Emoticons are becoming quite a serious form of enriching (web) communication, as picture can tell a thousand words. The truth is that a word can tell a thousand pictures, at least when emoticons and other "digital" forms of speaking are concerned. The way of using short and to-the-point statements, such as short messages, tweets and emoticons, is here to stay. Congratulating the internet, welcoming emoticons. \o/
I've heard about a trend between urban artists to make sketches using just one line. I think emoticons are acting upon a similar behaviour, as twenty years ago nobody could imagine what a few characters could portray. Design is about keeping it simple and clean. And you can't get much cleaner than using letters, numbers and other basic characters.
An interesting "artistic" application of this phenomena was designed for an advertisement for a weight loss programme. I don't like the overall look, but still it is a creative way of bringing modern techniques into classic advertising. Simple shape, a meaningful story. And the characters look like design, even though they are really just plain simple characters with ordinary typeface.
I can't imagine where this trend will end. I wouldn't be surprised if sometime in the future newspapers, poetry and prose will get more emoticonal, as this approach is very simple for inserting drama-type essence into non-drama based art. Our youth is totally wired, will they wire the real world too as their time comes?