Emotional complexity and emoji can feel pretty mutually exclusive. Exaggerated cartoon antics daubed with brash primary colors don’t typically lend themselves to expressing subtle shifts in mood, or communicating less excitable states of mind.
Even traditional textspeak tends towards melodrama. We LOL (laugh out loud), rather than lumb (laughing under my breath). We sanction difference by exclaiming WTF. We ROTFLOL. We shriek OMG. Or ZOMG. A bad day is branded FML. The quietest ‘textpression’ is probably the oft overlooked smh.
For (more) relentless histrionics see animated GIFs. Aka the quickest way to derail a nuanced discussion or rebut an intellectual argument with the minimum of effort (just ask Google).
Visual shortcuts for expressing less brash and/or extroverted sentiments digitally are, well, few and far between. Being thoughtless is so much easier, takes so much less effort online than being thoughtful. And that risks coloring our communications. Which is a shame. Because we’re not exercising a full emotional range. Discussions get pushed towards reductive light and shade, instead of taking in the human spectrum.
Well, quieter and more considered people should redirect their browsers to Introji*: a project aiming to bring some much-needed nuance to visual communications — by crowdsourcing an emoji app for introverts. (*not to be confused with custom emotion maker Imoji)
California-based designer and artist Rebecca Lynch is the introverted brain behind the project. As you might hope, Lynch works in a bookshop, not in tech, so she’s working with an app design firm to bring the project to life. As well as using crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo to raise the roughly $4,000 required to build Android and iOS apps, and fulfill the various backer rewards.
“Introji started out as a personal project after I was having trouble communicating with a fellow introverted friend going through a rough patch,” Lynch tells TechCrunch. “We used emojis a lot to try to express things that were hard to say in words, or to lighten the mood — and kept using them because they’re fun. The current emoji are mostly aimed at social activities, and there’s very little to represent inner states of mind or ‘alone’ activities.
“I thought it might be fun to have a set of dedicated emojis to fill that gap. So basically I started making them because I wanted them. An early version of the project got some press, and the response was overwhelming. Lots of people seemed to want them too, so I thought — let’s try to make this actually happen. Why not?”
The plan for the app is to have 40 Introji in all — with visual expressions ranging from actual and abstract activities like ‘reading’ and ‘recharging my batteries’ to ‘feeling along in a group’, ‘worried about going to the party’ and ‘happily alone with my cat’, and a whole lot more besides.
“The very first idea was the little guy in states of charging, and those pretty much sum up the whole project. I think they are the most useful and direct,” says Lynch.
“My own favorites have changed, but I like the guy (or gal) with the pillow. I’m just about to post a few new introji around introverts in the workplace — I like the idea that someone of quiet persuasion might be sitting at a meeting being ‘talked over’ and text one to a friend or colleague, a kind of undercover eye-roll and way of saying ‘help!'”
Introji are absolutely not dressed in standard smilie yellow livery. Rather they have a range of fleshy skin tones, which is a topical design choice given Apple finally rolling out more diverse emoji in iOS 8.3 earlier this month.
“A lot of people requested diversity from the start,” says Lynch. “That was the first thing I changed, to show a range of skin tones. I thought it was better to show different skin tones than reduce everyone to the same abstract colour. I’m a not-too-techie person trying to make technology feel a bit more human, so it makes sense to me.”
She has been taking crowdsourced suggested for Introji via a Facebook page. There was also an option on the Indiegogo campaign to request a custom emoji (now sold out).
“The most requested so far has been ‘time with my cat’,” she adds. “A lot of people have asked for Introji around social situations — like feeling alone at a party, or being happy to sit back and observe, or being annoyed by other people’s loud talking. Some of these are pretty hard to represent, but I’m doing my best. The simple ones, like states of mind, are usually the best though.”
You can see a few more of her animated Introji here.
If Lynch’s crowdfunder flies — and it’s looking pretty likely, given her modest funding target, and the fact she’s already close to 90% of the way there — she’s aiming to get the app launched by July, working with her chosen mobile app dev firm, TBC Digital.
It will be possible to send Introji to people who don’t also have the app — by selecting an in-app option to send one as a text message or WhatsApp, or by copy and pasting onto another platform like Facebook — but receivers will obviously need the app to send Introji back.
“It’s my hope that people will use the app with friends (it’s more fun if the person you’re texting to can send one back) so I’ve made a ‘get one and gift one’ offer on the crowdfunding page, and that’s been the most popular,” she adds.
This article was updated with a correction to Lynch’s surname