Metaverse – Design and Future

You’ve probably heard about the metaverse before. In recent months it’s been a hot topic in the news ever since Facebook changed their company name to Meta and signaled their intent to invest in the future of the metaverse fully. But what exactly is the metaverse? Why should designers be excited about the metaverse? And which areas of the metaverse are worth paying attention to in the next few years? In this blog, we aim to answer all these questions and more.

What is the Metaverse?

The metaverse is a set of interconnected digital spaces that allow users to do a variety of things that would be impossible to do in the physical world. It is essentially a parallel virtual world. You can socialize, complete tasks, play games, and learn through virtual activities within this world. When you’re inside the metaverse, you will have an avatar or virtual identity that is customizable.

The origins of the metaverse can be found in science fiction. Still, thanks to the creativity and innovation of designers and developers worldwide, it is no longer a fictional concept. Today, we are closer than ever to bringing the metaverse into everyday life. The metaverse has tremendous potential to be a new arena for UX and design through virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality.

Designing for the Metaverse

So, what role can designers play as the metaverse grows in popularity and compatibility? Designers will need to shift their mindset, methods, and skills to design various experiences that work in a virtual context. Maybe this will require them to stop thinking about “users” and to start thinking about the people that interact with their designs as “players.”

Designing for the metaverse won’t be easy at first. Many designers will need to expand their skillset and learn new disciplines. These virtual worlds could possibly function like mini-societies which will mean that designers will have to expand their knowledge of economics, psychology, and sociology.

We think some of the key elements designers should consider when thinking about the metaverse include:

  • Storytelling is at the forefront of designs.
  • A focus on field research and understanding a complex array of perspectives.
  • Learning 3D tools and making the most of completely adaptable virtual worlds.
  • The interconnection of designs. Your designs will no longer exist in isolation but will instead be part of a web of connected designs and experiences.

Which specifications are unique to Metaverse design?

There will be several design areas that will be uniquely challenging and effective within the metaverse. Let’s take a look at a few of the key specifications:

  • Animation
    • Animations will have the potential to move anywhere in the metaverse, but designers will need to exercise restraint to ensure their energies are natural to the human eye.
  • Audio
    • Spatial audio is reactive to the player’s position in the virtual space. The closer they are to an audible object, the higher the audio volume should be.
    • Ambient audio plays throughout the experience to convey the mood and atmosphere. It should enhance rather than distract.
    • Audio feedback that is prompted by sound triggers will help immerse users in the environment and ensure the metaverse sounds and feels like a real space.
  • Avatar
    • How should the user be represented in the virtual space? There is an opportunity for plenty of cosmetic creativity here, but designers must also be aware of how representation impacts their presence in the metaverse.
  • Navigation
    • Camera and Controls: What kind of perspective and camera angles will the metaverse support? (First Person, Third Person, or a 2D overworld map) And how will the user control the camera and its movement within the metaverse environment? Intuitive controls are important to the initial and overall experience.

The benefits

Why will the metaverse succeed? To understand why the metaverse could be a big deal, let’s take a look at some of the key benefits.

  • The Metaverse in the workplace

For workplaces, the metaverse presents enormous opportunities. VR technology will allow users to share ideas in virtual office spaces. In the current remote working climate, the metaverse could enable you to create authentic “in-person” experiences without coming to work physically. For designers, you will be able to create in a virtual space reducing costs and increasing the ability to be creative and collaborate.

  • The Metaverse in entertainment

VR games and experiences have already been around for a while. And the metaverse has the potential to take this kind of entertainment to the next level. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in films, games and music concerts.

  • Metaverse practicality

The metaverse has thousands of practical applications. For example, VR platforms are used in exposure therapy to confront their fears safely. Equally, the metaverse can be used in sport and combat training to simulate environments and reduce the risk of injury. For designers, the metaverse can be used to visualize, test, and compare designers in a way that is inexpensive, accessible, and enjoyable.

Your Metaverse journey

There is enormous potential for exciting innovation and creativity in the metaverse world. Today’s designers can be at the forefront of this change and should look to make the most of the metaverse to create, iterate, experiment and excel.

To learn more about how you can utilize the metaverse with your designs and fast-track your digital transformation, please get in touch with our UX experts at Radiant Digital.


