Unicode is taking the redhead emoji problem very seriously

Unicode 11.0
You have to give the Unicode’s Emoji Subcommittee some credit. As emoji has risen in popularity to become the primary way we express ourselves over text, the Unicode Consortium is burdened with the never-ending task of updating the standard to ensure it is as inclusive as possible. Meanwhile, it has to leverage its resources practically to produce new emoji that will have the most cultural universality in the shortest possible time frame.

So it comes as no surprise, then, that the subcommittee’s latest dilemma to tackle is what to do about the lack of red-haired emoji. The omission has been the most frequent complaint among visitors of the site Emojipedia over the last three months, and the issue will certainly be on the docket when Apple hosts the Unicode Technical Committee for a meeting next week.

The main trouble is there are a variety of different ways the subcommittee could go about handling this. The group can build an entirely new face featuring red hair, but that would be break recent precedent as traits like skin tone and hair color are now usually contained as alternates within a pre-existing style, and red also wouldn’t be applicable across the entire range of human emoji.

Common sense, then, would be to create a new redhead variant with a new skin tone. Currently, there are five for every human emoji alongside the standard yellow. But the subcommittee is wary of that solution because it would further link specific skin tones to hair colors, which is somewhat at odds with Unicode’s goal for representation and inclusiveness. Alternatively, they could separate the two traits, though that would open up the floodgates to an overwhelming number of combinations. And let’s be honest: the sad poop emoji really needs to remain priority number one.

As it turns out, the easiest and most convenient solution according to the subcommittee’s report is to change the “person with blond hair” emojis — which are separate from the standard human face emojis, as these stay blond regardless of skin tone chosen — to a strawberry blond. Theoretically, it would be quick to implement, re-purpose an emoji that’s already redundant into something useful, and satisfy the masses.

All of these proposals will be on the table in Cupertino, California next week. Unicode hasn’t officially stated if red-headed emoji of any kind will be approved, though clearly, the relevant parties are mulling over this quandary with the utmost consideration. Version 10.0 of the standard is due for release in the middle of this year, and vendors like Apple and Google will likely implement it in their own software in late 2017.

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