How a Colombian Intern Helped Create Apple’s Emojis Back in 2008

Lead Photo: Photo by Maskot / Getty
Photo by Maskot / Getty
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While emojis have been around since the ’90s (we can thank Shigetaka Kurita for that), it’s only in recent years that the icons have taken off. And part of that is because of the work of Angela Guzman, a Colombian woman who previously interned at Apple and now works as a designer at Google.

Back in 2008, Guzman – a graphic design MFA student at the Rhode Island School of Design – started an internship at Apple, where she was tasked with creating hundreds of emojis. At the time, she didn’t know what they were. “I was still trying to make sense of the assignment I’d just received when someone asked if I knew what an emoji was,” she wrote in a Medium post. “And well, I didn’t, and at the time, neither did the majority of the English-speaking world. I answered ‘no.’ … Moments later I learned what this Japanese word meant and that I was to draw hundreds of them.”

She didn’t do it all on her own. Her mentor, Raymond Sepúlveda – who taught her how to make the emojis Apple style – and her dedicated at least three months to designing the icons. She first started off by creating the engagement ring, which was challenging because of the textures (metal and the gem). ?

“The metal ring alone took me an entire day,” she wrote. “Pretty soon, however, I could do two a day, then three, and so forth. Regardless of how fast I could crank one out, I constantly checked the details: the direction of the woodgrain, how freckles appeared on apples and eggplants, how leaf veins ran on a hibiscus, how leather was stitched on a football, the details were never ending. I tried really hard to capture all this in every pixel, zooming in and out, because every detail mattered. And for three months, I stared at hundreds of emoji on my screen.”

For the most part, Angela and Raymond left the difficult emojis for later, so the lady with the red dress (??) came toward the end of Angela’s internship. During the whole process, she and Raymond bonded over growing up in South Florida (particularly their joint love of Pollo Tropical). “So from funny backstories to realizing he and I attended high schools less than 30 miles apart, our shared past and days drawing together triggered unstoppable laughing spells with watery eyes and all, in other words, with tears of joy,” she wrote. “… All this is what I believe made the emoji successful, our friendship through design.”

The two created the first batch of almost 500 emoji. Since then, different designers have made their mark on the emojis we know and love. But it’s those first hundreds that established emojis as part of our everyday vocabulary.