emoji stories

How are emoji created? How are they evolving? How do they represent us? Since their origins in Japan in 1997, emoji have become ubiquitous, rising alongside digital communications. We use them playfully or to add snark or emotion to a text thread. They enliven or emphasize digital text. We use them to identify ourselves, and our moods, celebrations, foods, and holidays.

In 2020, Cooper Hewitt acquired the Person with Headscarf and the Inter-skintone Couple emoji for the museum’s permanent collection. Join Cooper Hewitt curator Andrea Lipps and Emojination’s co-founder, Jennifer 8. Lee, as they explore the stories behind the emoji in the museum’s collection and more. Those emoji are also included in the feature-length documentary film, “The Emoji Story,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and that explores the creation and evolution of emoji.

Registrants will be provided with a free, private code to watch “The Emoji Story” through July 17, World Emoji Day! The private viewings of “The Emoji Story” are made possible by Adobe.


Jennifer 8. Lee is an emoji activist, documentary producer, and CEO of Plympton, a literary studio that works on innovative publishing projects. A former New York Times reporter, Lee produced The Search for General Tso and The Emoji Story, both documentaries which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. She was also an executive producer for The Price, which premiered at SXSW, and an associate producer for Give Me Liberty and the Emmy-winning Chasing Coral, both of which premiered at Sundance. She has co-led an Angel List seed investment fund for Y Combinator and was a Fast Company Most Creative Person in Business in 2018. She co-chairs the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Media, Entertainment and Sport. Lee is cofounder of Emojination, a group whose motto is “Emoji by the people, for the people,” as well as vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee. She graduated from Harvard with degrees in applied mathematics and economics.

Black and white portrait of Andrea Lipps

Andrea Lipps is Associate Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum where she conceives, develops, and organizes major award-winning exhibitions and books, most recently Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial (2019) and The Senses: Design Beyond Vision (2018). Lipps is an accomplished writer and editor on contemporary design, regularly publishing books, essays, scholarly articles, and more. Additionally, she leads the museum’s efforts to build its nascent Digital Design collection. She is a regular visiting critic, lecturer, and thesis advisor, participates on international design juries, and frequently moderates and speaks at events, symposia, and academic conferences on contemporary design and curatorial practice.

ABOUT THE behind the design SERIES

What makes an object “museum-worthy”? How does an exhibition come to life? What discoveries have been unearthed by conservators? Behind the Design features curators, conservators, and other museum staff and guests in a series of lunch-time conversations to offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Cooper Hewitt and its collection.


This free program will feature a lecture followed by an audience Q&A hosted through Zoom, with the option to dial in as well. Details will be emailed to you upon registration. This program includes closed captioning. For general questions or if we can provide additional accessibility services or accommodations to support your participation in this program, please email us at moorep@si.edu or let us know when registering.

Featured Image: Guidance Images, Inter-skintone Couple Emoji, 2018; Concept by Jennifer 8. Lee (American, born 1976), Emojination (San Francisco, California, USA, founded 2015), in collaboration with Alex Marx (British, born 1984), Melissa Thermidor (American, born 1982), and Tinder (Los Angeles, California, USA, founded 2012); Designed by Aphelandra Messer (American, born 1993); svg and png files; Gift of Emojination; 2020-1-2