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Do It With a Smile

by Pharra Perry

Masks have become a pretty standard accessory in 2020. Don’t leave your home without it! While necessary, they do limit the ability to fully read someone’s face. The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the mouth is like the step stool to better see out of the window. Even with a mask covering your nose and mouth, it’s still pretty easy to gauge when someone is smiling. The squinted eye crinkled at the corners by the raised cheeks can’t be denied their time in the sun. Who would have guessed all those years of practicing Tyra Banks’s smizing techniques would finally come in handy?

With masks being all the rage in 2020, one emoji that is finding itself now in heavier rotation is the mask emoji. It is you and you are it. The perfect emoji to insert into almost any 2020 conversation. Apple recently announced an update to the CDC compliant emoji: the face hidden under the mask would now be one that is smiling. Bet you hadn’t even considered what sort of face existed under that mask. Is it sticking out its tongue? Making duck lips? Laughing at someone who isn’t wearing a mask correctly? A mystery that will go unsolved forever. The updated emoji with its raised brows, crinkled eyes, and rosy cheeks makes it very clear. This little face is happily grinning.

Masks suck. Most people aren’t necessarily happy to put one on, but the importance of wearing them for the safety of others is understood so people don them whenever they may find themselves in the mix with a group of people. Apple’s design modification while small is certainly impactful. It’s a design choice with the user in mind that turns the frown of having to wear a mask upside down and says, “I’m happy to do my part and I’ll do it with a smile.”  Pandemic messaging doesn’t have to be dire. In fact, putting a positive spin on the tough aspects of pandemic life could actually help people feel happier and more inclined to comply with the realities of 2020.

Could it even be that we see more adjustments or even newer designs inspired by the pandemic? Even once the pandemic is but a memory, there will be many aspects of life that will be forever impacted. Design is no stranger to adapting to the ever-changing culture. As society progressed and altered the discourse around people with disabilities and wheelchairs, the Wheelchair Symbol or International Symbol of Access evolved from a headless body sitting idly in a wheelchair to one that not only found a head, but was now leaning forward to imply action and movement. This design progression completely changes how wheelchair users are perceived. The icon goes from a rather helpless figure that you feel sorry for to one the implies ability even in a limited form that isn’t looking for sympathy. It’s a small change with a big impact.

Apple’s change to the mask emoji is meant to remove some of the disdain people have around wearing a mask. Wearing a mask is something to smile about, not feel resentment about. To elicit the intended reaction from audiences, be mindful of not only language but design. It plays a key role in how people perceive and react to your messaging. A brightly colored sign with fun typography and whimsical imagery politely asking customers to “please wear a mask while inside the store” is bound to get a better response than a threatening “no mask, no service” sign at the same store that looks like it was penned by a kindergartner and doesn’t even include a smiley face to soften the verbal blow. It’s all in how you ask.

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