Back in January, as celebrations around the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death were being announced, you may have spotted a couple of rumblings in the press about a project we’ve been working on with BBC Learning. Headlines including ‘BBC Enlists Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench and Emojis’ from The Telegraph hinted at the role of our project in the BBC’s Shakespeare Festival. According to Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, they have “never done anything as daring, as adventurous, as [they’re] doing now” for the Shakespeare Festival. Exciting times.
We are proud to announce that as of this week, the project – ShakespeareMe - has gone live! ShakespeareMe is a web-app, concepted, designed & built by us, that celebrates the language and emotions within Shakespeare’s work in a playful, personalised way.
The web-app – which is available at www.bbc.co.uk/shakespeareme – uses emojis to connect Shakespeare with new audiences, and invites them to explore and share the Bard’s work. With ShakespeareMe now launched and being played with by lots of people including BBC Radio 1’s Greg James, now seems like the perfect time to share the story behind the project.
Everyday, there are around 30 billion messages sent on WhatsApp, 422 million status updates posted on Facebook, and 500 million tweets shared on Twitter. Whether it’s a message to a friend or a post on social media, we are all constantly trying to find the right words to describe how we feel; excited, frustrated, bored, heartbroken, embarrassed or proud. The beauty of language is that it gives us endless combinations of words and phrases to express ourselves.
During his lifetime, William Shakespeare pushed the boundaries of language to describe the human condition to mass audiences. The emotional insights in his work are what sets him apart from other writers, and are the reason he is still celebrated across the world, 400 years after his death.
It was this thread of human emotion through Shakespeare’s work and contemporary communication that inspired our concept for ShakespeareMe; which was selected following a pitch process that saw around 60 creative responses submitted to the BBC Learning team.
Building on the idea that emotions are ‘the original global language’, ShakespeareMe makes his words relatable and accessible by pairing quotes from his work with combinations of relevant emojis (the global language now used to express feelings in modern day digital communications).
Our idea seeks to demonstrate to new audiences that the themes running through Shakespeare’s work are all still central to the world we live in today, not least in the social media universe!
Emojis have penetrated our everyday lives as a popular tool to help punctuate and add meaning to words. By pairing combinations of these simple faces and symbols with Shakespearean quotes, ShakespeareMe uses emojis to demystify this seemingly impenetrable language and illustrate the often complex sentiments behind his words. This simple mechanic draws a direct connection between the audience and the very real, human emotions behind Shakespeare’s words.
The emojis they pick could represent how they feel at that moment; they might choose weird and wonderful pairings; or even explore emotions they think they already understand, such as love, anger or heartbreak. Over 300 quotes in total are ready to be discovered, all taken from Shakespeare’s timeless plays and sonnets. Each quote card is designed to be shared on social media along with the hashtag #ShakespeareMe, or downloaded as an image to the user’s device.
To enhance the learning experience, each quote comes with it’s own explanation: Each quote card can be flipped around to reveal contextual information and the meaning behind the quote. The team have been working closely with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT); the world's leading charity promoting the enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare's work, life and times; to help select the quotes and develop the content.
The barriers between the younger target audiences and the work of Shakespeare became central to our design process when creating the look and feel for the tool. In order to overcome any preconceived ideas about Shakespeare, we intentionally avoided using traditional imagery normally associated with the subject matter and instead focussed on a bold, colourful, modern direction. The web-app was designed using a mobile-first approach, and the interface allows for fast exploration of different combinations of emojis and simple navigation through the quote cards.
A black and white colour scheme is paired with contemporary, youthful photography, juxtaposing Shakespeare’s sixteenth century words with emotive, energetic imagery. The fresh-faced, expressive images that serve as a backdrop to the quote cards reinforce the emotional meanings behind the language, and remind us of their relevance more than 400 years after they were originally published.
To give it a unique identity amongst other emoji related content on the web, we also created a new set of emoji designs for the tool User testing throughout the development of the project proved that individuals interpret the same emoji in very different ways, and use them in different combinations to express their feelings. In order to address this the emoji set had to be flexible but familiar. The finished set of simple, clean designs offers a visual twist on popular emoji patterns, while maintaining the core emotional expressions of each icon.
With the project just launched, we can’t wait to see how people use the tool – we hear that BBC Three’s Stacey Dooley and singer Jake Quickenden are among those who have had a play! Head to www.bbc.co.uk/shakespeareme or follow the hashtag #ShakespeareMe and see what you can discover.