This Latina Is the Genius Behind Our Favorite Emojis

Latina Apple’s Emojis Nuestro Stories

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Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

It was the summer of 2008, and Angela Guzman, a young Colombian woman, was one year away from her MFA in Graphic Design from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and had landed an internship at Apple with the design team that created the iPhone. 

Little did she know that the team, and the mentor she would work with, would change her life.

It made her an Emoji star.

Taking Emojis to a new digital universe 

Emojis had been around since the 1990s — think Shigetaka Kurita, who designed the first emoji — but they were not yet an essential part of our daily digital conversation. Guzman, and her mentor at Apple, Raymond Sepúlveda, would change that. 

“I was still trying to make sense of the assignment I’d just received when someone asked if I knew what an emoji was,” Guzman wrote in a Medium post. “I didn’t, and at the time, neither did the majority of the English-speaking world. I answered ‘no.'”

She soon learned what the word meant — a Japanese portmanteau of two words: “e,” meaning picture, and “moji,” representing a character.

Sepúlveda tutored her on how to make the emojis Apple style. Guzman started by creating the engagement ring. It was challenging because the textures were metal and faceted gems. “The metal ring alone took me an entire day,” she wrote. 

Latina emojis
Image courtesy of Angela Guzman.

Sepúlveda was an excellent designer, one of the best in the business. He mentored Guzman throughout the process. During the next three months, Guzman and Sepúlveda would bring to life some of our favorite emojis: a face with tears of joy, a pile of poo, and a red heart. They would share an office and become best friends. 

“Pretty soon, however, I could do two a day, then three, and so forth. Regardless of how fast I could crank one out, I constantly checked the details: the direction of the wood grain, how freckles appeared on apples and eggplants, how leaf veins ran on a hibiscus, how leather was stitched on a football, the details were neverending,” she wrote. 

Every detail mattered, and some were even reusable. For example, Sepúlveda used his happy poop swirl as the top of the ice cream cone. I bet none of us knew that! 

The lady in the red dress — or the salsa dancer — posing in a ruffled red dress is probably Guzman’s and Sepúlveda’s most famous emoji and one of the most difficult. Both left it until the end of Guzman’s internship. 

“You can thank her ruffled dress for that and Raymond for the final output. It was inspired by the color palette and proportions of a dress that my sister had created in real life that same year,” Guzman wrote.

The emoji became an Internet meme and was popularized when Zendaya wore a similar look for the 2016 Golden Globes. And it is a staple in many Latinas’ digital vocabulary. 

The internship was just the beginning of a fantastic career. Guzman is now an award-winning UX design lead and entrepreneur from Silicon Valley and is still friends with Sepúlveda.×250.jpeg

By Susanne Ramírez de Arellano


By Susanne Ramírez de Arellano

Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is a writer and cultural critic who used to be a journalist, television producer, and news director. She lives between San Juan and New York and is, at present, making her first attempt at writing a novel.

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