It’s amazing to think that there was a time, not so long ago, that we exclusively relied on our words and facial expressions to convey how we were feeling. But thanks to the creation of the emoji, we can now smirk, vomit and give praise hands at will, with just the tap of a finger.
Thankfully, in last year, the formerly exclusively yellow emoji options have now expanded to include a range of skin tones. But one designer has taken it a step further, honoring her Ethiopian heritage and melanin-rich brethren with a line of emojis made for us, by us.
Deseta [deh-seh-ta] is an Amharic noun that means “an emotion; how you feel when something puts a smile on your face.” Amharic is one of the many languages spoken in Ethiopia, the birthplace of Deseta Design founder Maro Haile. As a tribute, the American-bred Haile has created a series of over 220 stickers, including 146 melanin-rich faces (equal parts male and female), and 83 objects evocative of Ethiopian culture, including cross-cultural favorites like injera, goursha, buna and the jebena. As Haile told The Glow Up:
As a product developer/designer of soft home goods [for the mass market] by day, I am reminded daily that there isn’t a place in the mass market that reflects who I am: an Ethiopian by birth who was raised in the Midwest and now calls Brooklyn home.
Growing up, my parent’s home was full of books on Ethiopian history and art. Although I couldn’t read the text, I loved looking at all the church paintings in these books, which were full of brown-skinned people with big afros and big eyes, adorned in colorful, brightly patterned clothes. I also have drawers full of necklaces from my aunties back home with traditional [Ethiopian coptic] crosses made of complex and beautiful line work. I grew up with this powerful imagery, but always found it a shame that I could not let it influence the products I would create at work.
So I created Deseta, which means “happiness” in Amharic (my parent’s tongue), as a space to draw upon my cultural influences. True to my background, the art and designs I create here express my take on the traditional motifs and patterns found in Ethiopian art.
But you don’t need to be Ethiopian to enjoy and employ these emojis; the icons have universal appeal—if you live and love blackness, you’ll love using these to express yours. The keyboard and sticker pack are available for both iOS and Android (just search “Deseta”), so there’s no excuse not to get your cultural exchange on, emoji-style.
The Glow Up tip: Love the Deseta aesthetic? Haile also makes a series of dolls, cards, culturally relevant metallic temporary tattoos, totes and more—including custom options and invites—all available at the Deseta Design website.