Microsoft open-sources its 3D emoji, letting creators remix and customize them

Microsoft is open-sourcing its more than 1,500 3D emojis, allowing creators to remix and build them for free. Starting today, nearly all of Microsoft’s 1,538 emoji libraries will be available on Figma and GitHub, a move Microsoft hopes will encourage more creativity and inclusivity in the emoji space.

While Microsoft released its emoji in Windows 11 last year and a 3D version in Microsoft Teams in February, the company initially had no plans to open source its work. “Initially, we focused on building the body of work,” Microsoft Design and Research CVP Jon Friedman said in an interview edge“This idea is just starting to catch on, and it aligns with our belief and view that the more open source we have internally and externally, the better products we can build, and the more relevant we can be to all of humanity.”

Creators will be able to access the Microsoft emoji collection on Figma and GitHub today.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has spent a lot of time on inclusive design and the varying needs of emoji across different people, religions and countries. The result is over 1,500 emojis, including custom skin tones, bright and saturated colors, and a focus on workplace fun. Even Clippy was introduced as a replacement for the paperclip emoji, but it’s one of the few that won’t be open-sourced simply because of a legal requirement for Microsoft’s trademark.

Microsoft now wants creators to explore new approaches based on its emoji. “Inside Microsoft, we’re a design community that can only do so much or see so much,” Friedman explained. “We are eager to engage the community and help us see and do more globally relevant things to reach people in unique ways.”

Creators will be able to take most of Microsoft’s bright and colorful 3D emoji and reassemble them into stickers, use them in content, or create unique emoji collections. “I think we’re going to see really unique and specific things, and then I think we’re going to see really broadly applicable ideas,” Friedman said. “When we were making app icons a few years ago, someone made the Marvel version of the app icon. It was awesome. That’s such a great creative expression.”

Once the community starts experimenting, we’ll likely see creators bring holiday-themed or even more unique skin tones and more creativity on top of Microsoft’s emoji. It’s easy to imagine Halloween emojis or emojis unique to certain regions or religions.

Over 1,500 emoji are being open sourced today.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft says part of the reason it’s now open-sourcing its emoji is a change in the state of work. With remote and hybrid work forcing businesses and employees to work differently, how to express themselves through text becomes even more important.

Reflecting on the pandemic, Friedman said pre-pandemic perceptions of workplace professionalism have changed with mixed jobs and even emojis. “One of the things that I’ve seen in Teams that’s starting to happen is people using cardiac responses, they’re very serious Microsoft executives who suddenly like things, like comments or use emojis in sentences,” Friedman recalls road.

“Facial expressions or body language are a little bit disconnected from our communication…so we start having these other rich conversations that are almost as active as the video conversations we’re having,” Friedman said. “Emojis are starting to play a bigger and bigger role…it’s making people feel more comfortable actually reacting to emotions.”

Microsoft’s smiley emoji.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft’s design team is now looking forward to seeing how the creator community builds on its emoji library. The original roots of emoji evolved from Japan and its tradition of making pictures through prints, illustrations, anime, etc. “There’s power in the work of recognizing, respecting, and building on others,” Friedman said. “Our creator community is full of imaginations, and we can’t wait to see how you guys push boundaries and retool our designs, And take Fluent emoji to places we couldn’t have foreseen.”

I personally hope that the creative freedom of the community will inspire Microsoft to replace emoji system-wide so that Windows users can add themed emoji for different holidays and more. At the very least, I’m sure Windows 11 users hope to one day see a true 3D version of Microsoft’s emoji appear in the company’s operating system.

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