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Museum of Modern Art adds original set of emojis to its collection

These "humble masterpieces of design" were the start of a new visual language, says the museum.

NTT Docomo's original emoji set.

MoMA

We might have just found the most viewed and used pieces of art ever made.

New York's Museum of Modern Art said Wednesday it added the original set of 176 emojis, those little picture characters that have taken over the internet, to its collection.

This is the very first set of emojis, designed for phones by Japanese carrier NTT Docomo in 1999. Emojis became an instant success in Japan, where the use of characters to express emotions such as the shrug "¯\_(ツ)_/¯" had been prevalent. This echoed the use of glyphs, like the smiley face ":)" in the west. Emojis, however, worked much better on phones and saved valuable texting characters. The original set was quickly copied by rival phone companies.

Google included emojis in its Gmail service as early as in 2006. They really exploded in 2011, when Apple added emoji functionality to its iPhone messaging app.

Over the years, emojis have evolved into life-like characters, but this original set were rather basic.

"These 12x12-pixel humble masterpieces of design planted the seeds for the explosive growth of a new visual language," MoMA said. And if you have a phone, you're the walking proof of that, every day.