Emoji users stereotypically fall into two camps: The Millennial zeitgeist/Snapchat crowd and the tech-forward Slack users. The emoji audience is much broader, but there is one often-overlooked area that could be a the key to emoji's future: travel.

The new startup Iconspeak sells clothing that features only emojis. The flagship product, Iconspeak World, is a shirt with 40 emojis on it. The theory is that you can point to the right picture and explain what you need to anyone, even if they don't speak your language.

When were you the last time in a situation where no language or hand gesture that you master was sufficient to get you what you wanted? Imagine you are abroad - in a foreign country, in a foreign culture, maybe while travelling the world. That's what we did, travelling the world - partially, well the three of us combined almost completely. In the furthest and deepest corners of our world we were repeatedly left with no words, either in breathtaking awe due to the sceneries or in empty silence, due to our lacking linguistic talents. Such situations got us thinking about how to bridge language barriers with utmost simplicity, on a global level. 

Emoji-filled shirts, hats and bags is how the Iconspeak founders plan on melting barriers. Isn't it amazing that the American symbol for bathroom is identical, or at least close enough, to most bathroom symbols for other cultures to understand?

There are implications beyond your experience physically walking around with icons.

  • As teams become more international and dependent on chat to communicate, emojis will become essential to quickly explaining complicated systems or feedback.
  • In international sales, well-placed emojis may smooth over communication awkwardness or barriers between seller and customer.
  • And imagine the power an emoji could have when expressing a universal message to an international audience through a public ad or service campaign.​

It may not be practical for you to don an emoji shirt, but it does make perfect sense to be emoji ready for when you do need to connect with other cultures.

Published on: Apr 26, 2016