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Designing for the Metaverse. In conversation with Matt Wade.

Former ECD of the Google Creative Lab, Matt Wade, discusses how we might approach designing for the Metaverse with Derek Yates.
I just wondered if you could give us your take on the Metaverse, really. It’s been talked about a lot recently by the big companies. Facebook have talked a lot about it, a lot. They are talking about this idea that there will be a place, which will be a world of connected experiences. That will have dynamic situations and complexities of interconnected things that might happen in the real world, like exchange of information and collaboration. Being in places that have a strong sense of place, that are connected to patterns and so on, that we recognise from the existing world of spatial patterns. But also, there will be places where I have opportunities to buy things, and that will have economic underpinning.
And there will be things that happen, and there’ll be commercial experiences that happen, that will be connected to fulfilment and delivery. And all these other things, and politics, and education. And it’s interesting. I’m rapidly realising that you can’t talk about this world purely factually. There’s a point at which to understand it, or to think about what it might look like, you’ve got to look at fiction. Because in a way, fiction is sort of shaping fact in a weird sort of way. Fact is definitely following fiction Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, in a lot of senses. I mean, it’s happened all the way through.
There’s loads of examples through, like Star Trek, the way they did flip phones and transponders, and so on. And because a lot of engineering thinking will need a vision that helps the engineers build these worlds, you know? And actually as designers, we have a new opportunity to interrupt some of that, and create visions that the engineers will follow. So a lot of the work around designing these things won’t have to be based on what you can achieve now. A lot of the exciting work to be done in creating the future Metaverse if you like, is to actually to create a better vision of what we want. Speculative design talks a lot about preferable futures, and actually, designers have that freedom.
Don’t just talk about what’s likely to happen, or what’s come before. What’s the probable, or the path that we might take, or what’s possible to see. Let’s aim for something preferable, and start to design those. if fact is going to follow fiction, let’s create the future we want. You know, we shouldn’t be thinking of it as another place, because it could be a place that enhances this place. There’s a danger, because if we use a very small set of tools, we’ll all create the same thing. So that’s the new aesthetic, the idea that we can see the digital tools describe the world we’re creating. Yeah. So actually, we also need to think about creating our own tools.
that’s a whole other discussion. Maybe just to end this film, if we could spend a little bit of time talking about what’s going to be the language of the Metaverse. Words are a really great way of designing. Think of a language, and think about a lexicon and a language that makes sense. Like, what’s the taxonomy of what you’re creating? Because then people can share that. We can have a common concept that we can talk about. And actually, giving things names and language is actually really important. And also, it’s a great way of testing your work. What would I call that thing? And the interesting thing in thinking about word-based language is to think about how words connect to each other.
Because obviously, you should be doing that in language when you think visually and interaction wise. How do the different elements connect– are they a language? Yeah. Are there verbs and nouns? Are there things I do? Other things that describe things visually? Are there things that feel like adjectives, you know, that describe things, are there things that feel like verbs The doing elements that I’m designing with, and actually think about how they connect to each other. And do they seem to sit harmoniously as a visual language? Reduction and simplicity. Thinking like John Maeda did, that great reduction in the rules of simplicity, and so on.
Actually a lot of things, when we design anything, from a poster, to designing a piece of architecture, to a website, we’re thinking about those things. But often when we go into virtual space, we’re like, it’s a digital space. It’s got no boundaries. When we think about these big companies who are going to own a lot of this space, think about the amount of advertising and clutter that could potentially end up in them. We’re empowered as designers to be able to think about that organisation. Design is about organising things and making them meaningful. That’s a good definition. Is that yours? Victor Papanek said, “Design is the conscious effort to impose a meaningful order,” which is my favourite definition of design.
Like a massive opportunity as well though, right? I mean you know, there’s a space that needs a meaningful order created for it. We’re going to impose a meaningful order. It’s different to a really efficient functional environment. Yeah, but it is meaningful. So it’s got some of it– you know, it’s got enough structure in there. Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely, yeah. There’s a rigour to it. But meaningful from the human experience as well. There’s a whole discussion here about how do we make sure that the Metaverse can support this world, rather than creating the escape hatch for billionaires. It’s like no, no, no. Let’s focus our energy on fixing this one. What can the Metaverse do to support this world?
To make us take care of it and care for it more.
Watch the 5 minute film…

Things to notice, understand and consider…

“There will be a place that will be a world of connected experiences that will have dynamic situations in there and a complexity of interconnected experiences. There will be things that happen in the real world, for example the exchange of information and so on that have patterns that we recognise from the existing world, spatial patterns but also patterns of interaction. There will be places that provide the opportunity to buy things, so economic opportunities but these will also be underpinned by politics, education and so on.”

What is your understanding of what Matt is describing?

Fiction shaping fact.
Matt talks about a world being shaped by fictional visions and the opportunity that this is creating for designers. What do you think he means by this?

Preferable futures.
Matt talks about the opportunity for designers to provide a vision for these engineers to create a preferable future. What do you think is the difference between probable futures, and a preferable future?

Our tools shape what we make, and if these tools are shaped by a corporation this has significant implications. Matt questions the wisdom of allowing this new world to be created by a limited number of tools and platforms. Do you agree? What tools do you think will be used to shape the Metaverse?

Matt talks about the grammar & syntax of design and how we might build a language for new kinds of creation. What do you think Matt means when he talks about the importance of language in building this new world? Why would it be important to create a common language, when we talk about the Metaverse?

Reduction, simplicity and hierarchy.
These are traditional principles of design but why would they be important in shaping the Metaverse?

Order and meaning.
What we already know about design could be massively influential to shaping a Metaverse that is preferable from a citizens’ perspective.

“Design is a conscious effort to impose a meaningful order.” Victor Papanak

Who is Victor Papanak and why is he relevant here?

A connected world.
Why would it be important not to think about the Metaverse as an escape hatch? Why does it need to connect to our world?

Questions to answer / things to follow up…
Can you identify some creative principles that would be useful when designing in the Metaverse from your perspective? Do you share his optimism for a new world that will improve this one?

Post your thoughts in the comments section below…

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Creative Communication Beyond VR and AR

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