Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years, you’ll likely have seen the use of colourful icons punctuating texts, tweets, emails, adverts. It seems these little pictures are becoming a weighty force in how we communicate, with many sources (BBC, Telegraph, Guardian etc.) stating that emoji is ‘the fastest growing language’ in the UK. Why is this happening? What does it mean for language? And most importantly, what does it have to do with PowerPoint presentations?!

Language as we know it is a highly complex concept that has been built on and developed over thousands of years; the origins, generally understood to be found in pictures (see: cave paintings). Have we come full circle? Will language revert back to pictures? Exploring this idea, there have been a few interesting examples where words have been totally banished in favour of expressing ideas or messages purely through emoji. Take ‘Emoji Dick’ for example; a crowd-funded translation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into emoji. While an interesting comment on the use of emoji in language, in practicality a whole novel would be exhausting and difficult to get through. Contrast this to a recent McDonald’s advert, where a story of an unfortunate holiday has an (arguably) happy ending. This snappy little story, in its entirety, is written with just 20 characters.

Maccy Ds

The clever thing about this advert is its ability to not only recount the actions and events of the story, but you get a feel for both time and emotion. Printed adverts are afforded a finite amount of visual space, and cannot change or move to express their message. This is a successful example of beaming a message (seemingly that a good burger can solve any problem), quickly into the brains of an audience. A single picture can be emotive and carry connotations far beyond that possible from a single word.

Our understanding of written language is being pushed in new ways, and Alex Goldmark and Liza Stark, a couple from New York, put this to the test for WNYC radio station. For a month, words were banned and they only texted each other using pictures and emoji.

The experiment brought them together, but it’s clear that using only pictures can lead to some ambiguous meaning, and some misunderstanding. So despite the flaws, how is emoji becoming a significant part of our language? What these little pictures seem to bring is nuance and subtlety that somehow just isn’t possible with text alone. We live in a world that moves with great speed. Technology, business, work, life is getting faster, and so too must our communication. This is where emoji shows its strength. Maybe not worth a thousand words, but one emoji can express a mood, or a sense of irony that would otherwise require a paragraph in words. It’s from this idea that we can draw inspiration for presentation creation.

When you’re presenting, you need to express information efficiently and quickly. People often fill slides with text because they believe every word is vital. It isn’t. Here at BrightCarbon we make our slides as visual as possible, keeping text to a minimum and communicating messages through imagery. Have a look through our online resources for the science on why we do this! Long story short: people gain more from images than they do from a slide full of text.

We use icons as visual cues that sum up a point or piece of information- you could say icons are the emoji of presentations. In the same way an emoji is used to quickly bring a statement to life, using photographs, illustration or icons in a presentation will provide an audience with understanding that is fast, engaging and memorable. A powerful presenter fills in the details of the slides and should let their slides express ideas and information in the same way an emoji adds life, humour, or context to text.

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Written by

Shay O’Donnell

Senior design consultant

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