Want to design for the metaverse? Here's how

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We break down all things metaverse design: the biggest growth areas, design techniques, tools, and must-have skills.

8 min read

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The ability to connect with other people is one of the most critical parts of being human. And for almost the entire evolution of human society, connecting with other people has meant sharing a physical space—but in the 21st century, the way we socialize is changing. This is thanks to the emergence of virtual spaces as part of our everyday lives. And metaverse design has a lot to do with that.

You’ve likely heard of the burgeoning concept known as the metaverse, an augmented or entire virtual space we navigate with a VR headset and avatars. In the age of social distancing, it can help us feel more connected: no matter how many miles apart we are, we will be able to see other people and feel their presence. And now, major companies like Meta (formerly known as Facebook) are jumping on board, investing billions of dollars into what they see as the major market opportunity. This can translate to a lot of opportunity in the metaverse design space.

With that in mind, this article digs into all things metaverse design: the metaverse as a concept, handy techniques to design for the metaverse, and some helpful design tools you’ll need to get started.

What is the metaverse?

Neal Stephenson first coined the term ‘metaverse’ in his 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. This novel tells the story of a person who travels back and forth between dystopian reality and a virtual world called the metaverse. Steven Spielberg's movie Ready Player One, based off of a book by the same name, depicted a similar concept set in the near future, in which characters live in a virtual reality simulation, and compete to own it.

The Ready Player One trailer. Via YouTube.

While the metaverse may have first originated in sci-fi, it doesn't have a single definition. Right now, it's more like an idea of creating an immersive virtual space where people can comfortably interact with each other. Imagine a 3D world full of real people's avatars that offer an all-inclusive digital experience.

The metaverse isn't a new concept. A platform called Second Life, which was released in the early 2000s, has many features that people associate with the metaverse. As a user, you can do almost the same things in Second Life as you can do in real life. But it also has one key difference—Second Life isn't an AR/VR-first experience primarily because AR/VR devices of early 2000 could not afford to create immersive experiences.

AR and VR are integral components of the metaverse as we know it in 2022, as they create a much more realistic virtual experience (and we know have the tech to make that happen). As soon as users put on their headsets, they instantly join a different world. Despite all objects around the user being virtual, they don't seem artificial to users.

Here are a few examples of how everyday interactions can work in the metaverse:

  • Work. Metaverse can be a natural evolution of the office. The hybrid model, where some people are present in the physical office and others are remote, works well for the metaverse. No matter where people live, they can work together as one team because the metaverse gives them a sense of shared physical space. One good example of such an environment is Horizon WorkRoom by Oculus.

  • Training sessions. Metaverse can become an excellent place for gathering new knowledge since it allows you to interact with your teacher or sports instructor just like you interact with them in the real world. You can almost feel that the other person is in the same room.

  • Games. The metaverse will likely emerge from the gaming industry and naturally inherit many properties of game design. For example, the content of the metaverse will probably be generated by users, and the virtual world will encourage long-term participation.

How will we design for the metaverse?

From a designer's point of view, the metaverse is a giant digital platform with dozens of different services that a user can interact with. And it's entirely up to users to choose what services they want to select. The user creates avatars that join the metaverse. An avatar is much more than just a user name and picture; it's a digital twin of a real person (user) that the person uses to interact with any object in the virtual world. And just like a real human being, a digital avatar has an identity that helps them access services.

Creating an avatar using Oculus Quest. Via YouTube.

The metaverse has an opportunity to become a crucial element of web 3.0, which is a new generation of a more democratized version of the internet built on blockchain. Product designers will focus on creating 3D spaces that can either be a recreation of existing physical places (i.e., home, office, club) or be an entirely new world (i.e., space station, cartoon, etc.). But no matter what kind of virtual space it will be, it should always feel comfortable for users.

Virtual office space. Image courtesy Meta.

Because designing for the metaverse means designing for an immersive world, designers will have to broaden their skills.

Here are a few areas where designers will need to focus their attention on while crafting metaverse design:

1. Accessibility

Accessibility is an essential property of good design. Creating an accessible metaverse experience is a tough challenge since many critical design factors can have a negative impact on users, such as the motion sickness that many VR users suffer.