Defining The Experiential ‘Metaverse’
by Chris Dobson, Executive Principal, Eight Inc.
As we enter 2022, we are in the midst of a generational shift; the philosophies, structures, and processes of the post-industrial world are being replaced, and a new rulebook is being written. But this puts us at a crossroads — on one side the comfort and familiarity of the old. On the other, a new world, playing by new rules.
This creates the perfect environment for innovation. And in a world gripped by a pandemic, social, cultural, political, and environmental crisis; the opportunity to work together to address some of the world’s biggest challenges. To design a world that is easier to use, more sustainable, and more equitable.
It is likely the heaviest cost for business will come from inaction. In an innovation super-cycle, wait and see can quickly become wait and die, as past innovators from Kodak to BlackBerry can attest to.
Businesses caught in the vacuum between the post-industrial past and the digital future will suffocate and fail (or be swallowed up by those at the vanguard of this new reality).
Today, competing belief systems, platforms, priorities, technologies, and legacy challenges jockey for position, and for investment. Amongst the buzzword bingo and misrepresentation of new technology, the metaverse is currently king.
The recent Facebook ‘rebrand’ into Meta has shifted the focus of metaverse to the Facebook definition of it (a company mired in negative PR and sitting on an underperforming $1bn VR acquisition…); a VR world sat atop our own, into which we will jump in and out of, like a hybrid Zoom-Roblox reality.
But is this what the ‘Metaverse’ really is? (or what it could / should be?)
While the previous description of ‘metaverse’ is not without many benefits, and may well go on to transform gaming, create some great brand experiences, and even transform how we search for holidays and new homes or attend events and conferences, it still feels quite narrowcast and tactical.
Instead, to maximise the potential for human, business, social, and brand growth in the future, we should take the chance to take a broader perspective. If not looking at it through a new lens, then certainly trying on the varifocals.
Instead of a portal to an imagined new virtual world, we would be much better served by thinking of the Metaverse as a fourth dimension that wraps seamlessly around our existing 3D world. One that can offer something much more immediate, usable, and enriching to our everyday lives.
The Experiential Metaverse should be thought of more as a ‘spatial internet’, enabled by increased processing power and network speed, powered by machine learning, and delivered via blockchain technologies.
A 3rd generation of the internet (after the information, then the social internet) will force us to think about the way we design brands, experiences, destinations, and even cities.
Advances in 5G, machine learning, or blockchain are certainly game-changing technologies in their own right. But it is the network effect of these pieces coming together and working in harmony (the networked, network-effect if you like) that will create one of the biggest disruptions to the way we live and work since the industrial revolution.
While the advent of the steam engine simply replaced human muscle, and the internet-connected the world's information and people. The convergence of network and processing speed, smart machines, decentralized networks, and a new design mindset will transform the way we live; ushering in a renaissance in which cultural, political, social, and economic norms are upended and transformed.
The 4D Experience Journey
We are at the birth of this new age, and yet the one thing that is abundantly clear is that we won’t solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s tools.
To succeed we need to embrace a new way of thinking about business and brand.
Not working to old metrics, processes or philosophies, but developing a whole new model of governance for how a brand behaves and how it makes money in a hybrid world.
This convergence of tradition and tokenomics, brand purpose and destination design, community and privacy, technology and theatre, and a whole host of old world and new world inputs, will transform every facet of experience design.
It will require business strategists, experience designers, technologists, and developers sitting side-by-side with architects, interior designers, engineers, IP lawyers, and financiers.
It will re-write laws, destroy agency networks, and give birth to startling new creative businesses, unencumbered by a broadcast, or ‘digital’ past. These could be DAO’s, DAC’s, start-ups or centrally funded network offers — it matters not if done correctly.
As we find ways to use these new technologies and systems to their fullest potential, the linear journeys of the past will begin to look narrow, the virtual worlds of Meta, one-dimensional.
The destinations that will come from these new firms; whether commercial real-estate, residences, museums, malls, national parks, entertainment hubs, or even cities, will look, behave differently from anything we have seen before.
They will create completely new kinds of human, social, and business value. But they will require a new way of thinking — a more holistic approach that will bring together quite divergent, and unfamiliar expertise.
Human Centric > Humanity Centric Design
Moving away from the narrow confines of space, product, and brand design, into a more system-driven approach, we can design interactions that benefit not just the human using it (human-centric), but the communities and societies in which they exist (humanity-centric).
We will have the opportunity to create businesses and experiences that are not just more engaging, entertaining, and educational, but more purposeful, human, and altruistic, by leveraging the possibilities of the blockchain.
Brands will need to become more equitable; giving back in meaningful and valuable ways to the people that create social and cultural value for them. Engagement, guardianship, and passion will suddenly have its own PNL — unlocking new kinds of value for businesses and users alike.
This humanity-centric, 4D approach will help businesses realise the full value of the experience economy.
Breaking the chokehold of advertising and marketing-driven demand generation will allow the re-allocation of capital to what is matters most; creating things that people love… but with these added layers of social and environmental value woven through them.
How this happens in practice will become apparent in the coming years. We are on day one of a long journey. It will take some big leaps, so trials, some failures, but it is a journey that is necessary, and inevitable.
But isn’t that what good design at its heart, is? Making things work better through creative thought and application?
The journey of discovery we embark on is something anyone interesting in design, and the future of culture, commerce, and communication should be excited about.