The semiotics of emojis

I was discussing emoji usage with my Dad a few days ago. As you know, emojis (“eh-moh-jeez”) are those cutesy icons on your phone’s text app / SMS or any messenger app that you use in place of the ASCII keyboard “faces” such as this classic happy face 🙂 Typically, people use emojis to save space and time on messages since emojis occupy less characters in a text field than a regular sentence.


Emojis used to be called emoticons (“ee-mote-ee-cons”), which makes them sound a bit like depressed Transformer robots. I’m not sure who started using emojis as the term for emoticons, but it sounds somewhat Japanese in origin. (I’ll research emoji’s word origin at another time!)

So, back to my story, according to my Dad, emojis can be used to convey emotion but they are not to be used as an actual replacement for words and conversations. Personally, I hated (and still hate) when text speak gained popularity in the mid-2000’s and texts were shortened to phrases such as “k” or “cu l8r”. What’s even more mind-boggling is that I can’t stand it if I receive a text with only a single letter response, but it’s different if I receive a one-emoji response (“k” versus “:)”).

In fact, my Dad doesn’t like using emojis if he can use words, but when he’s mad at me and he feels like texting his disgruntlement, he occasionally sends the pile of poot emoji or one of the angry faces.

My Dad told me about his youth back in the early 80’s, when teenagers had their own version of verbal emojis when they used to talk on the short wave broadcasting radios (I think it was known as CB radio or ham radio). “Q” stood for a question so it meant who, what, when, or where. For exampls, “q r t” would mean “what time is it?” These were known as “Q codes” and probably inspired the old school videogame Q*bert.

When I heard of Q codes, I was struck by a parallelism on the semiotics of emojis, since to anyone else, “q r t” would just be 3 random letters of the alphabet, but to a group of teens in the 80’s talking to one another on their ham radios, this meant someone was asking for what time it was or what time an event was starting. With emojis, to an outsider who has never seen or heard of emojis, the outsider would definitely get confused by this symbol 🙂 compared to the words “I’m happy”.

When we discuss semiotics, we delve into signs and signifiers. Hermeneutics is where we get deeper into literal versus intended meanings…so if we look into each emoji, even the most basic of them 🙂 we can see that it doesn’t have a literal meaning (what could a colon next to a closed parenthesis mean? It looks like a punctuation typo) but it has an intended meaning (a happy face). If you text someone a heart or a kissy face, that can mean a few things (both literal and intended), but if you send that same emoji to your boss, that could be misconstrued as harassment (unless your boss is your significant other).

You can see where misplaced emoji usage could be problematic compared to using words and complete sentences to convey thoughts. The English language is difficult enough to master (in fact, many people haven’t gotten past high school level grammar usage and spelling) yet we have added emojis to the mix… Could emojis ever function as an international pictogram-based language? (A purely rhetorical question since I know I’ve texted an emoji or two in place of actual thoughts)

From the rampant usage of these symbols, which originated from messenger programs (i.e. AOL Instant Messenger), emojis have developed into their own form of language. There will be more and more people that use these symbols in place of words, but I greatly doubt that emojis will completely replace the English language, or any structured text-based language, at least in the near future.

For grammar’s sake and for the love of Old English words, I hope emojis are just a passing fad and remain as a novelty accessory to our language; I’d hate to wake up one day and have to “read” emoji-mail from my boss about a project. That sounds like a horror story waiting to happen. I’m was even more amazed by an article that was recently brought up in my Visual Design class – there is a man that translates emojis for a living. Wrap your brain around that!

Let me leave you with this scenario: imagine the different emojis it would take to tell your boss about a mistake with an Amazon shipment and that you had to reorder the item with an added cost for expedited shipping to make it to next week’s presentation. Translating that story into pure emojis would exponentially take much longer than just calling him / her and talking for a few minutes over the phone…and wouldn’t you know it, that phone call still takes less time than those long painful minutes of swiping and tapping that a text requires (or if you’re a talk-to-text user, your phone can be smart, but still doesn’t know the grammatical difference between your, you’re and yore ^^).


What makes or breaks your presentation

It’s too easy to design a horrible presentation. The tough part is putting together one that makes sense, gets your point across AND keeps your audience interested.

What’s the science behind a “good” presentation then?


I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve sat through class lectures or project presentations where the PowerPoint slides were way too crowded with blocks of text, the foreground-background contrast wasn’t factored in, or the presenter’s voice was so monotonous that half the audience dozed off.

Essentially, you’ve put the entire room in front of a speeding train labeled Boredom, and we’re all pinned to the train tracks by whomever is giving this ill-prepared presentation while we’re all thinking “well there goes 10 of the longest minutes of my life that I’ll never get back”… I think we’ve all been here.

This blog entry sums up what I’ve learned from the infinite mistakes of previous (terrible!) presentations.  Here are very useful tips to make your presentation stand out.

