We spend a lot of time each day looking at, tweeting, and texting emoji, but few of us get paid to do so. Keith Broni, on the other hand, makes his living doing just that.
Last December, London-based translation company Today Translations put out a call for an “emoji translator.” The job listing made news, partly because of its novelty — it’s believed to be the first role of its kind — and partly because it just sounds like so much fun. Who doesn’t want to spend their day looking at emoji?
Today Translations received over 500 applications, and the interview process took five months, but Broni emerged as the winning candidate. You can’t major in emoji translation (at least, not yet), but Broni’s educational background does complement the role. The Irishman graduated from University College London with a Master’s degree in business psychology. His dissertation, which was entitled using only emoji, looked at the ways that consumer behavior can influence how we perceive emoji in combination with various brand names.
Broni’s passion for emoji — a job requirement, obviously — is so strong that he organized Europe’s first Emoji Spelling Bee, in which contestants were given a limited amount of time to convert a phrase into emoji. When Today Translations posted the job, multiple friends sent Broni the listing, recognizing that it was a natural fit for a man whose days were already defined by hearts, smileys, and thumbs-up icons.
The interview process began with a short emoji test, asking applicants to decipher the meanings of some emoji combinations, as well as write a few sentences exclusively in emoji. The test was followed by a phone interview and then a presentation on what a handbook for using emoji might look like.
The job, as fun as it might seem, is far more complicated than it sounds. “The hardest things I’ve had to translate are ones where the intention is for it to be highly universal,” Broni explains during a phone interview with Refinery29. Even though emoji are often referred to as the new universal language, meanings can vary widely from one culture to the next. Take the thumbs up emoji.
“It’s very popular in the West, and is the ubiquitous Facebook icon, but in the Middle East it’s equivalent to an offense, like giving someone the middle finger,” Broni says.
The same goes for the A-Okay hand gesture, which Broni says can be very offensive in Latin America. Even the basic happy face isn’t so basic. In China, Broni says it’s often used to convey that you’re finished, or done with a conversation.