Happy/grumpy: a short history of emoticons


Here at Mondays, not only have we been using smileys and emoticons for ages, but we do so now more than ever – especially in its new customized Mondays attire, which we have been using since renewing our visual identity 2 years ago. 🙂 🙁 Today’s blogpost is a throwback to the origins of the famous yellow icons (which we decided to color in blue, for obvious reasons).

Carved in stone: the origins of the smiley The smiley is an indicator for one’s mood, a pleasant figure that conveys our feelings of well-being, and it sets the tone in our day-to-day written communication; it has become an integral part of modern online platforms and digital messaging services such as WhatsApp. However, it has been around for a very, very long time! 🧐 This simplified representation of facial features – a circle for the head, two dots for the eyes, and a curved line or some form of opening for the mouth – has even been observed in vestiges and ruins that belonged to ancient civilizations living centuries before Christ 🤯 ! Its most famous iteration – colored in yellow, like a noseless, smiling sun 🙂 – is said to have first appeared in the 1960s, and to have been created by an American insurance company aiming to cheer up their employees. However, given its widespread success throughout the years, many fights erupted between alleged inventors claiming to be the original creator 😡. It nevertheless became a registered trademark in 1971 – in particular, the variant with the characteristic dimples on each end of the smile. Patenting it and naming it the "smiley" turned out to be a genius move 🤠 ! Up on stage and under the table As it became popular in 1970s America, with the development of mass communication and its appearance on fancy items (such as buttons, mugs, badges, t-shirts, and so on), the yellow smiling face then became associated with psychedelic culture 😵‍, and then with the rising techno and acid house waves by the end of the 80s 🤩. It then started to appear on ecstasy pills… see the irony? At the beginning of the 90s, Kurt Cobain and his mythical grunge rock band Nirvana also made it their group’s logo – this time a smiley that seems to have taken one or two substances too many… 😵 Shortly after, the smiley took on its digital form and started appearing on mobile phones, which at the time was just a few black pixels on a small white screen. It was often drawn with two basic mobile phone punctuation signs: a colon and a bracket :) . At the end of the decade, different moods also appeared, and its first accessory was a pair of sunglasses 😎. Nowadays, smileys convey a range of different emotions, which explains its new name: the emoticon, or the emoji. It is now found everywhere, such as on designer clothes and other items; the largest and most influential brands also use them, as they rake in millions in cash 🤑. It is also very popular among celebrities, as they regularly use them on their social media, for instance (not to mention those on Harry Styles’s nail polish!). The smiley has been taken over by storm in art, music, cinema, and pop culture in general; artists and graphic designers never miss a chance to revisit and twist it to their liking, and nothing is considered out of bounds 🤪. At Mondays, the smiley never feels blue. Or does it? So why did Mondays choose the smiley as its ambassador? Two years ago, our agency decided to completely rethink its visual identity. Our website needed a dark mode and a light mode, a must-have in our digital world. During our brainstorming sessions, “mode” quickly becomes synonymous with “mood”; to visually define this choice, our team agreed upon the smiley, as it is a universal symbol for the relationship between human emotions and our digital world. Our website’s smiley (or not-so-smiley) on/off switch was thus adopted. It has now become an integral part of our agency and what we do, as it superbly captures the essence of our work: to create and share emotions through digital communication and our publications for our clients. It is a daily source of inspiration for our creative team, especially for Eli, who has had it tattooed on her wrist (We kid you not!). And if you’re ever feeling down, why not cheer up with our own joy-inducing Instagram filter? ;) What about you, what’s your favorite emoji? 🙃 Click here for more happy news, or here for more smiley scrolling.

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