When Yiying Lu and Jennifer 8. Lee reconnected in San Francisco last year, there was a problem: Lee had invited Lu over for dumplings, and Lu wanted to express her joy using an emoji — colorful emoticon-like images built into phones, websites, and computers — only to discover that there wasn't an emoji for dumplings.
"She was sending me pictures of all the dumplings she was cooking," Lu told NBC News. "I was like, 'fried dumplings, yum.' I tried to send her an emoji back and realized there wasn't one."
The omission inspired the two. Lu, an artist whose work includes "Lifting A Dreamer," also known as the Twitter "Fail Whale," illustrated her own dumpling emoji and sent it to Lee. In December, the two started a Kickstarter to fund their campaign to join the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organization that oversees the Unicode standard and determines what emoji are added, as Emojination. Members include Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and other technology companies, as well as government agencies and the University of California, Berkeley. They were funded in just over two days.
Since creating the first dumpling emoji, their scope has widened. Lu and Lee want to create a system that would open up the emoji nomination process, allowing for popular requests, such as the giraffe or the Nazar — a Central Asian protective amulet, to be transformed into full proposals to the consortium.
"Most languages are open," Lee said. "Languages are meant to evolve. Man-date, metrosexual, selfie — these terms evolved as the communication needs of the population changed. In the normal world, you just make up words."
Emoji is a global language, the pair say, and speakers of that language should see themselves reflected in the options they have. Dumplings, which the two say is a universal food, is a start.
"A lot of people think dumplings are an Asian dish, but it’s a lot more universal than we think it is," Lu said. "There's gyoza in Japan, potstickers in China, Russian perogies. … People looked at the dumpling emoji and saw an empanada, and we said, 'Wait, empanadas are kind of like dumplings.' There’s a universal intersection. When you’re looking at current emoji, there’s sushi, taco, burrito, cookie, chocolate bar, but there’s no dumpling, which is a very universal form of food."