10.27.2017Community

#weneedmore Emoji makers: Students find new forms of expression through design

By: Kendall Lee
At a recent Verizon Innovative Learning retail lab, middle school students learn how to distill their emotions into one tell-all image.
Children in front of monitor

Photos by: Michael J. Le Brecht II

Gabrielle Levine, age 10, has known for a long time she wanted to design an embarrassed emoji. She’s searched through many, many pictures for just the right expression —the best detail for the cheeks, the appropriate size of the eyes — but none of the files she’s seen quite capture what she needs.

“If someone asks you a funny question and you don’t get the answer to it, you want to put in the embarrassed emoji,” she explains. “But the only embarrassed emoji is with circles, so it looks like you’re blushing, not that you’re embarrassed.”

That’s why the fourth grader has come to the Verizon store in Herald Square on a Saturday afternoon to learn emoji design. Huddled around a red, oval-shaped table, Levine, and other young students, learn how to translate a single, important emotion into an eraser-sized image. 

Tamari wowed by classmate Kia’s creative skills

Tamari wowed by classmate Kia’s creative skills

Almost a year ago, Verizon Innovative Learning started offering free retail lab tech classes for eight to 12-year-olds who might not otherwise get access to hands-on learning. Topics have included 3D printing, music mixing and wearable electronics.

Gabrielle’s previous school offered a class on computer coding, but the instructors at her new school don’t teach much about technology. Gabrielle’s mom, Alissa, uses the retail labs to fill the gap. “She’s been really engaged by it,” she says of Gabrielle. “And now my younger daughter is interested, too.” That excitement is why Alissa was happy to bring Gabrielle and her sister, Ava, in from Brooklyn to get the tutorial.

Ryan showing off his emoji masters badge

Ryan showing off his emoji masters badge

The retail lab begins with a video about the history of emojis—pictographs first appeared in Japan in 1999. This segues into the assignment of the day: create an original image that perfectly distills an emotion. Justin Ryan, the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab Instructor, explains how to draw shapes and paste images with Vectr, a free online graphics editor.

Karen Cabrera has brought her son Ryan to several of the Verizon labs, and is very happy the lessons rely on open source and free platforms. “If there’s a program that he used here, he can continue using it,” says Karen. And Ryan often refers back to what he’s learned in the classes and continues to experiment. 

Tamari’s “sour” emoji design

Tamari’s “sour” emoji design

In Tamari Bryan’s emoji one eye is a black circle, the other an “X” and underneath a stitched zig-zag suggests a mouth. The feeling he’s trying to capture? Sour — that moment when a lemon puckers up your face. Tamari hasn’t done much computer design work before, yet his riveting emoticon demonstrates a great knack for being visually impactful with just a few lines. He hopes to do more design.

 “I like how you can be creative and they give you a lot of different designs to start from,” says Tamari. “You have an option to choose whatever your own emoji could be. And I like how you can just make it from scratch instead of getting a template.”

Instructor Justin Ryan and Verizon volunteer Sherri Salley help the students emote

Instructor Justin Ryan and Verizon volunteer Sherri Salley help the students emote

For Justin, the class is about more than teaching kids to draw a cute face. It’s a critical thinking exercise that encourages young minds to translate an emotion into an illustration and consider if the image communicates the intended idea. “When they see the emoji come to life, their eyes open up just a little wider and it’s really cool to see,” he says.

Sherri Salley, a 29-year Verizon employee, volunteers to assist at every STEM-related Verizon event she can, and has attended almost all of the company’s retail labs. She grew up loving math and science, and studied at Brooklyn Technical High School. “I’m an advocate of the #weneedmore initiative” —Verizon’s recently launched campaign to introduce underserved kids to STEM— “and I love the energy that the kids have. They’re so much more advanced than we were at their age. It comes easy for them.” The classes also help her stay in touch with the latest technology and a new generation. “I’m learning to keep up.”

Gabrielle with her embarrassed emoji

Gabrielle with her embarrassed emoji

Gabrielle has just about finished her embarrassed emoji when the lab wraps up. It has horizontal lines under each eye, like the jot of grease football players use to reduce glare but her lines are red rather than black.

“I’m very happy with it,” she announces proudly.

Learn more about Verizon Innovative Learning’s commitment to providing free tech, free access and immersive STEM learning experiences to students at weneedmore.com

For​ ​related​ ​media​ ​inquiries,​ ​please​ ​contact​ story.inquiry@one.verizon.com

About the author(s): 

Kendall Lee is a senior manager in the Verizon Foundation