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Finally, we can make our own emojis (but I'm concerned)

There are literally hundreds of emojis but Microsoft believes what the world needs now are even more little icons to communicate our feelings, statuses and love of smiley cats. The big M has now made its emoji editor open source, meaning over 15,000 emojis can be edited, altered and bent to our will. This fantastic news for diversity, but I can't help but think the internet is going to abuse its new powers with NSFW emoji editions.

Every year the big developers – Apple, Adobe, Microsoft and others – release updated emoji designs, often to backlash like when Apple released its vaccine emoji but also great applause, such as when Microsoft brought back Clippy as an emoji. Now, for the Microsoft 365 ecosystem at least, you can edit and build on existing emoji designs and create them for yourself.

To be clear, you can't create new emojis from scratch but Microsoft is making its editor free to use and open source in Figma (opens in new tab) and on Github (opens in new tab), so you can make your version of the 1,538 existing emojis, which could see some awkward results (read on). 

Change the colour of skin in Microsoft's open source emoji

Emoji skin colour can now break away from the archaic Fitzpatrick scale and be more representative (Image credit: Microsoft)

In a blog, Jon Friedman, head of Microsoft Office Design says this will elevate diversity, writing: "This especially applies to developers and audiences who haven’t been historically included. A headdress, an Afro, a sari — enabling the world’s majority (aka Black and Brown people) to express themselves how they want, to whom they want, and when they want is not just powerful, but necessary."

This feels like an amazing step forwards, as Friedman shares how enabling users to edit emojis to suit their individual needs will mean these little icons break free of the currently used Fitzpatrick scale – a 1975 tool that classifies skin tone based on tolerance to sunlight, and is, frankly, outdated.

Emoji editing goes further, writes Friedman: "Culture, religion, sexual orientation, politics, food – nobody knows your contexts and realities better than you and given how important emoji are in the realm of digital expression, we wanted to make them widely available for use."

A graphic showing lots of emojis we can edit

You can now edit and create your own versions of classic emojis, but sadly not Clippy (Image credit: Microsoft)

Now my concern: good things are always subverted. How long will it be before corners of the internet bend and break these emojis to create NSFW icons or nasty little emojis designed to offend. If the internet can come up with complex deepfakes of Tom Cruise doing mundane tasks, then breaking an emoji is child's play. Maybe it's just my paranoia, let's hope I'm wrong, and the world will soon be filled with diverse emojis that represent everyone.

The real issue with Microsoft's new open source of its emojis comes in the 'fine print' as *gulp* the editor won't include Clippy – I wish there was an emoji for how sad I feel right now. It seems even Microsoft has its limits. Of course, this is down to copyright and trademark issues and what Friedman labels "legal speak", and also includes "country flags, video game, and technologist emoji". But we can but hope, that one day Clippy will be ours to do with what we like.

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Ian Dean is Digital Arts & Design Editor at Creative Bloq, and the former editor of many leading magazines. These titles included ImagineFX, 3D World and leading video game title Official PlayStation Magazine. In his early career he wrote for music and film magazines including Uncut, SFX, and assisted on The Idler. For Creative Bloq, Ian combines his love to bring the latest news on NFTs, video game art and tech, and more to Creative Bloq, and in his spare time he doodles in Corel Painter, ArtRage, and Rebelle while finding time to play Xbox and PS5.