On August 8, 2015, my friend Yiying Lu was using the Messages app on her iPhone to chat with another friend of hers, Jennifer 8. Lee, about their plans to get together in San Francisco for a meal of Chinese dumplings. Lu wanted to express her excitement by sending Lee a message incorporating the dumpling emoji–until she realized that there wasn’t a dumpling emoji.
Nothing remarkable about that. People have been discovering that emoji they want to use don’t exist ever since the first set of 180 such icons debuted in Japan nearly two decades ago. But Lu is a graphic artist whose primary passion is creating work that melds the worlds of art and tech, a goal that brought her from Shanghai to San Francisco by way of Sydney. She’s done work for clients such as Disney, Pepsi, and Expedia and is the creator of the drawing that became Twitter’s Failwhale. And so her instinct, when she discovered the tragic absence of a dumpling emoji, was that it was a problem to be solved.