Constructive Criticism - How it helps Designers to Attain Better Solutions

There are many ways designers can give and receive criticism. However, to ensure that this criticism is a help rather than a hindrance, we need to understand how constructive criticism works in the UX design field.

 Criticism is inevitable. It doesn't matter what industry you are in; criticism will form part of your career path. However, it can be a double-edged sword. Listening too much to criticism can negatively impact your thought process and actions. But, equally, not taking in any criticism may prove detrimental, and you may not be able to evolve as a designer. Therefore, it is essential to understand the positive aspects of criticism and how to use it to inform your work. Furthermore, listening to constructive criticism will often result in a more robust project that fulfills all clients' requests.

 Constructive criticism helps:

  • By increasing the collaborative spirit within design teams
  • By allowing individual designers to grow and learn from other experts
  • By enabling designers to gain some perspective and distance themselves from their work
  • By creating greater empathy for other designers and the potential users of the designs

 Let's look at how you can receive and provide criticism successfully in the world of design.

The Art of Receiving Criticism

There is always more to learn. Even when you're happy with a design, there will be ways to iterate and improve. Taking and constructively using criticism you know as you gain more experience as a designer. At the beginning of your career, it may be difficult to take criticism, and you may respond negatively. This is usually because beginners lack confidence. However, receiving criticism allows you to evolve as a designer and incorporate the expertise of others into your designs.

 Some things to remember when receiving constructive criticism: 

  • Collaboration means compromise: When designing a product, service, or software, it would be best to compromise, especially when working within a design team. Often, you will learn from the insights and critiques of other experienced designers.
  • Keep your response positive: A positive frame of mind is key to receiving criticism. Every interaction should be geared towards creating the best possible design.
  • The client is correct: Sometimes, you must accept that they know what they are talking about. In the end, they will decide whether your design is a success. Listen to them, and you'll be able to hit your targets.
  • Gain some perspective: Your work is not an extension of you. A criticism of your design work is not an implicit criticism of you or your overall design knowledge/style. If the person giving the criticism is well-intentioned, their words will be constructive and solely focused on improving the product.

 

Providing Constructive Criticism 

As well as receiving criticism, there will be times in your design career when you will have to give criticism. You may have learned how to do this at school. Now it's time to take those learnings and apply them to a professional design environment. Critiquing other people's work will help you realize the flaws and merits of your work. Additionally, by providing constructive criticism, you will encourage other designers and help improve their designs.

 Some things to remember when providing criticism: 

  • Maintain a professional and friendly tone: The way you provide the criticism is almost as important as the criticism itself. Remember to be uplifting rather than harsh. Co-workers will more readily accept your criticisms if they know that your thoughts are well-intentioned.
  • Only provide criticism when asked or when it seems necessary: Don't be annoying with your critiques. But, on the other hand, they shouldn't be incessant and should hopefully be given only when necessary or when the designer asks for help.
  • Emphasize the positives: Constructive criticism should not be harmful. Instead, make sure to highlight the positive attributes of the design and carefully describe points where the design could be improved.

Becoming better designers

 Design can be both a collaborative and individual process. Learning the value of constructive criticism will help you excel in your design efforts, making you a better team member. The art of receiving criticism will take some time to master, but it will invariably result in you taking a closer and more productive look at your work. Similarly, providing constructive criticism will improve your analytical and evaluative skills. Ultimately, understanding the role of criticism in the design process will help you attain better solutions in your future projects.

Want to know how you can attain better solutions? Learn how receiving and providing constructive criticism can help make you and your peers better designers here at Radiant Digital.


Why Usability is Vital: It Can Make or Break a Product

It’s probably safe to assume that almost everyone who regularly makes online transactions has experienced challenges or difficulties in usability. A button can’t be clicked. A particular link leads to an error page. The transaction won’t go through. There are too many steps to take. The mobile version doesn’t display all the content. The list of possible complaints could go on and on. Designers recognize that users will almost always take the path of least resistance - the least amount of effort that yields the ideal outcome. Human behavior optimizes. This then calls for products to optimize for human behavior. In UX design, this pursuit is called usability. 

Usability pertains to the degree of ease users can accomplish a set of goals with a product.  While frequently used interchangeably, usability is part of UX design. The former is the ease of use in completing a given task. The latter is the overall experience with the product.

