Sethu Nair (ThinkPlace) on good design in the metaverse

04 November 2022 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read
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Imagine a virtual world in which people live, work, shop and interact with others – all from the comfort of their couch in the physical world. Welcome to the metaverse, one of the most hyped technologies of the coming decade. Sethu Nair, a Business Designer at ThinkPLace, outlines why good design will be key to secure the benefits of the metaverse future.

At ThinkPlace, we help our clients tackle some of the world’s most complex challenges using design-led, human-centred approaches. Our work is rooted in demystifying what the future of technology looks like – which increasingly includes the metaverse.

Our approach to the metaverse space is to be proactive and preemptive. It’s about getting on the front foot, and exploring the potential – both good and bad – of this emerging technology. We do it so we can ensure good design as a means of ensuring inclusion is prioritised as we embrace this new world.

Sethu Nair, Business Designer, ThinkPLace

As an example, ThinkPlace recently hosted the Mega Events Discovery Forum alongside the Australian National University (ANU) on behalf of MegaCRC. Here, we explored what the metaverse could look like in the context of massive-scale events.

The forum explored how we can unlock the potential of mega-events – events with 10,000 plus people – with new technology. In the run-up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics, we explored how we can integrate virtual reality or augmented reality and step into new forms of experiencing massive events. The underpinning focus being — how do we make sure we traverse the metaverse in an inclusive, equitable and accessible way?

Leaps in the integration of new technology have historically been led by big tech companies. Take, for example, smartphones, and how they have evolved into an extension of our daily routines. Through them, we have a relative idea of what social transformation and social consequences can look like. This presents an opportunity to learn from systems already in place and reverse engineer them to be more human-centred.

We can use complex systems design to lay the foundations for a human-first future in the metaverse.

Maximising returns from events

In our practice of future visioning, there are futures that are preferable and futures that are probable. Sometimes they align – and when they do, great! But in the instances they do not, our work is about facilitating cultural and societal shifting from state to state by building awareness and changing regulations.

In collaboration with the 3A Institute, we’ve been exploring cybernetics research, looking at the interface between humans and technology and understanding how systemic changes can affect what our future looks like. In order to preserve an enduring legacy of integrated large-scale events, it is necessary that our approach looks at the intersections of both human-centric engagement and implementing technologies that serve connectivity, safety, engagement and user optimisation.

Recently, we held a workshop with the Singaporean Government’s Open Innovation Partnership in response to the question “How may we use virtual reality or augmented reality to improve safety, productivity and training at workplaces?” The workshop served as a springboard for addressing how we might effectively implement and realise augmented and virtual reality technologies in the built environment space.

Sessions of this nature bring together people from different fields of expertise to envision a future that considers their respective experiences and stakes. This allows for collaborative thinking that pushes boundaries of possibility while also creating a more holistic representation of our contemporary landscape.

Similarly we conducted a workshop in partnership with the restaurant franchise Han Bao Bao, in response to the query “What does the restaurant of the future look like?”. Diving into the opportunities, limitations and potential technology can have across the different levels of business practice.

The future is both something we direct ourselves towards by bringing people together, but it's also something where we have to keep our eyes open for everything that's happening. We keep our approach wide and adaptable to uncertainty.

As we move towards what is often promised as a revolutionary part of our future, the metaverse, these principles are important to keep in mind. We must continue to work towards a preferable future, and do all that we can to make it probable, too.

The fact is, no one knows for sure what the future will look like. But the future doesn’t just happen – we can (and should) be active participants. We have the power to strategically prepare for the varying possibilities and adapt accordingly, with the ultimate goal of participation for everyone, everywhere.