Emoticons: much more than just another smiling face
Think about how an emoticon has helped you to emphasize an important point in an online chat. Or made you realize that somebody was just joking. Or allowed you to get to the point quickly if you were feeling sad , thrilled , frustrated , romantic , sleepy , or even drunk .
Emoticons add context and feeling to one of peoples’ shortest (and, therefore, most easily misinterpreted) forms of communication: the instant message.
Skype’s fun, unexpected emoticons are born out of our culture of advancing communication and delighting our users. Our newest generation of emoticons was created by our expert user experience (UX) designers, but the ideas behind the emoticons were generated from our own team members and Skype users worldwide.
For example, in honor of the many soccer/football fans throughout Skype’s global community, we recently introduced a 2012 European Cup “football player” emoticon. If you download the latest version of Skype for Windows and type in your Instant Message conversation “(football),” a ball-dribbling player will materialize in the chat.
Jaak Parik, UX designer for Skype in Tallinn, Estonia, says, “Emoticons make Skype Instant Message conversations richer and help people to show what they really mean in their conversation. The specialness of our emoticons is due to the fact that we get ideas and inspirations from our colleagues and user community.”
The static and animated emoticons are picked from a list of actual employee suggestions which included everything from “rolling eyes and sigh, as in – oh please, what a daft suggestion” to a “Rude/cheeky one saying ‘Oh C*#p!’ – current one is too subtle.” Some of these ideas became real emoticons, some didn’t. But we had a great time tapping into our collective creativity and welcoming ideas from every corner of the company and beyond.
We also did “heat mapping” research in 2011 to figure out the most popular emoticons among users to determine how to best discover which ones might be the most popular in the future.
Another fun feature is our “hidden emoticons.” UX designer Jaak says, “We like to play around with them too and create some unexpected ones. We have some funny stuff like when someone switches to ‘Comics Sans’ font – which is considered pretty cliché in the design community – it makes a ‘sad face’ emoticon. It’s a bit of a designer’s joke but everybody likes surprises.” Others run the gamut from a summer-themed “pool party,” which is a grown man dancing in little more than an inflatable floating device to tricks like if you hold down the letters “C, A and T” long enough, a cat materializes even without needing to hit “enter.”
Emoticons have come a long way from the simple and static “yellow face” of yesteryear to new animated ones. “This new generation is more life-like and allows users to express a much broader range of emotions and ideas,” says Jaak.
Emoticons will be a part of Skype culture well into the future and will continue to be a popular form of expression within Skype. Input from throughout our company and the global Skype community will be an essential part of that process.
Have you got an idea for an emoticon? Let us know in the comments below…