I love the metaverse. I would read of metaverse design in those consulting forecasts, or blog articles about "10 future jobs unleashed by the web3 craze" and thought it was all BS. Sure Beeple opened a whole new market for 3D artists, but the web3 craze in the art world, meant that a lot of the creative class could now imagine completely new sources of income, new jobs being generated. I had friends working at decentraland, and there were other very promising projects out there that were trying to combine blockchain technology and NFTs to be able to create these unique metaverse experiences.
Let's also not forget that we were just fading out some heavy lockdowns and a crazy amount of these companies got a lot of traction, because a lot of the marketing or tradeshow budgets had to be allocated for something and people were craving experience on one side, but also a little window of opportunity was developing.
A lot of blogs started raving about how 3D designers, architects and coders would create a whole new market for these virtual experiences that people would use, even create their own economies. I was reading The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson at the time and everything made sense: The future of work and money, the future of creative work and the new ways of experiencing the internet.
But the crypto markets started to collapse and the intoxication of all these new ideas started to fade off. But not at Journee –where I work– they were thriving.
Metaverse Design is a completely new discipline. The new advances with Pixel Streaming technology and web interactions make it possible to showcase triple A gaming experiences directly in the browser, with e-commerce integrations, web layers and cms backends that make it extremely easy to create custom virtual experiences with very little technological knowledge.
This took me a lot of time to understand and it is a strong shift in the way that I've approached my work. We are not building video games, we are not building full scale CG projects. We are building unique custom experiences in a video game engine, we are also trying all the latest AI tools to include in our pipeline, even if they are clumsy, we get excited because we know 6 months from now they will be doing things we cannot even believe. Midjourney a great, obvious example that has evolved exponentially during 2023, and has become the best tool to enhance the art director's role within the company.
What is this new discipline?
The process of building metaverse experiences is fairly new. We are somehow in uncharted territories.
On the first hand, you have experiences like Decentraland, or Sandbox that are open world platforms where you can customize your avatar, purchase virtual land, etc. These experiences are locked to their unique visual styles and ecosystems. There is a certain degree of flexibility but the world is essentially locked as it it.
What we create at Journee are custom virtual experiences that are enterprise ready to be deployed for brand and artists around the world. I know it sounds like a boring sales pitch, but I can't contain my excitement to the work that we are doing, it is truly groundbreaking.
This discipline is a mixture of high-end 3D design, combined with video game design, combined with strategy, e-commerce, interaction design, cinematics and storytelling.
Let's call it the discipline of Metaverse Design. As always, it all starts first with an idea, a story that we want to tell, some client's objectives that need to justify the investment. As any part of the creative process the idea is the leitmotif for what should happen through the whole experience. A bit of dramaturgy, theatrics and attraction design needs to be complemented and married with the latest and most accurate visual aesthetics that one can find around.
Being able to construct everything possible, metaverse design usually demands that our worlds are always in a sense surreal, extraordinary.
Furthermore, If your worlds are not convincing, then, the whole illusion falls apart and people very easily close the window-tab, and all those months of effort die after 30 seconds.
The biggest challenge is to get your aesthetics right. This is what the users buy in probably the first microseconds of entering the worlds. Designing real time graphics means we can move really fast, but at the same time we need to design in 360 degrees. That means that our decisions and designs need to work from all possible angles, plus adding the fact that we need to transition from area to area and that needs thought too.
As a creative director, or as a designer not only you have to consider the visual look, you need to also think what set of logics and interactions your user will face.
Usually experiences are exploratory, micro-stories that help brands promote a new product launch. Other times the experiences can be educational, or even tailored for interactive commerce.
Therefore how the user interacts with the world requires a lot of thought processings.
User Experience Design
Let's add more complexity to the whole topic. We need to craft an experience that has to work on desktop, mobile, vertical and horizontal format. We need to make sure people from different ages are able to understand to navigate this new format. It's not like web design, where most people know what a hamburger menu is and thinks are pretty much thought through.
Being able to move around and interact with things require a lot of investment from the designer towards the user. It's a little pain tradeoff, to educate the audiences how to interact with the world, and it usually involves a first onboarding session done with a landing area and a micro-onboarding tutorial.
Consider also that these experiences can be crafted not only for young, gaming savvy audiences, but also, for middle aged executives. Usually the people that sign-off are top management and we can't afford that they don't fall in love within the first seconds of running around.
To ensure a user-friendly experience, we aim to minimize any potential difficulties. This means we steer clear of overly complex tasks or challenging puzzles that might overwhelm users. Instead, we focus on straightforward and easy-to-grasp micro gamified interactions, ensuring that the main points of each section are clear and easy to understand. Simple logics that help us make sure that the user leaves the interaction with the key takeaways from each area.
We also need to recognize that users employing web 2.0 style of media interactions typically spend more than the average time, between 3 to 7 minutes, exploring these type of metaverse experiences.
If they quickly lose interest, they are likely to disengage prematurely.
What is our goal? Ensuring that the user enjoys the experience while we simplify the intellectual effort required for each of these encounters, making the process easily navigable and incorporating an element of amusement, alongside stunning designs.
Typically, we commence with ambitious ideas, often complex in nature, but ultimately distill them into the most streamlined interactions for the experience.
