Almost everyone has a favorite emoji, but did you know that each individual icon has its own description assigned to it? Every description is unique and many even vary depending on the platform, browser, or device that an emoji is being viewed on. For example, the 🏚 emoji has four different identifiers:
Even emoji with variable skin tones get additional information added to their base description to keep them unique, as shown below.
When someone uses an assistive device or program to read content and they come across an emoji, the icon’s assigned description will be what their device reads to them. You may also see emoji descriptions referred to as codepoints or short codes.
It’s best to put emoji at the very end of your written content. Doing so will help you avoid creating any clarity issues that could be caused by an icon’s coded description interfering with the rest of the copy. This also means not using emoji as bullet points in social media posts. If standard list formatting isn't available, just use dashes for your bullet points or add distinct line breaks in between your points to make them clear.
To avoid their meta descriptions confusing your overall message when it’s read by an assistive device or program, emoji should be used as sparingly as possible in written content. It’s also worth noting that some assistive devices will truncate a line of emoji if only one specific icon is used uninterrupted by other icons, characters, or spaces.
A great example of emoji used in excess to the detriment of screen reader users is the Wordle trend that was popular at the beginning of 2022. Once brands got into the trend, things got a little out of control, as demonstrated in the below video. Be forewarned, the video is not captioned because the audio is so fast and chaotic.
An excellent resource for digital content creators who want to use emoji in smart and strategic ways is emojipedia.org. This website lists every known emoji along with their different appearances and descriptions across platforms, devices, and browsers. It’s a useful way to double-check emoji descriptions before using an icon.
If you manage social media professionally, try to resist changing the color on customizable emoji you use for brand accounts unless a specific skin tone is necessary for context. Because emoji with custom skin tones get extra descriptor information in addition to their base identifier, they make content longer—and possibly more confusing—for anyone using assistive technology.
If you're concerned that using the default color for an emoji will make your content look less diverse, avoid using any customizable icons altogether.
Don’t place emoji before your Twitter name, as it’s typically read every time a screen reader transcribes a tweet from you. The description of emoji can make your Twitter name much longer than intended.
If you’d like to spice up your profile with emoji, limit yourself to one after your name or put a few of your favorite icons at the very end of your Twitter bio.
You should also avoid adding emoji in front of your name on LinkedIn. This is a well-known hack that many LinkedIn users employ to easily spot auto-generated messages from spammers in their inbox. Of course, this tactic also means that a screen reader user is going to hear an emoji description before your actual name. Not ideal if you’re trying to network and connect with your professional peers.