Define Your Presentation’s Purpose

This doesn’t need to be stated to the audience (i.e. “The purpose of my presentation is…”) but you, your team member or your project team need to decide what you’re trying to accomplish with your presentation.  Choose whether you’re going to persuade, inform, propose, compare, or do a combination of these actions.  Answer the “Why are we doing this?” question to guide how you’re going to draft your script.

Make a Hard-Copy Draft

Once you’ve decided on your purpose (and you have supporting documents, research and reliable sources to use as information for your presentation), write down how you plan to organize your presentation.  This might be based on criteria that is provided to you by your instructor, your supervisor, an organization, or a pre-set presentation format that is widely accepted as an industry, profession-based, or academic standard.

Typically, presentations will have the following hierarchical organization (in this consecutive order): Cover Page, Introduction, Body, Conclusion, and Works Cited.

Visual Design Tips

TEXT: While you’re writing snippets of your content, jot down your ideas for potential color combinations for font and background that are high contrast (opposite ends of the color wheel such as the classic black font on white background) so you don’t have to waste time clicking on each design option when you’re in PowerPoint.  Save more time by deciding whether you’ll be using sans serif or serif font (design note: historically, sans serif font works better for visual acuity.)

The smallest potential font size you should use is 16, since anything tinier becomes an eye strain for people that are further away from your presentation screen.  I like using a minimum font size of 18 or 20 to make sure everyone in the room can read the slide content.  You can make adjustments to this based on audience, room, and screen sizes.

IMAGES: Imagery is a BFD (big friggin’ deal) in presentations.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, you better pick the right pictures or you might be saying “excrement” when you wanted to say “excellent”.  The text-to-images ratio on a slide should be balanced (i.e. if you fill half a slide with words, the other half should be photos).  Avoid using overly cartoonic or Clip Art-style images if you have a serious topic.

TEXT-IMAGE RATIO: Your audience should never be overwhelmed by a slide completely filled with tiny 12-point text (oh no, you just lost your audience’s attention) nor should they be barraged with quickly flashing epilepsy-inducing .gifs (that might be dangerous).  Summarize the point of each slide in brief bullet points to keep your text-based slide content to a bare minimum.  Maximize the size of your image and keep your frames simple (black border), or you may lose the effectiveness of your imagery.  Text typically occupies 25% to 50% of the slide with the image taking up the rest of the slide, depending on the overall content of the presentation.

PHOTOS: Use clear high resolution photos that fit well with your content.  If you’re just grabbing photos off the web, beware of copyright laws since many Google images are copyright protected.  Take advantage of online archives that offer free stock photos.  If possible, use your own photography or art work.  When your image file selections are finalized, be sure to cite your sources!

Double-Check Your Information Sources

Not only is it embarrassing to cite the wrong resource (you meant to type “.org”, not “.com” and you ended up sharing an adult dating site instead of a nature conservation fund as your URL), it also hurts your reputation as a person who can perform reliable research and can keep their facts straight.  As a professional that consistently makes presentations or has to provide detailed bibliographies for white papers, it’s very important to cite the right source with the right details.  Even if you don’t provide presentations or make decks as your daily work activity, having reliable sources (NOT Wikipedia or a random .com) is the backbone of slide content.

When it comes to using the opinion of subject matter experts via personal interviews, BEFORE you conduct any Q & A sessions with anyone, ensure the interviewee has credentials and/or experience to back up their information.  If you have the time, it never hurts to get a second (or third) professional opinion on the same topic.

Spell Check and Grammar Check

PowerPoint or any other presentation program will have a rolling spell check on your work to catch simple typos, but it’s always good practice to keep proofreading your work for those pesky grammatical errors, inconsistent tone, contextual hiccups and misspelled proper nouns.  If the program misses the difference between your, yore and you’re (and you’ve used the wrong one for the big bold title of one of your main slides), your presentation becomes less effective once your mistake takes center stage.

Get a Second Opinion / Perform a Mock Presentation

As with any audience-related activity, it’s useful to run through your presentation with someone else who you can trust for an honest opinion about your work.  Perhaps your team member, a co-worker, classmate, or even a family member can sit through your presentation or review your PowerPoint and give you their feedback.  At times, it’s better to pick a person who doesn’t know much about the topic that you’re discussing so you can see how effective your presentation actually is.

Use a Script

As a seasoned professional that has had to sit through their share of cringe-worthy ad-libbed presentations, I’m disappointed by how many people disregard the importance of a script when presenting their material (in-person or digitally).  Unless you have a photographic memory or give the same presentation day in and day out so you know what to say by heart, flashcards and notes will save you from having to grasp for the right words during your big day.  Imagine you’re in front of your project investors trying to remember the capital of Iceland where your company founder supposedly made his initial million dollars and of all the days, you can’t recall the city to save your life (geography note: it’s Reykjavik).

Practice, Practice, Practice

In the absence of a real audience, you can be your own critic.  Do a few read-throughs of your work in front of a mirror.  Use a timer to see how long your entire presentation will take.  Did you exceed your time limit?  Did you speak too quickly or forget to take breaths in between your sentences?  Did you skip lines or say “umm”, “ya’ know”, or “like” to fill the silence?

