Angela Guzman©Angela Guzman

Colombian intern Angela Guzman helped create Apple’s emojis back in 2008

Love using emojis? There’s a Latina to thank

It seems like lifetimes ago when the only way we could make facial expressions via text was with parentheses and colons. Now that it’s 2022, there is probably a lot of young folks who don’t even remember a time before emojis, not knowing just how lucky they are.

Emojis themselves have actually been around since the 1990s, thanks to Shigetaka Kurita, but they were popularized over the last decade following their integration in Apple’s beloved iPhones. But, while a lot of us just take all of our phone’s latest features at face value, there’s always someone behind the invention--and Apple’s emojis were largely created by a Latina.

In 2008, a Colombian woman named Angela Guzman was studying for her graphic design MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. That year, she started an internship at Apple, where she was tasked with creating hundreds of emojis--even though she didn’t know what they were at the time.

“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 about her creation. “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.”

Her mentor, Raymond Sepúlveda, taught her how to make the emojis in Apple’s style, and the two of them dedicated at least three months to designing the icons.

The first symbol Angela created was the engagement ring, which she admits was challenging because of the textures involved. But, once she got the hang of things, everything started falling into place.

“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.”

Angela Guzman©Angela Guzman

She continued, “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.”

Guzman and Sepúlveda are responsible for creating the first batch of almost 500 emojis. In the years since, different designers have added to the graphics, but those first creations are what really established emojis as the conversation enhancements we know and love today.

If you want to read more about Angela’s journey, you can check out her article on Medium. 

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