Designing the metaverse: Challenges and questions

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The opportunities within the metaverse are truly vast, with entertainment, gaming, publishing and even fast food and luxury brands experimenting to get a piece of the expected $800 billion market. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what can occur in Web3, as concerts in Fortnite and Roblox become more common and consumers spend very real money on dressing their avatar in Gucci. While the possibilities of what we can do in the metaverse are endless, the way the metaverse is designed from a UX perspective needs to be a key focus on making the metaverse a place for all to feel comfortable and accessible.

The metaverse carries some unique challenges from a design, content and UX perspective that does not exist anywhere else. Designers working in this nascent industry have the opportunity to create benchmarks for how the metaverse is designed and accessed going forward. Here are some of the main design challenges of creating content and access in the metaverse. 

UX challenges

The metaverse brings the unique challenge of needing to communicate using voice commands and physical gestures, including eye tracking. Our current experience using voice through Siri and Alexa is just a small part of what UX can and should be in the metaverse. Currently, we don’t have any day-to-day experience that lives in a VR world where you can interact with both gestures and voice. I predict the industry will need to standardize voice and hand gestures early on; otherwise, the usability of the different experiences will be extremely hard. For context, when we first began working with mobile phones and the early days of apps, gestures and hand movements were first introduced. Today in 2022, we all know how to ‘scroll to refresh’ and ‘pinch to zoom’ thanks to the standardization of mobile gestures which provides a common ground for all apps, and acts as an anchor for the user. Without this standard common ground, using each app would require the user to learn not only its structure but also how to interact with it.

Designing in the metaverse also has no limits related to size environments such as screen size. This means designers will have no boundaries and can create in both 2D and 3D perspectives. Designers will need to sharpen their storyboarding skills to create experiences where users can move inside objects or change their surroundings. As an extension, storytelling will advance as stories can become more complete and complex, leaving less room for the imagination to fill in the blanks. Users can explore the world, hear the voices, as if they are truly experiencing it live. For example, a visitor in the metaverse that may typically just read an article or watch a video about their favorite athlete can now actually ‘be’ alongside them to experience being in a game or being inside their childhood home recreated in the metaverse. This brings an entirely new way to experience stories. 

Avatar design

The avatars themselves will need to be designed and bring up a number of design questions.  How human or cartoon-like should they be? Too-human avatars are at times deemed creepy and make us feel unease, as expressed by the term “uncanny valley,” which illustrates the relationship between human-like robotic objects and our emotional response. Will the avatars represent our alter egos? Will they be diverse enough and truly representative? 

Facial expressions and hand gestures will also need to be considered. Much can be conveyed with a facial expression, even where you’re not talking. Are there different expressions available for when you are listening, thinking or daydreaming? 

Building trust in design

The entire meta-world currently belongs to the gaming and entertainment industry but will need to expand, led by design, if we want to broaden the experience for others. But do we want to live in this world and spend hours every day conducting our businesses there? Designers will need to act as more than just advocates to make sure that this new world is comfortable and safe. Dark UX patterns, malicious in nature, will be much more destructive and the cognitive load can be overwhelming.

As mentioned above, one of the design challenges will be to move to an unlimited size world. Designers will need to determine if the experiences will appear on top of our reality as AR, or if users will step into a different world entirely as VR. The possibilities are endless. But designers must also be cautious of dark patterns that can emerge, which can trick users into doing something they aren’t intending to. As in the early days of Web2 with crowded websites and ads everywhere, there is the potential that disguised ads among other dark patterns can be mine traps in the metaverse, working to break the trust bond between the platform and the user. Even if we are able to avoid the dark patterns, the metaverse may still have elements continually pop into view, making it difficult to concentrate on a single action.

Obviously, the real world won’t cease to exist once the metaverse is more commonplace. And adoption won’t be from 0 to 100, but more gradual. Just like when we started creating experiences for mobile, we will need to ask ourselves – what is the value of the experience? How do we treat the metaverse experience? Is it a replica of the product in the real world or maybe an extension? Or is it something else entirely? 

Michal Turjeman is VP Design at Minute Media.


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