Charles Darwin Is Helping Solve One of Mankind's Greatest Problems: Reinventing the Emoticon

By Ashley Feinberg on at

Emoticons are ingratiated into modern language. Tweens communicate in nothing but nonsensical strings of emojis, and artists use them to create entire tales. But even with widespread use, emoticons' emotions have remained relatively 1-dimensional since their inception.

As BuzzFeed learned, Facebook has enlisted Matt Jones, a current Pixar story illustrator and former Wallace and Gromit storyboard artist, to lead the charge in finding a solution to the smiley.

Acting as psychological consultants for Jones are Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the research of facial expressions, and his protégé, Dacher Keltner. And it's latter who introduced Jones to Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which explores Darwin's theory that human and animals have similar emotive facial expressions.

Some of Darwin's emotions come with elaborate definitions, but some get descriptions of just two or three words. "It was a good graphic-design cartoon challenge to draw what he was thinking," says Jones. Some of Darwin's findings were too antiquated. For instance, he described the expression of embarrassment as a little cough. "It's very Victorian. If we are embarrassed, these days we are bit broader," Jones says, "especially Americans."

Jones' drawings are being tested on subjects all around the world. And that's in addition to being translated back into the anatomical coding of real facial expressions, allowing them to see if they work on a real human face.

Right now, Jones is experimenting with colors beyond the default yellow used in most other emoticons. He tried "Facebook blue," thinking it might have become familiar enough to users, but said the emoticons just looked like they had hypothermia. He's experimenting with multiple colors: red for anger, green for envy. "But you don't want to offend anyone," he explains. "Colors will be a racial issue."

The final results will, ultimately, have to be sunken down to just a few pixels wide. But at least the emotionally volatile tweens of the world will, surely, be forever grateful.[BuzzFeed]