ideograms and pictograms, which then became letters and symbols. And now humanity began to return to the original idea of ​​using images instead of text.


The first emoji appeared on Japanese mobile phones in the late ’90. The man who invented emoji was a 25 years old boy Shigetaka Kurita. When he worked at the Japanese telco company NTT DoCoMo. The set of 176 characters, 12 and 12 pixels and designated people, places and objects. As Kurita said:

“It was a set of “characters that can be conveyed to the whole spectrum of human emotions.”


For the first time in consumer digital world, there was a way to add emotional subtext to a message. “I understand” might sound cold or passive on its own, but add ❤️ and the message offered a sense of warmth and sympathy. It was the beginning of a new visual language.

Emoji quickly became popular in Japan, as rival mobile companies copied DOCOMO’s idea. And as mobile computing continued to explode throughout the mid-2000s, companies outside Japan, like Apple, saw an opportunity to incorporate emoji on other platforms. In 2007, a software internationalization team at Google decided to lead the charge, petitioning to get emoji recognized by the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit group that works sort of like the United Nations to maintain text standards across computers.

Then public adoption came. In 2014, the White House used emojis to make its economic case to the youth. In 2015, the 😂 emoji became Oxford Dictionaries “Word” of the Year.

“Emoji are going to be some of the most recognisable icons of the 21st century”

…says architect Changiz Tehrani, which is why he decided to cast 22 of them in concrete and use them as decoration for a building in the Dutch city of Amersfoort.


Today we have a real boom in the use of emoji in society. That’s why you just can’t ignore them.

Note 📝: Some people confuse emoji 🤷 and emoticon ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Emoticon — the combination of characters :-) means a smiling face. A pictogram showing an emotion created from different typographic signs. Combinations of characters can be very simple. Or can be complex, such as, for example, Japanese kaomoji. This can be literally translated into face (‘kao’ 顔) character (‘moji’ 文字), or loosely — ‘the characters of the face’. And just like an emoticon, variations of (^_^) associated with other emotions exist. Commonly found are: crying/sadness (T_T), confusion/shock (o_o), and anger ( >д<). Emoticons and their use differs in very subtle but important nuances. For simplicity we are focusing on emojis only, but emoticons have their own appeal and usecase.

Emoji in mobile interfaces📱

Today, in almost every popular application you will find emojis. And this is not only social applications, but we are also talking about various kinds of financial applications 💳, delivery services 🚴, taxi 🚕 , etc. You can find emoji everywhere — onboarding screens, empty states, coach marks, dialogs, and even push notifications.

Here are some examples of popular apps.

Push Notifications from “Capital” & “Revolut”:


“Flo”, Coach Marks:


Onboarding screen from “Notion” and a dialog from “Revolut”:


Error messages from “Snapchat” & E-mail notification from “Bolt”:


And finally, Wolt. Probably the biggest fan of Emoji 😍


These are just some of the many examples. If you pay attention you will find that emojis are present in a lot of the apps you use. We don’t usually notice them because they now have became an integral part of our vocabulary and how we communicate 💬.

How to use emojis properly

As any character, you can interpret an emoji differently, depending on the context. It’s a double-edged sword with pros and cons. Here are a few factors to consider when choosing emoji.

I. Consistency with your app’s tone of voice 🎤

Emoji must be consistent with your target group and your app’s tone of voice. The specific emojis and their amount should fully support your communication approach (playful, serious or anything in between). If you are building a social application for teens to hang out, feel to go overboard with emojis. If it’s a serious mortgage application maybe just a 🎉 to support a celebratory mood when approving a mortgage will be enough. Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all. It all depends on specific cases and your brand's approach to talking with users.

II. Remember about the culture differences

A number of studies confirm that all nations interpret emojis equally for basic emotions — love ❤️, happiness 😊, sadness 😔, anger 😤, and so on. But, according to the research on emoji usage across cultures Cultural Differences in Emoji Usage across the East and the West — different cultures may value different types of emotions (e.g., Americans value excitement while Asians prefer calm). There are also different rules for display of emotions across cultures. The biggest difference in Emoji usage occurs in the ‘Symbols’, ‘Food & Drink’, and ‘Activities’ categories. This is not surprising, because they often have different symbols reflecting local customs and values. The emojis for rice bowl 🍚 and ramen 🍜 dominated the East, while meat-related emojis 🍖, 🍗, etc. take the majority in the West.


Emojis also seem to reflect governmental policies. For example, the Chinese government had been banning game consoles till 2015, and the game controller emoji 🎮 that dominates West in ‘Leisure’ is nowhere to be seen in the East.

Or, for example, in the Instagram study, the authors divided emoji usage by country and observed the differences between user cohorts.

The graph below shows that users from Finland are using emoji characters in over 60% of text. In contrast, the lower bound is in Tanzania with only 10% of text containing emoji.


III. Use the right emoji for the task

Try and use the correct emoji to support the emotional state of your user in that instance. It’s quite easy to plot the most common used emojis to emotions, or if you are too lazy you can use these guys work, he already mapped them quite nicely to Plutchik’s Wheel:

IV. Don’t replace text with emoji

Unlike social networks and chats, an application is always a tool for solving specific tasks that does not tolerate ambiguity. Emoji in a mobile application is only an auxiliary tool that can enhance the emotionality of your text, but not replace it.

V. Not all emojis are created equal

Different platforms sometimes display the same emoji specification in different ways. The drooling face can both represent fear and enjoyment. Clapping hands can mean either “let’s wash our hands” or “let’s pray”. Here are some examples to see just a couple of ways you could get unexpected results on different devices:


(Apple clearly gravitates towards blond people 🤷‍♀️)

Emojipedia helps you navigate some potentially confusing cross-platform interactions use.


It’s clear that emojis are one of the cheapest ways in 2019 to enrich your user experience even if a tiny bit. There’s no wrong place to use them, just apply with careful intent and empathy. Microstates, dialogs, transactional communication, etc., all could be made a little bit more engaging that way 💎.

If you have any experience with emojis in design or are already using them extensively in your app or product, please do share them! 💌

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