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What the Metaverse means for web designers

Metaverse hype is everywhere. What are its implications for digital designers?

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Close your eyes and click, and you’ll likely land on some brand activation in the metaverse. The ironic thing is that the virtual, immersive experience doesn’t totally exist yet, because the “metaverse” as we know it in 2022 is largely made of standalone brand experiences, rather than an overall interconnected world. But even in its early stages, brands are seeing big opportunities —and the hype is everywhere.


Meta (formerly Facebook) is investing big in its VR experience called Horizon Worlds, and major brands like Nike, Wendy’s, and Gucci are collaborating with gaming platforms like Roblox (and Meta) to create immersive branded experiences. In the art sector, museums like Musee Dezentral are creating navigable NFT art exhibitions.


The sector has also played a role in recent corporate mergers and acquisitions: Nike acquired digital design firm RTFKT, design agency Work&Co acquired full-stack development firm Presence, and Microsoft announced it would acquire game developer Activision Blizzard for a whopping 68 billion dollars. The growth isn’t expected to stop anytime soon: the sector is expected to have a near 700 billion valuation by 2030.



Images courtesy Musee Dezentral.



“Businesses and brands will want to future-proof themselves for this new age of immersive technology, and that means they'll begin giving preference to designers who have experience designing for immersive experiences, including AR/VR, games, and other 3D media,” says Benjamin Bertram Goldman, metaverse advisor for virtual production and AR company Sequin AR, adding that “one of the chief lessons of business in the 21st century is that design matters.”


And it does look like that interest in extended reality (or XR) among tech companies is leading to an increase in digital design positions, at least in the immediate future. So what kinds of roles are they hiring for? UX and 3D designers, hardware designers, architects, engineers—overall, a range of positions with the know-how to push these platforms forward and design what these new spaces will look like. Meta currently has over a hundred open positions on its career page for AR/VR specifically. Roblox has hundreds of metaverse-related positions.



Images of metaverse experiences by Nike and Wendy's. Images 1-4 courtesy Nike. Images 5-6 courtesy Wendy's.



“A lot of money will be thrown at VR and AR applications over the next few years,” said digital scholar and professor at Georgia Tech's Digital Media Graduate Program Janet Murray in an interview with Shaping Design earlier this year. Murray suggests a user-centered approach to wading through the hype and related job searches, amid what she calls the metaverse “bubble”: “Designers should look for what money is actually on offer and then ask if there are actual users who might want whatever is proposed.”


 

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That’s because, even though there have been a flurry of brand activations and investment in the so-called metaverse this year, consumer interest is still mixed. A recent survey of 7,100 teens by financial firm Piper Sandler found that 48% of respondents are either unsure of or uninterested in the Metaverse. Another poll, by Hub Entertainment Research, found that 45% of respondents aged 35 and older “hated” the idea of the metaverse. The biggest opportunity (and a more natural fit) for brands appears to be Gen Z gamers, specifically. Nearly half of respondents in a recent VICE/Razorfish poll, who reportedly spend 12 hours per week gaming, said that the metaverse conveyed a truer expression of who they are than the real world, and 33% said they’d be interested in brand storefronts in the metaverse.


Amid all this uncertainty and flood of cash, one thing is clear: designers will have a leading hand in shaping the virtual worlds we want to see.