Online expression has long revolved around presenting an idealized self, irrespective of the circumstances and as some sort of shield against the troubles of the outside world. The internet gave its anonymous users in weird IRC chat rooms, a place to explore social interactions, find love or even become someone they would never ever dared to become with a high degree of psychological safety.
In this realm, individuals can project their idealized selves, showcasing the embodiment of their aspirations.
Consequently, when fashioning avatars for our immersive metaverse experience, we regard avatar design as a pivotal touchpoint, treating it with utmost significance, and in some cases it becomes almost a parallel project on itself. There's artists that specialize only in avatar design, and I personally believe this will become a sub-discipline of this new frontier.
We always have to consider factors such as refraining from engaging in divisive discussions pertaining to gender, ethnicity, nationality, location, and age. What we strive to offer aligns with the demand for gender-neutral, enjoyable avatars, constantly seeking to defy conventions and introduce novel forms of self-expression within the metaverse, offering an extensive degree of customization.
Each aspect of the avatar undergoes thorough scrutiny, interpretation. Given the metaverse's unique nature, we often work with unexplored materials and unconventional combinations, leading to an extensive process of trial and error in designing features, material combinations, impossible fabrics or physics.
To help us facilitate this unique design process, we utilize a service known as "Really Player Me." –or RPM if you are in with the cool kids. This platform offers a system for grading and preserving one's digital identity online. Their concerted efforts to achieve cross-platform compatibility have been instrumental in establishing an interoperable metaverse experience, representing a significant milestone in the field.
Advantages and advantages of real time design
Our real-time design methodology allows us to work swiftly and efficiently, enabling the rapid development of complex and immersive environments. We can bring to life expansive landscapes, and cityscapes, all within remarkably short timeframes, all really exciting stuff!
As our clients and partners begin to comprehend the dynamic pace at which we navigate these projects, the creative iteration process takes center stage, undergoing countless transformations and refinements. This is not always great because you can get lost always trying to improve and improve things, and there is a time to freeze, and start putting everything together. This accelerated creative cycle fuels our passion for pushing the envelope of what's conceivable but it's a double edged sword.
One of the challenges we encounter is the harmonization of various elements into a finished product. We find ourselves occasionally prioritizing the pursuit of exquisite visual aesthetics without due consideration for the intricate web of interactions that sustains a truly engaging and user-friendly experience. This often leads us to grapple with the intricacies of balancing visual excellence with practical functionality, recognizing the fine line between artistic expression and usability constraints.
Optimizing and launching the project
Once we conclude the design and logic iterations, our focus shifts to optimizing these projects for online deployment. While pixel streaming technology offers great potential, the associated server costs pose a considerable challenge, particularly given the temporal nature of many of our projects.
Ensuring that our projects remain playable at sixty frames per second becomes imperative. Regardless of the visual allure, it's essential that our creations operate seamlessly on our servers, often demanding a trade-off between visual quality and performance.
This continual push for visual innovation occasionally overshadows considerations of practical functionality, prompting us to find a delicate balance between visual splendour and interactive efficiency. Our experiences with complex natural landscapes featuring abundant foliage or expansive urban environments highlight the cost of intricate detailing, necessitating careful optimization strategies.
Fortunately, the extensive expertise of video game designers and optimization artists comes to the forefront, guiding us through the process of balancing aesthetics with performance. While adhering to established best practices in 3D design and polycount management, we often find the creative process challenging these norms, resulting in striking visuals that warrant careful consideration and compromise.
The finished product as an immersive experience
As we near the completion of our experience, the culmination of our design, implementation, logic, user experience, optimization, and web integration processes, we finally hold in our hands the definitive metaverse build. This build not only encapsulates the experience but also serves as the end product.
This is an exhilarating phase, where the crafted experiences become unique platforms for users to engage with, offering insights into user preferences and behaviors while providing a delightful, interactive, and 360-degree brand immersion. The metaverse transforms the brand narrative, evolving it beyond mere advertising to an interactive storytelling experience with an unparalleled potential for user engagement and shared human–yes human experiences.
Forging new disciplines
Our journey into uncharted territories represents a pioneering effort, redefining the landscape of virtual experiences and forging new paradigms for future exploration. With the trust of forward-thinking brands willing to navigate the uncertainties of this new internet, we are not only shaping new best practices but also paving the way for a new discipline in itself.
This process spans a wide array of sub-disciplines, encapsulating design, branding, user interface, and virtual aesthetics.
These efforts extend beyond the creation of virtual worlds, encompassing the establishment of corporate identities within the metaverse.
It reflects the growing realization among brands of the necessity to embrace virtual experiences, recognizing the potential for fostering intimate, persistent brand ecosystems that enable interactive engagement, customizations, and transactions within a singular, brand-centric environment.
Anticipating the inevitable convergence between virtual and physical realms, we find ourselves contemplating the intricate details of foliage, the nuances of architectural design, and the harmonization of diverse brand presences within the metaverse. These endeavors not only shape the metaverse's visual aesthetics but also establish a new standard for interactive experiences, transcending the realm of novelty and emerging as a fully-fledged platform for meaningful, immersive interactions.
As technology advances and computational power becomes more accessible, the convergence of the physical and virtual worlds is no longer a distant vision but an impending reality. This paradigm shift positions the roles of metaverse designers, creative directors, and architects as integral components of a booming discipline, one that is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical realms, shaping the fabric of our future interactions and defining the landscape of our digital experiences.