The metaverse is one of the most popular topics in the tech world right now. People discuss the impact the metaverse will have on our society—how it will change the way we live and communicate with each other. Businesses see the metaverse as a source of new opportunities, because it could be worth $13 trillion by 2030.
Yet, despite all the buzz around this concept, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the idea of the metaverse itself. The problem is much broader than the just selection of technologies we need to build the metaverse. We still don’t have a fundamental agreement about what the metaverse is.
This article will explain everything designers need to know about the metaverse— the concept of the metaverse, the role web3 will play in the metaverse, and practical tips on how designers can adapt to this exciting new frontier when it comes to the web design industry and more.
What is the metaverse?
There is no single right definition of the concept of the metaverse. Generally, the metaverse is often seen as a cohesive, virtual, functional world—a network of 3D worlds deeply integrated with each other.
But when it comes to more specific design decisions, such as how the metaverse should be organized as a system, different people see the metaverse differently. That's because it’s still in extremely early stages and rapidly evolving as a field. But it's possible to describe what the metaverse is by focusing on the word itself.
The word “meta” comes from the Greek preposition meta, which means “after” or “beyond.” The word “verse” is a short form of the universe. When we combine the meaning of the two words, we will have an idea of a parallel universe. People will join this parallel universe to participate in various kinds of activities—from business to leisure.
The idea of the metaverse isn't new. The term “metaverse” first appeared in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 book Snow Crash. This book used the term to explain the next Internet iteration—a virtual space in which users immerse themselves.
The novel portrays a dystopian future from which the metaverse offers an escape. But this escape isn’t all fun and games. The protagonist joins the metaverse to fight the computer virus, Snow Crash, that causes real-life brain damage to users. It's since been an integral part of sci-fi movies like The Matrix and Ready Player One.
You might be wondering why the topic became popular in 2022. The answer is simple—right now, it's a perfect moment to start creating metaverse experiences because the tech is actually starting to catch up with the idea.
The metaverse will be the most sophisticated platform humans have ever created, and a large part of it belongs to the idea of the metaverse as an experience.
Here are a few essential properties of the metaverse as an experience:
Living experience. Like our real world, the metaverse operates consistently for everyone participating in it. Just like in the real world, all metaverse users see the same environmental objects and experience the same laws of physics. All users are affected by environmental changes. For example, if some object (i.e., a tree in a park) is destroyed, it won't exist any longer for all users.
Persistent experience. Metaverse never pauses or ends.
Independent economic system. Just like in our real world, the metaverse will have a market economy allowing users to sell and buy assets.
What does the metaverse look like now?
The metaverse, as a cohesive virtual experience, exists only as a concept, but we have a few excellent examples of pre-metaverse platforms. Platforms like Fortnite, Roblox, newcomer Gather, and Decentraland share many properties of the future metaverse.
Participants' avatars (a graphical representation of users) can explore these immersive experiences, play games, wear digital clothes, and attend events. But for now, metaverse experiences are typically proprietary: they are locked ecosystems launched by individual companies as brand activations.
But even with these downsides, the platform attracts a lot of attention from regular users to businesses. Nike’s Nikeland is one of the most successful examples of an established company exploring a new frontier. With a series of basketball masterclasses led by stars like LeBron James, Nikeland gives users valuable reasons to continually come back.
Balenciaga, a luxury fashion house, released a collection specifically for the Fortnite players. The idea of this collaboration is to use virtual space as a lab for experimentation and turn the most popular digital clothing into physical products. Shortly after the launch of the digital collection, Balenciaga crafted a limited-run physical apparel collection.
Rapper Travis Scott gave a historic live performance on this platform, in which over 12.3 million people participated. He reportedly earned $20 million, which is significantly more than his regular in-person shows. The Rift Tour, featuring pop singer Ariana Grande and drawing 27 million unique global visitors, is another notable event in the digital space.
Metaverse and web3: How will they work together?
Many people in the tech space see web3 as a possible solution to the over-centralized web2 that we have now, in which a few big companies like Amazon or Google own a significant part of the internet. If web3 takes over web2, it will have to work with metaverse technologies. (Of course, web3 may introduce new problems of its own, such as data protection, since there is no single authority that takes responsibility for the data. And there are more than a few differences between web 2 and web 3.)
Web3 could become the foundation of the metaverse for three reasons:
Web3 offers increased scalability. Web3 services host data on distributed networks instead of on central servers. It is integral for systems that require significant computational power, like the metaverse.
