Core concerns of UX in the Metaverse | by Marcus Lyra | Nov, 2021


Metamorphism

As we migrate from ‘pages’ to ‘stages’, the first movement will inevitably be the copy of real world references. We go from Skeuomorphism to Metamorphism. As it has been seen in other occasions (e.g. First Apple’s iPhone UI), the transition from material to virtual interfaces might often be facilitated with use of analogies. Visual analogies (or visual metaphors) are iconic sign relations (C.S. Peirce) that establish a faster recognition by means of similitude (likeness). Metamorphism is Skeuomorphism with immersion. Until users are ‘used’ to what an abstract space could be, it is reasonable to use reality-based virtual stages, as it:

  1. Reduces risks of disorientation;
  2. Determines a thematic composition that sets a mood or predisposition for action. This constrains possibilities to expected behaviors, e.g The Metasite of a Bank should at first look like a typical bank interior.

Virtual things ought to be (for a few decades until they become autonomous design elements) related to physical things. And although certain times we feel such metaphors as parodies of reality, the relatedness is a cognitive load reducer, and solves most basic questions we humans need for orientation, expectation of behavior and feel of materials, and structural concepts of balance and stability. A pillar in Metaverse is certainly not necessary, but from the experience standpoint, it might provide a sense of stability and safety by analogy with real circumstances.

There is also the facet of social fetichistic value of goods and places, with all its constructed marketing attributes of class, refinement, and here we have categories such as luxury, ‘prime’ services and places etc. Although in Metaverse nothing is virtually needed, the socially acquired sense of value derives from a learned experience with a concept of ‘uniqueness’, generally imprinted on the materials and aesthetics of a product or service. The fact that the costless variation of materials might drive developers towards an excess of visual elements of value is a concern though, as virtual gold are orange pixels, and it might be used to a point of losing value. In this manner, strategic shortage of materials will soon be a thing.

Localization: Context scenes for specific actions

The conduct is a behavior coded within the spaciality, that is, the place you are in determines the expected set of rules you have learned concerning this place (a church, a hospital, a sports venue). Every culture has codes of conduct enforced and maintained through a Social Fact (Durkheim), for every occasion/space.

In sum, instead of pages we are dealing with Stages, and that means that your interface is not in front of the user, but the user is inside your solution. Less of a static designer is required here onwards, and more of an architect is expected. The professional of the field of User Experience, designing Metasites and Meta-apps will be in a curator’s shoes. Designing experiences will be designing primarily ambience and sequence, and for this role, a vast scope of architectural reference will be needed, as it already is for the Game industry, specially during the process of level design.

A soccer game seen from the seats of a completely crowded stadium is an experience that differs dramatically from a bodiless flight through players in real time. A stadium is not required in Metaverse for obvious reasons, but the cost in experience of such a decision will have to be contemplated, and will render profound effects in behavior.

Mechanization: Rules of mechanical physics from the visual dimension

Metamorphism is Skeuomorphism with immersion as said before, and as the stages are designed resembling physical spaces with socially agreed conducts, materials must perform a similar role than those of real objectivity. This accounts to say that stability, gravity, inercia, contact, collision, occlusion, reflection and refraction (subsurface scattering) and other worldly phenomena must be carefully considered in the overall experience. The perfect interaction with elements within a Metasite depends on the manifestation of expected physical behavior. As long as something resembles something real, it should perform as expected in real life.

Let us suppose a conversation in Metaverse between my account manager in the Bank and I, and we get to a point where I need to access my personal files in my HUD, and search for a document. I do this within personal menus in my Navigator, choose the file, and hand in the object that looks and behaves like a file. If a metaphor of paper, it should have this materiality, if a folder, or a brick-like box written ‘File’, it should behave like a folder or a box. So that if I decide that, instead of giving him the file, I want to leave it over the table, it will get perfectly stable over the table, and allow me to get it back in case I want to.

This stability and predictability is crucial, and it is not something inherent to the development. Depending on the tool used for development, it must be thought of.

Dislocation: Virtual-physical movementent between scenes

Pages become stages. The user does not click away from a page, she moves from-to. The user is dislocated, and still lots of work must be done to deal with these transitions. Many of us have had the experience of a poorly-done transition in VR and we are left with complete disorientation. The sense of continuity is important, and the transition from one stage/space to another should be as smooth and natural as possible. Possibly, contemplating the capacity of humans to mentally map the space, and stand by these references during the process. I know where the exit is at all times, as I know where in space the goal, a store or a facility is. Changing these positions or badly designed transitions will severely affect the sense of space, and therefore, the overall experience. These spaciality rules for Metadesign will be developed with time, and further questions need to be investigated, such as: Is it necessary to spatially move to access everything in the Metaverse?

Relations: Exchange of information through specific interfaces of contact

Another field that will face challenging questions is the design of human relations inside the Metaverse. A user sees another user’s avatar, walks (flies, rovers) over and engages in a conversation. Audio communication is required, but let us suppose I want to show a picture I took yesterday. How do I do this? I access my files only visible to me through an ‘actions’ menu, and then, another menu is shown to my interlocutor with the files I chose? If so, how do we manage to ensure the only one who can see is the one person I want?

HUD: Visual cues that guide the experience

HUD would be probably taken for granted as part of a (not so) vast sort of navigators provided by companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft (Probably Amazon too). These would probably be connected to personal accounts, being fully customizable HUDs that occupy peripheral vision, providing tools of navigation, search, trip history, and shortcuts. Sure it would come with open source addons, extensions that personalize the experience even further, adding filters to the Metaverse; color filters, accessibility filters, text filters, translation, city spots and so on will probably figure among a great number of third party apps, both free and paid.

Art by DIMA FLOOD and others at Behance

But still, similarly to contemporary applications, a great effort for the organization of information of statuses, directions, timers, and a plentiful of menus would be thoroughly developed as part of UX teams responsibilities. As these are inherently interfaces (with or without any depth) they follow the same premises as contemporary interfaces do, and are subject to the same heuristics and overall concerns.

Meta-Subjectivity

Lastly but equally important, are all facets related to the construction of identity. The human virtual interactions are bound to some sort of identifying aspects in a twofold manner: the relation I-I and the relation I-Other. In both cases, a systematic approach from the Designer’s perspective is necessary, on one hand providing simulation of private interfaces, with personalization (customization of specific areas, creation of personal ‘spaces’, ability to change orders, sizes, colors, dispositions and even compose ‘themes’), something so important that it figures as one of the base concepts of advanced UIs such as mobile Operational Systems. Also, on the I-I side, lies all the features responsible for notifications and privacy settings.

On the other hand, the whole spectrum of elements that interface interpersonal relations (I-Other), that also require customization of UI’s elements, but entails extra areas for semiotic dialogic exchange: Narration of self, construction of avatars (available imagetic compositions), construction of personas (available behavioral combinations) spaces that simulate areas of destined for public access and so on. There are two opposite aspects; the way I communicate and engage with elements of my world to myself, and the way I organize and show the elements of my world to others. Here the virtualization of spaces adds extra dimensions of work and concerns for experience designers.

The virtualization of spaces brings a new dimension of care and development to most of the current digital social relations we currently take part in. As human-centric designers, UX professionals face a leap of complexity that multiplies the field and enforces adaptation, learning new tools (Unreal Engines are the Figmas and XDs of the near future!), facing new social, ethical and legal questions, and are in charge of an even greater responsibility for aspects of human experience, as a project of Metaverse as we can now foresee, is not something you put in front of the user anymore; in Metaverse you put the user inside of it.



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