Metaverse and design between virtual and physical

Metaverse and design between virtual and physical

The Metaverse has been widely discussed, analyzing its future and current possibilities. An important aspect I’d like to highlight is how design, in its various forms and sectors, was among the first to see the potential of a world built on computer codes and electrical signals. From physical to digital, this new frontier allows experimenting with new ways of designing and reflecting on user experience.

There are already many examples coming from the fashion industry and beyond. Architecture and interior design have also become central elements that characterize this new technology. If the Metaverse is to develop as a parallel world, it will need to fill and structure its spaces.

In a scenario where the laws of physics can be broken like breadsticks, the classic phrase “the only limit is your imagination” takes on a whole new meaning. Considering this technology is still in its infancy, we can already get an idea of the future direction of design.

When Marketing Becomes Worldly (in the Metaverse)

The most evident examples, such as The Sandbox and Decentraland, represent a first step. These are worlds made available to anyone wanting to immerse themselves in a digital environment, divided into purchasable and buildable lands. Major brands have committed to constructing structures and thematic spaces to make digital design a branded experience.

This may be a natural and somewhat expected evolution of marketing. Initially, the product was the focus around which all a brand’s communications revolved. Then, overwhelmed by thousands of similar products, we moved on to telling engaging and captivating stories. Finally, even when stories began to become too numerous, we decided that the next frontier would be the daily life experience of our customer. With entire worlds now available, the experience can take place in a specially designed digital space, where every sound and visual stimulus is connected to a specific brand.

Design, marketing, technology. These three concepts are currently highlighting their direct interconnections. New technological developments allow us to see how the design of a communication strategy can take on its own “physical” concreteness in a digital environment.


A Step Towards the New Generation of Customers

This environment’s potential aims to involve an audience that has no memory of a world without the internet and digital structures. It’s important to consider that Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha are and will be the future users targeted by communications.

In this sense, the colonization of video game environments like Fortnite and Roblox by various brands can also be interpreted: reaching consumers in their favorite spaces by offering unique and valuable experiences, adapting their reality to the codes of these spaces.

Will the new generation of consumers want and be able to enjoy new types of shopping experiences? Can the Metaverse be the starting base on which to develop them? Why limit ourselves to showing a product when it can itself become a level to navigate and experience?

The Example of Playstation

To showcase all the capabilities of its latest generation console, Playstation developed an entire video game, Astro’s Playroom, where hardware components become levels to explore to complete various missions. Thus, the user is not just playing; they are experiencing the Playstation brand, its history, and its technology, understanding how virtual reality can interact with the world of design by expanding boundaries and potential.

And the Physical World Watches?

Another aspect that characterizes the relationship between design and virtual reality is the layering on multiple levels. Until now, we’ve discussed digital design, such as environments created through software. To access these, we must remember that we’ll always need a physical device to connect us and allow us to interact with different experiences. Therefore, it’s necessary to also focus on these devices.

Whether it’s augmented reality or virtual reality, we’ll always need to deal with physical products. Regarding VR, the focus of my reflection, many devices are available to us. The most indispensable is obviously a headset, essential for observing “the other world.” Secondly, we’ll need a controller to interact with the surrounding environment. With an entire world to explore, it would be limiting not to move freely or to follow paths predefined by the software.


Devices for Inclusive Worlds

Headsets and controllers are the pillars for accessing the Metaverse and starting to experience an immersive Metaverse, but interaction can be enriched through other tools that involve hearing and touch, allowing maximum user involvement in an absent world.

Reflecting on external peripherals is also important as an exercise to observe how we have chosen to respond to a series of needs and limits and how many still need to be addressed for satisfaction. For example, in terms of inclusivity, immersive virtual reality seems to falter in the face of blindness. This can lead to the design of virtual experiences that prioritize sound over sight.

How many virtual experiences will have been developed? What other strategies will brands implement? Will the Metaverse have become a richer and more welcoming place? What steps will have been taken to make it accessible to everyone?

In my opinion, there remain many uncertainties, but it’s undeniable that many brands are betting on this digital frontier to design increasingly captivating experiences, at least for some segments of the public. There have been failed attempts, detractors, commercial failures (just think of predictions that see the Metaverse coming to fruition only after 2030 or Meta’s poor results in the last year with related announcements of staff cuts and negative outlooks for the coming months), but this doesn’t mean we should turn off the lights on its potential.

Once again, the digital future, and not only, manifests uncertainties and opens up possibilities without providing answers. Will design and architecture take advantage of the metaverse? How?

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