Bringing the happy-crying to life.

Ever been so happy a tear comes to your eye?

Maybe your friend finally gets into that graduate program they’ve been waiting on. Maybe you watch Call Me By Your Name to the end. Or your sibling has a baby! Something like that?

I feel this quite often yet find that expressing it digitally involves tricky emoji-math. Should I use the 🤗 hugging-face and 😔 sad emojis in combination? Which one comes first? Or the 😂 face-with-tears-of-joy emoji?

No, too hysterical.

So much of my interpersonal communication happens digitally since many friends and family members live abroad.

I felt the drive to do something about this.

And we’re off! (aka: Quick Research)

My first step was to browse through existing emojis. There are many different sets from different brands and devices. Given Android is the most common mobile OS in the world, and Whatsapp the most common device-agnostic messaging app, this seemed a good place to start.

I started with asking for input on Facebook:

We need a happy-cry emoji. I don’t mean laughing-cry, I mean like a sort of happy-memory-life-is-nice-its-ok-to-cry-about-normal-stuff emoji. Know what I mean?

Left: A message a friend received from their mom. Right: My announcement on Facebook.

My favourite: :’)

I also took a look at to see if anyone else feels the same. Almost 10,000 people!

Don’t you just wanna sponsor this little one?

However, the happy-crying expression I had in mind was a little different: less baby, more emotional Michael Scott.

Design Time!

I’d seen so many emojis at this point. As I jumped into designing, I realized there were a few key areas that would make or break this facial expression:

  • the angle of the eyebrows: confused is not a good look.
  • the weight and realism of the tear: we want a juicy one.
  • the smile level: how happy is too happy?
  • lighting: could be tricky.
My first emoji — ever.

Gah! There it is. v1.

Look at them brows.

I was happy with how I got the light from above not only on the face, but the eyes and teardrop as well. But… it needed some work. Cue iteration mode!

Moving through some variations of the happy-crying emoji.

What happened with those teardrops, there? Layered gradient fills helped me get the effect I wanted:

Iterating on the teardrop.

Getting better! I found the bigger eyes definitely gave it a happier vibe to offset the huge tear. And the slightly rotated features were a result of me staring in the mirror and pretending a 🐻 cute-bear was just in front of me.

It needed a bit more work to be crystal clear at smaller sizes and fit in well with the Whatsapp set I was designing for. Some bolder colours, a bigger teardrop, and a punchier mouth were in order.

Here we go again…

Looking good, I think! The yellows and reds are more accurate. The darker eyebrows, eyes, and mouth help the expression get across at the smaller sizes where it would actually be used. And that last teardrop is real juicy with a stroke to ensure it stands out against the face.

So far…

How we doin’ Michael?

“Society teaches us that having feelings is bad and wrong. Well, that’s baloney, because grief isn’t wrong. There’s such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.”

I placed our happy-crying emoji next to a set of similar Whatsapp expressions to see if I was ready to call it done (for now).

Can you find me?

It’s close, but different. Perfect.

I also wanted to know: how might it look in the wild?

Simon is so happy he’s crying a bit!


A before n’ after shot always feels good:

We’ve come so far…

I’m not sure what the next steps are for happy-crying emoji. But I can say it’s been a journey bringing this to life. I loved getting into the little details of the facial expressions we make as humans. I can understand why emojis are such a popular way to communicate: they get a certain feeling or expression or mood across when words can’t.

We do that in-person constantly.

So here’s one more to help with those other times.


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