In the future, instead of just doing this over a phone call, you’ll be able to sit as a hologram on my couch, or I’ll be able to sit as a hologram on your couch, and it’ll actually feel like we’re in the same place, even if we’re in different states or hundreds of miles apart. - Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg announced the change of name of Facebook to Meta, Metaverse has become a buzzword in the tech space. The truth is, Metaverse is not a new word. The word was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his novel titled "Snow Crash," which was published in 1992.
The novel envisioned virtual reality as a successor to the internet. In the book, people created digital avatars of themselves to escape a dehumanizing and unpleasant life called "dystopian reality."
We might not have explored the depths of the Metaverse yet, but some are already on to it. Have you seen the movie "Ready Player One"? If you have not, you should. It perfectly captures (at least to an extent) the meaning of the Metaverse and what the world would be like with the advent of the Metaverse.
This article highlights significant concerns about user experience for the Metaverse. In his keynote address, Mark Zuckerberg said the Metaverse would be the next chapter of the internet.
What will be the major concerns in creating a positive user experience when designing the Metaverse? Before we delve into this, let us understand what Metaverse means.
What is Metaverse?
Augmented reality will change the world more than a lot of other technologies. Traveling around to meet people will be much less important when you can stand in a room and chat with a virtual representation of a person that’s so close to reality – it’ll be a whole new level. - Tim Sweeney
Metaverse is coined from two words, "meta" and "verse." Meta is from the Greek word "beyond," and "verse" is from the word "Universe." Metaverse means "beyond the universe." The Metaverse is a digital world where people can connect virtually.
It is a place where the physical and digital worlds come together. Picture a world apart from this one, where you are an avatar, and you can do the same activities you do in this physical world as an avatar in another world. It is not another universe. It is Metaverse, a digital world.
For example, top brands like Zara and Sony have extended their activities to the Metaverse. Zara chose Zepeto, a South Korean Metaverse for cell phones with more than 2 million daily users, to launch its digital garments. It is safe to say that normal trading activities in the physical world have started in the Metaverse. Also, Sony recently invested 1 billion dollars in extending one of their gaming services to Metaverse. Companies are trying to make the Metaverse a replica of the physical world.
People connect in the Metaverse using AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) goggles. You can attend school, work, make friends, and buy properties in the Metaverse. The big question for designers is how can we create a positive user experience for people in the Metaverse?
Considering that it differs from apps and other digital products, it is like developing an entirely digital world. We must know what we should be concerned about in designing the Metaverse.
Major concerns in designing the Metaverse
We are yet to see the complete evolution of the Metaverse, but what are the primary concerns in designing a digital world? What are the things to note in creating a positive user experience for the Metaverse design?
As we migrate from designing digital products to developing a digital world, let us look at what UX designers should consider in the user experience.
Virtual movement between the scenes
In designing the Metaverse, we will migrate from "pages" to "stages." The user himself is in the solution created for him. The user will not be clicking a button to move to a page; instead, he is moving from one place to another. The challenge here would be humans' complexity in mapping out all the places and stages they want to go. The transition from one place or phase to another should be as natural as you move about here in the physical world.
Unlike digital products with one exit button or home for all users, users will have different movements in places and stages in the metaverse. Creating these transitions has a lot to do with the user experience of the Metaverse. Poorly designed changes can mess up the whole user experience of the Metaverse.
The physics of objects in the Metaverse
As we design stages to resemble physical spaces, materials must perform similar roles. It implies that we should consider stability, inertia, gravity, contact, reflection, and other phenomena in the overall experience. The interaction with elements should depend on the features' expected behavior. For example, if I want to hand over a file to someone, the object in my hand should behave like a file. It should not be floating around if I decide to place it on a table. It should follow the law of stability and gravity like a file in the physical world.
Context scenes for different actions
How do we create the context for location in the Metaverse? Every location has its scene uniqueness. So, how do we develop scenes for distinct locations? It will require knowledge of architecture. Designing experiences will involve designing ambiance and sequence. A broad range of architectural references will be required for this role, as it is already in the game industry, particularly during the level design process. For example, A soccer game seen from the seats of a completely packed stadium is a very different experience than a bodiless flight through players in real-time.
As we progress from 'pages' to' stages,' the first move is to replicate real-world references. Skeuomorphism will give way to Metamorphism. Analogies can often aid the transition from material to virtual interfaces. Visual analogies (or metaphors) are iconic sign relations that promote faster recognition through similitude (likeness). Skeuomorphism with immersion is Metamorphism. It is reasonable to use reality-based virtual stages until users are 'used' to abstract space.
UX designers will face many complexities in adapting to a digital world design. They might have to learn new tools and think about social, ethical, and legal questions in their plans for the Metaverse.
They have to think about different human activities, human relationships, and relating to objects. Designers will have to be more empathetic in considering the needs of the user to create a world that is fit for them. It is more challenging because you are not just creating a solution for the user; the user has to be in the solution.
Further reading: How to employ empathy in creating user-centric products