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Designers Tell the Story of Mexico City Through Emojis

One of the emojis from first-place winner Itzel Oropeza's deck 

City-specific emoji — from Beyoncé for Houston to the Times Square Elmo for New York — are on the rise in the U.S. Now, Mexico City is hopping on the textable symbol train with a host of Lucha Libre wrestlers, axolotls (i.e., Mexican salamanders), Frida Kahlos and axolotl Frida Kahlos.

(Design by Eduardo Camacho Mayén and Pedro Rodrigo Grajeda Ortega)

(Design by Ivonne Andrea Torres and Martin Robert Cook)

Those symbols, and many more, are the results of a contest held by the Laboratorio Para La Ciudad, the city’s office for civic innovation and urban creativity, and organized by emoji expert (and Next City contributor) Zoe Mendelson. The contest was announced in June with the tagline “How to Capture a City in 20 Symbols,” and the names of winners were released today. Originally, it was stated that the winning pack would be turned into a free app, but the city has now decided to include the designs of the first-, second- and third-place winners, along with several honorable mentions and picks from Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera.

As Fast Company wrote when the contest was announced, the lab “opted to keep the design brief relatively open,” asking designers to simply create emoji that represented Mexico City. Judges included Emoji Dick author Fred Benenson, journalist and creator of the Dumpling Emoji Jenny 8 Lee, and designers Federico Jordan and Oscar Estrada and Keziah, among others.

“Emojis have become an aesthetic, a playful way of communicating,” Gabriella Gómez-Mont, founder and director of Laboratorio para la Ciudad told Fast Company. “We’re very intrigued with the relationship between a person and a megalopolis, how people actually relate to it, and what emotional and visual responses [we will] get.”

“To me, it’s a way of bringing to the surface the different ways citizens of a city can all imagine it so differently, of seeing what are the focal points and for whom,” Mendelson wrote in an email to Next City.

City-centric emoji in the U.S. have tended to capture easily recognizable pieces of the city landscape — things that tourists would likely be familiar with. At the same time, the ones that are used most tend to convey some emotional message, as is often the case with the “LOVE” statue-turned-symbol from Philadelphia.

The same formula seems to be playing out in the symbols chosen in Mexico City. The combination of landmarks and cultural symbols easily associated with the city aren’t necessarily stagnant — it’s easy to imagine the brujo axolotl and the torta-eating axolotl being used to convey wildly different moods. ​

(Design by Itzel Oropeza)

(Design by Itzel Oropeza)

The top three winning teams are: Itzel Oropeza Castillo, Eduardo Camacho Mayén and Pedro Rodrigo Grajeda Ortega, and Ivonne Andrea Torres and Martin Robert Cook. See more of the finalists and their designs on the lab’s Twitter.