A digital world of potential
While the substance of the metaverse is still emerging, its potential is fast becoming clearer. As an immersive, interconnected digital space that hosts everything from shopping to education to social gatherings, the metaverse could help level the playing field for people who have historically been excluded due to health, their geography, sex or race. Particularly in a world now dominated by remote working and a seemingly endless pandemic, it’s not hard to imagine the benefits of such a digital environment.
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But like all digital innovations, the metaverse might as well be exploited for nefarious purposes. The metaverse’s potential as a recruiting tool for terrorists, conspiracy theorists, and other agents of chaos has already caused tech pundits to sound the alarm. The potential for real social harm will likely be much greater given the power of technology.
In the Metaverse, thoughtful and socially responsible design will be more important than in any previous iteration of the Internet. The stakes are too high to again allow these experiences to be driven by developers who, despite their best intentions, dismiss design as window dressing.
Along with highly regarded utility, designers traditionally provide a layer of humanity that will be crucial in the metaverse. We are charged with speaking to hearts and souls, not just heads, and we can provide thoughtful visual language that creates a depth of feeling that will lead to connection and community.
Classic principles, revolutionary brief
What does it take to be a good designer in the metaverse? The same creative problem solving we did in 1998 or 1968 applies here. It’s just a very different memoir.
For example, in the immersive metaverse digital space, users will depend on cues from the environment to decide where to go, what to do, and most importantly, how to interact with others. Constructing these indices requires knowledge of principles such as affordance (showing what actions are possible) and signifiers (providing clues about how things work), which may seem alien to developers but are fundamental to design. . And building cues that encourage pro-social interaction requires conscientiousness and a strong sense of morality, traits that are increasingly in vogue among designers who have lived through the repeated debacles of Web2.
Consider BMW’s Joytopia streaming platform. This 2021 mixed reality digital event allowed users to navigate three experiential branded worlds built around intuitive design and signage. The interaction was primitive and game-like, but it demonstrated the design values, empathy, and skills needed to create these worlds. The organic, positive shapes and colors supported the brand message, and the light, human-centered tone of the guide made everything inclusive and engaging. These are the same skills used in traditional advertisements and ad copy, just nuanced for these new experiences.
Creativity, aesthetics, empathy, experimentation, imagination, enchantment, fun, and a foundation steeped in design history will go far in the Metaverse. But perhaps the greatest skill set for a designer, besides talent, will be an open mind and a strong desire to play well with others (and see others do the same). The metaverse will be collaboratively built on a scale never seen before. Designers have the opportunity to make it a beautiful creative experience.
I believe the best creatives in the world are medium independent. Great cinematographers can use film or digital and leave their unique fingerprints. This is the kernel, the idea, the vision. Yes, you will need to be familiar with the latest collaborative creation tools. Advanced renderers will be needed to create good metaverse experiences; these will likely come from the game and the movie CGI and VFX. For now, we should all be familiar with Unreal and Unity, which power immersive games like Fortnight.
But creativity and the principles of good design do not change. Only the medium does. We need to stand up and insist on a seat at the table, digital or otherwise.
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