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Back before hieroglyphics: the evolution of emoji

These are some of the faces regularly greeting me upon opening my daily transaction account in my ANZ App  throughout the day. 

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They’re not just for amusement. 

" This is the kind of experimentation with visual marks that paved the way for the development of writing – and, more recently, the creation of modern symbols, including emoji.”

The move to a largely cashless society has meant it is more difficult for people to keep track of their spending. No longer do you have the tangibility of physical cash and coins you keep in your purse or wallet – these days, with one simple tap  (using your card/phone/watch/ring/finger/sunglasses/power suit) your full fortnight’s pay can be wiped out in one fell swoop.

As an ANZ employee I was involved in a pilot for a new feature in the ANZ App. The feature uses emoji to depict your financial behaviour with light-hearted, visual representations of how you are tracking towards a daily budget.  This in turn, makes spending more visible and, ultimately, assists with saving.

These characters are more than endearing little in-app companions. The ANZ Spendi family were created with behavioural science thinking backing each design. Each hardworking member of the family has been given a job of quickly and, in an engaging way, informing users how they are tracking in relation to their goals.

Suffice to say, me and this little guy are getting well acquainted:  

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The use of visual representations to communicate is of course, not new. In fact, we can find evidence of ‘emoji’ typology on cave walls from our Palaeolithic predecessors which are thought to be more than 30, 000 years old.

Visit the caves of Rouffignac in Southern France or Lascaux  in southwestern France and you will witness some completely breathtaking art – images of bisons, lions looming on the cavern walls and herds of horses and the occasional rhino parading across the rocks.  

Visitors that bear witness to these works of art are quite rightly awestruck.  Following a visit to Lascaux in 1940, even the great artist Picasso gloomily remarked “We have invented nothing.”  (Obviously that was before emoji.)

The aspect to this artwork that often escapes the attention of people however is the symbols that are painted beside the magnificent works of art. 

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Some of the symbols found to recur among Palaeolithic cave paintings and other artefacts. Photograph: Genevieve von Petzinger.

These non-figurative (abstract) images are known as geometric signs and in recent times are starting to receive more attention from anthropologists and scientists.

“This is the kind of experimentation with visual marks that paved the way for the development of writing – and, more recently, the creation of modern symbols, including emoji,” says Genevieve von Petzinger , paleoanthropologist and author of The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World’s Oldest Symbols.

“Those signs from Ice-Age Europe may well have been part of one of the oldest systems of graphic communication in the world, as well as being the precursors to those cute little symbols on your phone.”

In the below infographic, bluenotes takes a look at the evolution of the modern day “geometric sign” – emoji.

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Give ANZ Spendi a try in the latest version of the ANZ App.

Melissa Currie is Visual Production Editor at ANZ bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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