When Katrina Parrott launched her League City-based business five years ago, she wanted to set the world of emoji on its ear. Parrott and her daughter, Katie, then a college student, worked together to create emojis — faces and symbols expressing a range of emotions that can be attached to electronic messages — that represented an entire world of faces.
“We created the idea of applying five skin tones to those faces,” Parrott said. iDiversicons, a catalogue of emojis, drawn by illustrator Jeanetta Queen, stood to revolutionize the blossoming world of computer-based emojis.
And it did.
But when computer giants Apple and Google began applying the five skin tones — light beige to dark brown with golden tones in the middle — to their existing emojis, Parrott’s sales plummeted, she said.
“The idea was ours,” she said, pointing to a diagram labeled “Applying Color Theory to the World of Emoji.” She shared her ideas with Apple and others and is proud that the computer world has embraced a more diverse world of emoji than existed when iDiversicons was first launched, she said.
Initially, Parrott hoped that Apple would license iDiversicons’ emojis, providing funds to develop and expand her product, but the company didn’t, choosing instead to diversify its own.
Parrott settled for a spot in the Apple Store and in the Google Play Store, selling her emoji keyboard app at $1.99 per download to computer users who want more sophisticated images, specifically designed to represent the vast diversity of human faces and skin tones.
“We’re trying to keep it fresh,” Parrott said. “We continue to keep making it the best it can be.”
Parrott has grown the inventory of emoji on her keyboard, introducing gender-neutral characters, biracial couples and mixed-race families, gender variations, stylized hair and gestures that offer users new ways to express themselves. She has also added animated gifs, including celebrity athletes uttering catch-phrases and political figures gesturing in familiar ways. The fist bump is available on iDiversicons in a variety of mixed skin tones.
In 2015, iDiversicons partnered with disability rights leader Greg Smith, a wheelchair-bound strength trainer, to create a disability pride emoji that has multiplied into a variety of images depicting disabled people doing unexpected things: a one-armed surfing woman, for example, and a track star with one prosthetic leg.
Scrolling through the iDiversicons emoji selection this holiday season, users can find a Black Santa, depicted next to a White Santa.
Parrott’s work as a native app developer, over the five years since she launched iDiversicons, has been featured in PC World magazine, Seventeen, Texas Monthly and numerous other publications as computer users have become accustomed to a more diverse selection of emoji to choose from.
Parrott continues working on getting the patent for the five skin tones approved, supporting her claim to the concept.
“Recognition means a lot,” she said.
She also stands by the quality of iDiversicons’ emoji collection, carefully crafted to include details often overlooked, she said.
“It’s more than just painting the skin tone on existing emojis,” she said.
To illustrate, she produced a promotional video comparing Apple’s standard keyboard emoji representations of various characters and posting iDiversicon’s various and more detailed representations next to them.
Competitive, ambitious and proud of her product, Parrott’s enthusiasm has not diminished despite not capturing profits, at least not yet.
In January, Apple is starting a program to help female app developers, and Parrott intends to apply, she said.
“What gives me pleasure is that I came up with something that others have adopted,” she said. “Now, I just need to monetize and keep growing it.”