Take notes on what mistakes you made so that you can correct them on the next read-through.  Since you have an audio recorder on your phone or computer, use it while you present and review your work to see where you can make improvements.

And last, but not least, for the love of all that is good in this world of words, please DON’T READ OFF YOUR SLIDES!

I hope this helps you make your own crowd-pleasing presentation 🙂

Tech tool overview

*Blog 7*

This week, we’re allowed to wander off and write about something we learned about advertising, design, font, color, communication, technology tools, etc., so here’s a real world example of how I used what I learned (into that context).

In one of my previous projects at work, I was asked by my supervisor to take a look at several web-based project management programs (time for enterprise virtualization) and present the “best” freeware solution at our next board meeting. (Did someone say presentations?! Whee!)


At first, I was apprehensive at the idea since freeware tends to be a temporary solution until its longevity runs out, or the pay-to-play options become “necessary” for optimal use of the program.  But, the boss requested freeware-only options, so I did what he asked and did my web research.


I narrowed down our eligible freeware candidates to a program called Citrix.  I’m not going to go into an in-depth detailed fancy schmancy analysis of why I chose this program over the 10 other options that the internet spewed forth as freeware collaborative CRM (customer resource management) or ERP (enterprise resource planning) programs.  BUT, I will tell you the top 5 reasons why I ended up with Citrix as my final choice since they probably land most of their customers this way:

  1. Visual Design: This is an afterthought for some people, but for me, sometimes just because a program looks pretty, it doesn’t mean it’s up-to-par with functionality or usefulness.  Surprisingly, the simple design was really, just simple design.  You want bells and whistles?  You can add those on your own with customizable templates.
  2. Ease of Use: On the same note as “usefulness”, the program is a breeze to learn if you’ve ever used any CRM, CMS (content management system), or even a basic blog.
  3. Intuitive Interface: “Guess where the Save, Close and New Field buttons are?” shouldn’t be part of your daily routine when using a CRM program.  Fortunately, Citrix was more intuitive than I realized and it had a great initial set-up for guessing where I thought certain things should be.
  4. Customer Support: Even if I didn’t need it, there was always an option to talk to a real English-speaking person on the phone (wow!) about how the software was performing.  If I needed any help, customer support was there via phone, web chat, and email.  Citrix also sends out regular feedback emails to check how their software is performing.
  5. Above Average Quality Freeware: Citrix might be freeware (it was free at the time I was asked to look into it, which was about a year ago), but it functions above and beyond anything that would typically be available for free.  As far as no-cost CRMs go, the boss would be pleased with this option.

*****Side note: Citrix might have their little pinky into our business model (since we already gave them our basic info, i.e. our company address, how many employees we have, some of our business leads) so I have a tiny bit of security paranoia about any additional info that anyone else in the company might give them while we test out their program.  I hope our IT guys know what the boss is up to with this CRM endeavor…

Mosquito vs. Driver

Driver loses!

Pardon the lag on these posts. Life has been pretty hectic with work and family having one thing after another happening, plus with this weird weather we’ve been having lately, it’s been a whirlwind of a month…but fear not, dear readers, I’ve returned to grace cyberspace with my words of wit!
Now that it’s October, I thought that I’d be finished with the warm weather annoyances of mosquitoes. Nope. Warm weather here and there apparently resets Mother Nature’s clock and it’s mosquito breeding season…in October. What a nuisance these things are…I’ll share a recent experience which I hope you can learn from. One warm morning, unusually warm for the fall, I was settling into my car for the morning drive to work and a few mosquitoes had managed to hitch a ride into the door before I was able to shut it.
Note: to all the distracted drivers out there, it’s REALLY DANGEROUS to even consider driving when you have little insects flying in your ears or attempting to bite you through your work clothes. Get rid of the bugs BEFORE you hit the road if you can. Driving and being distracted by a mosquito biting you or a fly crawling up your nose is not worth your life!
Anyway, I must’ve had ninja mosquitos in the car that day since they were unusually quiet and I didn’t know I had about 3 bites on my ankles by the time I was midway to work. Tolerating this was idiotic and driving me nuts, so I pulled into one of those vacuum-equipped gas stations and spent the 50 cents to use the damn vacuum on the mosquitoes. They wouldn’t leave the car interior even with the air conditioning on full blast and I wasn’t about to keep driving with the risk of getting ZICA or West Nile or whateveritis-numerous diseases that are carried by these winged pests.
Main points of this story:
*Keep mosquitoes and flying insects out of your car to keep your concentration on the road
*Vacuums can effectively solve almost any flying pest problem if it’s an isolated area and you have no other solution.
*Warm humid weather is a perfect breeding environment for mosquitoes, so make sure to either dump or put a few drops of dish-washing soap in any standing water around your house.

Safe (and bug-free) driving out there, fellow commuters!