Emoji was added to the Unicode standard in 2010. In the beginning, only emojis from category [Smileys & Emotion] have yellow skin, and emojis from [People & Body], they are all white skin and you cannot change it skin color.

Although emojis are under the management of the Unicode Consortium, when a new emoji become final candidate, the Unicode Consortium will only decide the basic shape and description of each emoji, and give its black and white prototype, but it cannot decide this emoji's final design in each vendor. Therefore, what color an emoji should be rendered and how to deal with the details are all left to the vendors to design by themselves. However, in the beginning, most vendors set the emoji skin color to white skin.

Under this reason, emoji has received various criticisms like lack of expression, lack of diversity, racism, etc. There are even some organizations that have launched a petition called "DIVERSIFY MY EMOJI" to protest to Apple that emoji's skin tone should be changenable.

Until Unicode 8.0 in 2015, the Unicode Consortium released five skin tone modifiers based on Fitzpatrick skin classification, they can provide five kinds of modification for character's skin color: 🏻 🏼 🏽 🏾 🏿

But no matter how the skin color changes, they all use yellow (#FFCC22) as the default color. This yellow color does not point to Asian skin color, it does not even look like normal human skin color. So why do almost all vendors choose such a yellow as the default skin tone of emoji?

The very first yellow smiley emoji

The reason why emoji's skin color chooses yellow is somehow related to the classic smiley face that popular around the world from 1960s to the 1970s.

This smiling face was born in the United States in 1963, when an insurance company hired graphic designer Harvey Ball to design an icon to help calm their employees' anxiety. Therefore the classic smiling emoji was born.

💡Harvey Ball💬:I made a circle with a smile for a mouth on yellow paper, because it was sunshiny and bright。(I made a circle with a smile for a mouth on yellow paper, because it was sunshiny and bright.)

This easy-to-draw smiley face later become so popular, and even became one of the representative logos of hippie culture. It was active in various costumes, comics and music albums, and became the symbol of "World Smile Day".

💡:The smiley face used by the French Evening News to inspire people(upper left); The villain character in comic [Watchmen](lower left); Hippie wearing a smiling emoji T-shirt (right)

All in all, the popularity of this yellow smiling face has laid the foundation for the skin color of emojis.

The reason why emoji choose yellow

There may be the following reasons that why the default skin color of emoji is yellow:

  • From the perspective of color psychology, yellow is a very positive color, and its brightness can make people feel happy. The psychological effect of color comes from the direct impact of physical light stimulation of color on human physiology, such as red makes people feel excited, blue makes people feel calm and relaxed... and yellow can make people feel warm and hopeful, and see something yellow may make people smile and happy. This is also the positive emotional effect emoji wants to bring to people.
  • Yellow is also a neutral color close to human skin tone. Most of vendors choose this color is because of its characteristics "ethnically neutral" and "Non-human" .
  • This kind of brighter yellow can take care of the display problems of various models and better show the details of emoji. If the yellow is not bright enough, it may be white on earlier devices; and if the emoji is not yellow but red or blue, the facial details of the emoji cannot be displayed well.
  • 💡:Red and blue emojis are easy to make people feel fuzzy and dizzy, but yellow does not have this kind of problem.


Why emoji is yellow? About this question, there is no accurate answer but only guess. As mentioned above, the color yellow is creative and optimistic. Yellow can maintaining its neutrality, it is also very eye-catching. Many well-known animate characters also choose similar yellow as their skin color.

Combining the historical origin of emoji, the neutrality requirement of emoji and the color characteristics of yellow, it is reasonable for most of vendors to choose yellow as the default skin color of emoji.

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