Friday 24 March 2017

New app to put popular Irish phrases in the picture

Thanks to Fanmoji, Irish emoji fans will soon be able to acquire Guinness and hurley stick images on their phones. Katie Byrne chats to the man behind it, Tim Webber, about the new app and his democratic design process

Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Irishmoji - hurling
Irishmoji - hurling
Founder Tim Webber.
Irishmoji Poolbeg Chimneys
Irishmoji Ha'penny Bridge
Irishmoji Guinness
Irishmoji Tea
Irishmoji rain
Irishmoji punt
Irishmoji Scarlet
Irishmoji Shurup

Those who used a simple emoji to embellish their text messages on St Patrick's Day may have been a touch uninspired by the options. There are a couple of shamrocks, a green heart and an Irish flag on the keyboard app, but precious little else.

What's more, the Irish flag is a relatively recent addition to the popular emoji suite. Previously, there were only 10 country flags to choose from.

The tricolour was only rolled out in an iOS update in early March last year. There are now hundreds of flags available on the emoji keyboard app, but flags for England, Scotland and Wales are still conspicuous by their absence. The three countries are represented by the Union Jack instead.

This is where Fanmoji comes in. Founder Tim Webber (pictured below) spotted a gap in the market for stickers that resonated with Scottish and Welsh people. Patriots at last got their own emoji flags, and many more besides.

2016-05-04_lif_20634133_I1.JPG  

"We're going into communities and saying, 'Okay, these are things that you encounter in your everyday life and this is part of your heritage'," explains Tim, who has recently turned his attention to all things Irish.

"Ireland has such a deep cultural history in its buildings, landmarks and people," he says, "along with great symbols and phrases that lend themselves to emoji stickers and illustrations."

Fanmoji works with local illustrators who understand the country's unique colloquialisms and customs. The Irishmojis, which include a crisp sandwich, a button reading 'Scarlet' and five different icons to illustrate rain, have been created by Dubliner Diarmuid Ó Catháin.

"It was a joint project between our knowledge of what works and what people like and his knowledge of Ireland itself," explains Tim, who lives in London.

Diarmuid says he tried to stay away from anything twee. His focus was on creating a suite of icons that remains relevant to Irish people's conversations. Hence a leprechaun sticker was vetoed early on, while the cultural connotations of 'The Fear' had to be explained to Tim.

"I went for a melting, trembling motif which is sort of the feeling you get on a Sunday when you know the impending work week is coming," laughs Diarmuid.

Elsewhere, there's a very satisfying 'Shurup' sticker, complete with flattened palm, and another reading 'Story?'.

"I knew there were quite a lot of good phrases to be used," adds Tim, "but the depth of it slightly surprised me."

An initial shortlist of 350 Ireland-specific icons has since been whittled down to 125, and there are still quite a few to be added.

This is the twist in the tale. The keyboard app for Irishmoji is only 95pc ready. They're relying on the Irish public to vote for the final few locations, phrases and people to appear in the first release of the app.

The poll, which opened today and runs until May 15, will give Irish people the chance to decide whether a) Eejit; b) State of ye or c) Bad dose, will make the final cut. (Worry not: 'Deadly buzz' is already over the line.)

The keyboard app, which will cost 99c to download, will sit on a virtual shelf alongside thousands of other paid emoticon apps.

Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande have their own emoticon keyboard apps and hundreds of brands, including IKEA, Burger King and Coca-Cola, have joined the party too.

"It's an area that brands are becoming interested in," says Tim. "They see it as a way of creating interesting content.

"However, we're only interested in working in communities that have a shared language," he adds. "Inevitably we'll be talking to a few brands but we're trying to stay within the passion side of things."

It should be noted that these keyboard apps - paid-for and otherwise - are additional to the emoji suite that most of us are familiar with.

"Emojis are Unicode characters which is, in essence, a universal coding language," explains Tim. "The process of releasing new emojis is really slow and convoluted because it is governed by a body called the Unicode Consortium."

Unicode is responsible for emojis like Cat Crying Tears of Joy, but don't be fooled by the seemingly trivial concepts. They take these matters very seriously indeed.

Proposals are "scrutinised carefully" by the Unicode Technical Committee and successful recommendations are released as part of standard software updates.

The whole process can take years, and even longer if an organisation wishes to sponsor an emoji. The new Eye in Speech Bubble is one such example. It was released in conjunction with the I Am A Witness campaign to raise awareness around cyberbullying.

Other recent additions include a burrito and a wedge of cheese (both by popular demand) and there are 38 more emojis being released in June, including a fingers-crossed icon, a pregnant woman and a dancing partner for the señorita in red. It begs the question: is emoji an ever-evolving trend or a whole new language? Tim reckons it's the latter.

"The way [emojis] are developing and increasing in the West is quite similar to how it was in Japan," he says.

"In Japan they have LINE - which is their equivalent of WhatsApp - and they basically have a huge marketplace of additional stickers which allows you to send icons that are more relevant to what you're interested in."

Elsewhere, many linguistics experts agree that emoji is more than a mere trend. Professor Vyv Evans of Bangor University described it as the "fastest growing language in the UK", just last year.

"As a visual language, emoji has already far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its ancient Egyptian precursor which took centuries to develop," he observed.

But is it a new language for a certain age group? Emojis are synonymous with Millennials, after all.

Tim doesn't think so. "There's a slight misconception that emojis are only used by Millennials. We found, particularly with geographical emojis, that it's not an age group that's driving it. It's an interest in that topic."

Studies bear this out. According to emotional marketing platform Emogi, 92pc of the online population use emoji, with women using them more often than men.

Tim is also quick to dismiss the idea that emojis are a form of regression rather than profession.

"I think it pushes you towards a creative evolution, actually.

"It's about using visual props to illuminate your conversation," he concludes. "The whole idea is that it breaks down language barriers."

The Irishmoji poll page can be found at fanmoji.co.uk

Irish Independent

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