The culture of visual communication is growing, and growing fast.

Looking for a proof point? Look no further than the Oxford Dictionaries, which made history by announcing an emoji as their Word Of The Year for 2015. The ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ pictograph won the honor after being statistically proven to be the most used emoji in the world.

Earlier in 2015, Apple introduced a new, diverse set of emojis to better respect and represent its racially-diverse user base. Even the recently crowned Pantone Colors of the Year—Rose Quartz (a pale pink) and Serenity (a light blue)—are using visual communication’s ability to transcend linguistic barriers to make a strong statement about gender politics.

With our shrinking attention spans and the growth of visual culture, our language too is being truncated and reshaped to accommodate these tiny emotive pictographs. Visual iconography now peppers the language we use in a variety of contexts: from brand messaging to texting. But how is this change manifesting in the way we communicate?

To understand this evolution of language, it’s important to first understand the ways in which this new language is currently being used. For this, we turned to the H+K Perspectives panel—a diverse 20,000-person strong Canadian research community. Here are some of the key findings from their recent research:

OMG: Across the board (all genders and ages), more than two-thirds of the respondents regularly use acronyms in daily conversation. Women, and more specifically, young women, are the most active proponents of this trend.

smiley : Emojis have become ubiquitous—more than half of the respondents said that they’re aware of the characters, while more than 80 percent recognized their lower-tech cousins, emoticons.

Emoji Use

HeartEyes  vs.  Angry: Gen Z posted the highest awareness and heaviest usage of emojis, with 92 percent of 19 to 24 year-olds reporting using them regularly. These numbers go into free fall for respondents born before 1990. The next heaviest demographic in emoji-fandom are millennials, but with only 58 percent of them reporting regular usage. It’s clear emojis are a staple of communication for Gen Z, who reportedly believe that the utility of emojis go far beyond injecting a bit of wit and playfulness into conversation. In fact, 100 percent of the 19 to 24 year-old emoji-users agreed that emojis helped convey emotional meaning and tone. This is at odds with their baby-boomer parents, only half of whom agreed with that statement. Boomers reported being highly skeptical of emojis and were twice as likely to report that emojis negatively impact our ability to communicate effectively.

Emoji Respondents

Bizmojis  clipboard+ money : The vast majority of respondents can agree that while emojis may be fun and efficient, they’re not necessarily professional. A whopping 97 percent of emoji users report using them in personal communication, but only 11 percent report that they indulge in this habit at the office. However, when Gen Z fully enters the workforce, there’s a big chance they’ll bring the emoji with them—with 21 percent reporting the use of emojis (or “bizmojis”) at work.

Although the research pool was entirely Canadian, the shift we are seeing does not just restrict itself to a single country—its reach is far more expansive. Globally, about 92 percent of the online population have used emojis, either once and awhile or multiple times a day. Users also tend to prefer positive emojis (representing excitement, surprise, or happiness) to negative ones (representing fear, anxiety, or sadness). Countries such as France are predominantly positive, with 86 percent of their emojis relaying those emotions, while U.S. Spanish speakers are predominantly negative at 22 percent.

The most-used emojis today fall under five main categories: happy faces (45 percent), sad faces (14 percent), hearts (12.5 percent), hand gestures (5.3 percent), and romantic (2.4 percent). Because visual communication tools allow people to convey a diverse set of emotions and ideas without language, it isn’t surprising that emojis have become inherently valuable.

Although it’s difficult to say how large a part emoji culture will play in our lives in the future, one thing is for sure: emoji or no emoji, visual communication is here to stay. winky