Designers Have the Power to Shape the Metaverse. Here's How.
The metaverse is the next big thing -- and designing the best user experience is critical.
The world we live in is quickly changing. Technologies become an integral part of our environment, and boundaries between real and virtual worlds are blurred. Companies like Meta understand the massive shift our society is going through right now and come up with new solutions. One of the latest and most remarkable changes is the release of the metaverse. Like any new technology, it responds to changes in user needs — it acts as a bridge that connects the physical to the digital world.
Why is the world ready for the metaverse?
The metaverse is a virtual space people can visit and spend time in. The concept of the metaverse is not new. Similar ideas were introduced in many sci-fi novels and movies, including the 2018 movie Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg. But why did the metaverse concept become so popular in 2021, not a decade ago? The reason is simple: We're going through a massive cultural shift right now, and technology is finally ready to support us in that. Metaverse is not a revolution; it's an evolution of the way we interact with other people, and it's an evolution of the internet that takes people from web browsing to a fully immersive experience.
Let's discuss what makes the metaverse so important.
The concept of metaverse has gained massive traction during the pandemic. Pandemic has a significant impact on our daily lives — it changes how we interact with other people and businesses. Instead of face-to-face interaction, we lean towards online calls. And the next logical step is to create a natural environment for online interactions, a virtual space where everyone feels comfortable. It was nearly impossible to build such virtual space just a decade ago. But in 2021, technology is ready — virtual reality devices such as Oculus Rift that cost around $500 allow people to join the virtual world.
Metaverse is more than just a virtual space; it's a space that has its economy. We have money that we can exchange for goods in the real world. We have a cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the metaverse world. NFT guarantees users the deed of ownership, meaning that their virtual goods can't be copied. Digital assets such as land and buildings can be created and traded. And similar to real-world assets, they can also be used to demonstrate social status.
Metaverse will help people escape physical limits. People will be able to create a digital avatar that will match their expectations. Everything from the avatar's bodily characteristics to the clothing it wears will be customizable. The avatar will also gain a digital identity that will help it access metaverse digital services.
Opportunities for designers
Today, designers have a unique opportunity to shape the future. The choices we make might impact our world in more ways than we can imagine. It's a huge opportunity for designers to innovate and develop unexpected solutions.
Let's focus on a few fundamental things that should be baked into design.
Honoring ethical design
People will join metaverse to meet their individual needs: collaborate with other people, play with friends or explore new opportunities. And it's up to designers to create a place where interaction will be comfortable. The usability of the metaverse is just half of the picture; the metaverse environment should be pleasant to be in. That's why it's essential to embed ethics from the start. The current internet is a toxic place where digital bullying is a common problem. A toxic metaverse environment won't be comfortable for users.
Here are three areas where designers need to focus:
Prioritize mental well-being. Prevent digital bullying and trolling right from the start.
Avoid dark patterns. Do not use patterns that force users to make decisions they don't want to make.
Design for better accessibility. Let users with all abilities be a part of the system you design.
Focusing on creating better user engagement and communities
The success of the metaverse will be defined not only by the technology itself, but also by how many people adopt this concept and join the virtual space. Metaverse should encourage long-term participation — the more time users spend in the metaverse, the more it feels like a real place. One of the challenges designers will have is helping creators (users who make new assets or create real-time content) showcase their true potential.
So here are a few things that designers should focus on:
Acknowledge creators and ensure they have enough freedom to create content in this new context.
Honor safety and security. Users should trust that the system is safe to use.
Verbalize the value of groups and communities. Create a sense of belonging to a particular group or community. Help users go from "I" to "we" when interacting in the metaverse.
Sustainability. No matter what space users are in, they are constantly being influenced by other people. To create sustainable behaviors, metaverse creators need to select influencers carefully. It's important to choose the ones that transmit the right messages.
Creating immersive interactions
Our civilization is entering a new epoch in which people can explore novel ways of interacting in a completely new space. The experience from the interactions will be shaped by the visual appearance of the digital space (3D objects, motion graphics) and its interaction patterns.
The ultimate goal of product design is to make audiences feel that the metaverse is a real space. Since metaverse is the 3D space, it's possible to rely on existing development methods from the game industry. Game worlds like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox created a solid foundation for the metaverse.
If designers want to create comfortable interactions, they should reuse common interaction mechanisms from the popular games people play. Conduct user research (target audience is the younger generation since they're likely to become early adopters of the new model), choose a few popular games for your list and analyze interaction patterns.
Emerging new business models
Metaverse will also change the way people interact with businesses. Think of it as an ecosystem — a big digital world where many different digital services unfold. This digital world should allow users to find most of the services they can find in the real world. Business owners will likely want to have their own spaces within the metaverse, and this space will be much more than just another sales channel. They have to consider how users will interact with their brand in this space — how it should be seen, how users can purchase the products offered by the brand, etc.
It's evident the metaverse extends way beyond just the game universe, but the true potential of the metaverse is yet to be seen. We're at the dawn of a new technical revolution, and in this phase, we have more questions than answers. But that's what makes the metaverse so exciting. It gives designers unique opportunities to develop innovative solutions that will become industry standards.
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