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Expressing emotion in electronic mail

Kevin Curran (School of Computing and Intelligent Systems, Faculty of Engineering, University of Ulster, Londonderry, UK)
Michelle Casey (School of Computing and Intelligent Systems, Faculty of Engineering, University of Ulster, Londonderry, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 June 2006




Electronic mail (e‐mail) and messaging systems are a powerful means of communication which are fast become a primary means of communication. This paper aims to describe the need for expression in e‐mail.


This paper describes the need for expression in e‐mail and the development of a personalised e‐mail system. A survey is carried out to comprehend the derived meanings from visuals; as a result the prototype is formed.


This paper presents a prototype which utilises the idea of reading pictures as sentences and the semiotic and linguistic meaning derived from those sentences. The system aims to interpret the sender's thoughts and convey their emotion and personality through a combination of graphical components, image, and expressive typography. In contrast with the new developing successful language that is rapidly spreading in the use of mobile devices, this personalized e‐mail introduces a visual language that people will acquire in using their e‐mails. Initial findings are presented from exercises of visual literacy, where the viewer has to play a series of matching games with words and images in order to derive each user's meanings and interpretations.

Research limitations/implications

This interactive piece is attempting to transform the static nature of e‐mail into a more dynamic form that can offer new ways to interpret verbal information visually. The device will instill the user's message with more authentic personalities and expressions.

Practical implications

Cognitive semiotics is something designers explore over time with intuition and experience. Introducing and equipping young designers in college, with regard to semiotics would speed up this essential and unavoidable mental process.


This research will accelerate the coming of emotion to computer systems. Graphic design should be viewed from a structuralism perspective as a language system, to extend the understanding of language from a spoken and written system of signs to a manner of visual signals. Designers play a part in reinventing and redefining signs and symbols.



Curran, K. and Casey, M. (2006), "Expressing emotion in electronic mail", Kybernetes, Vol. 35 No. 5, pp. 616-631.



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