Web3 offers a higher level of privacy. Interactions in web3 don't rely on Cookies and other personal information; they are confidential and anonymous. Users rely on self-sovereign identity (usually in the format of a digital wallet), which allows them to identify themselves without relying on traditional authentication systems such as login credentials. This can be a double-edged sword. Since no regulations specify what content can or cannot be published, we can face a lot of scam content at the dawn of the web3 systems.
Web3 lets the digital economy shine. Decentralized finances (DeFi) allow users to proceed with financial transactions (send/receive digital currency) without bank or government involvement.
How designers can prepare for the metaverse
Designers will be in high demand for the metaverse. Existing design roles will be changed, and new roles will emerge to satisfy the needs of this new medium. Here's how traditional design roles will adapt to the metaverse design.
The metaverse will change the concept of the app and websites. Instead of the apps/websites as separate instances installed on our phones or accessed via a browser, the metaverse will be a collection of services that users can access.
UX designers will be responsible for creating those services. One of the tasks will be to develop comfortable interactions in the new medium. For example, UX designers must create a great onboarding experience for first-time users so that they can easily understand how to use a service.
UX designers will likely rely on tools like mind mapping and storyboarding to predict how the users will interact in the space. The creation of new products in the new medium will require a lot of experimentation, so we can expect new metaverse design trends to emerge constantly as a result of experiments.
UI designers are professionals responsible for creating user interfaces for a product. In the metaverse, UI designers will be responsible for creating virtual spaces. They will have to switch from 2D interfaces of websites and mobile apps to 3D designs of virtual environments.
Current principles of creating 2D interfaces, such as using a visible menu for navigation, will only be partially applicable because augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) will require following different approaches. That's why UI designers will experiment with new techniques such as voice and gesture inputs for navigation because they likely work best for the new medium.
Tools like Omniverse, a platform for creating virtual environments, will help UI designers create virtual spaces and run a simulation of the environment to ensure it works fine for users.
Graphic designers are designers responsible for creating imagery—logos, images, and illustrations. Imagery will play an integral role in the metaverse, so graphic designers' skills will be in demand.
There are a few areas where graphic designers can apply their skills in the metaverse:—branding identity, advertising and commercials, and digital artwork. The last one is a new direction, but it's quickly gained popularity over the past year. The popularity of NFT design and techniques for generative art clearly indicates that people are interested in digital artwork (although they could be more environmentally friendly).
And while monthly totals of NFT sales have dropped in 2022, indicating a general cool off following the market’s initial boom, this year’s total sales are still going to surpass 2021. In fact, they could be nearly double—indicating there’s still a lot of room for designers to work within.
3D designers are professionals responsible for creating three-dimensional models of objects. The metaverse will consist of 3D objects, so 3D designers will be quite busy making them.
We will likely see the rise in popularity of tools like Blender and Maya that 3D designers use to create dimensional objects. To speed up the creation process, 3D designers will have to find new approaches to fast object creation, such as co-creation using artificial intelligence (tools like Midjourney and DALL*E 2). Despite all the fears, AI tools won’t replace designers. We are likely to see more co-creation with the help of AI.
The list of jobs in the metaverse is not limited only to designers. Professionals from other fields will be in demand, too—here's how to get a job in the metaverse.
The future of the metaverse
The future of the metaverse can be explained in two aspects—visual (how the metaverse environment will look) and functional (how the services in the metaverse will work).
Regarding visual design, the first version of the metaverse will likely be a reproduction of our real world—real cities and areas will be recreated in the virtual world. There are two reasons why the metaverse creators will follow this approach:
First, it's easier to recreate rather than create something from scratch. Designers will use satellite shots to create larger areas such as city districts and tools like Object Capture to fill the spaces with necessary details.
Second, it will help first-time users adapt to the new virtual world. Because the world will look and behave similarly to the real world, it will help users learn how to interact with it.
Once the users adapt to the new medium, designers start to create more advanced environments. We can expect to see the planet of Mars or the interior of a spaceship as a virtual space.
Regarding the functional aspect, it's likely that the metaverse will offer the same services that we have in the real world. The metaverse will have its digital economy. Every item in the metaverse will have a price, and users will rely on cryptocurrency (tokens) to pay for the items and services.
Metaverse is the new frontier that you should prepare for now
There is no doubt that the metaverse, as a cohesive and immersive virtual world, will be a huge technological and cultural force in the years to come. The only question is when it happens, and it's better to be prepared. Once you know what the metaverse is and what skills are required for designers to work in this field, it's time to master the relevant skills. When the moment comes, you will be ready and in high demand.