What are the qualities of a product with good usability?

When users first encounter a new interface, they should accomplish their intended tasks without relying on somebody else. As an individual experience, highly usable products are effective, efficient, engaging, error-tolerant, and easy to learn. Think of them as the “5 E’s of Usability”.

  • Effective: Users can complete their tasks. Are users able to complete their tasks independently? What are the leading causes if users are unable to meet their functions?
  • Efficient: Users can complete their tasks through the easiest or most minor labor-intensive route. How fast are they able to complete their tasks? How many clicks and pages do they go through? Do they take steps or visit pages they’re not supposed to?
  • Engaging: Users find completing their tasks a pleasant experience. But, how do the users react while completing their tasks? Do they seem confused or annoyed on specific steps? Do they seem satisfied after the process?
  • Error-tolerant: Users can recover from genuinely erroneous actions and situations. Do they encounter error prompts even if they make a correct step? When users genuinely make a mistake, are they able to recover and return to the right page?
  • Easy to Learn: Users easily complete new tasks and even more quickly on repeat use. Does their first use of the product appear seamless? Where do they encounter bottlenecks or difficulty in the process? Upon repeating the steps or using the next iteration of the product, do users complete their tasks faster or more seamlessly?

How to test for usability?

Achieving these qualities of usability rarely comes on the first version of any product. Designers can’t wish away that their first try would be helpful enough to be shipped out. Product teams need to look out for flaws they might have overlooked and improve what could still be improved. This can only stem from Usability Testing, which is the process of testing the degree of ease in using a product.

Usability testing is different from focus groups, which is about listening to what participants say. In observing test users, it’s about what they do, not what they say. The types of usability testing depend on the complexity of the study, but they all entail the following features:

  • Representative users: Invite participants who are representative of the product’s core users.
  • Representative tasks: Ask the participants to perform the essential tasks of your product.
  • Action-centric: Observe what the participants do. Give more credence to their actions than their feedback.

Designers must aim to monitor and measure usability throughout the product lifecycle - from the time it starts as a wireframe, then as a prototype, when it’s shipped out, and as it continues in use. Depending on the need, product teams have an arsenal of usability testing methods they can choose from, each with its merit, as follows:

  • In-person: This is a formally structured, on-site, live-testing of users.
  • Remote: Users are in their environments, at home, for example, to catch more natural, on-field insights.
  • Guerilla: This testing is informally structured wherein product teams test their designs on passers-by and colleagues for quick insights. The data may be less accurate but can be quickly collected.

Why is usability so important?

User research at the beginning of the design process is almost as necessary as testing. This sets up assumptions about user profile and behavior that the prototyping and testing cycles will rely on. Further, user testing will be of no use if the insights are not incorporated into the product. Iteration is the consequence of user testing. Each new iteration should aspire to have solved a bottleneck, a bug, or any design flaw that causes headaches, which users, whether digitally savvy or otherwise, know too well.

When users encounter usability issues, especially so-called showstoppers, these could amount to time lost, missed opportunities, frustration, and loss of trust in the service they’re transacting with. The consequences could even be more severe when money is concerned, particularly with eCommerce sites, payment services, and banking apps. Minor tweaks in usability could save users from these kinds of exasperation. For product owners - the companies and organizations that deploy digital services - such implications could spell the difference in user growth, market share, brand reputation, regulatory compliance, and financial results. There are, of course, numerous considerations that influence a product’s success, such as business model, market conditions, technical and cybersecurity factors, among many others. However, usability is entirely within the control of any given organization and its product teams.

Usability as a business priority

Usability can make or break a product. Usability testing and the requisite iterations are how organizations can meet customer expectations in today’s highly digitized economy. Our experts at Radiant Digital can help your organization conduct usability testing and deliver your digital products. For more information on our digital transformation services, contact us today.


Getting ready for the UX-driven World with Rapid Design Prototyping

Don't Make Me Think: A Commonsense Approach to Web Usability author Steve Krug rightly states that, "If you want a great site, you've got to test it." As a designer, you would know that the excellent execution of a bad idea can be a massive waste of time, money, and other resources. Therefore, to distinguish a good from a bad idea initially, you need to test your designs using prototypes. Prototypes are working models of your final product. They help emulate the functionality, look, and feel of the product you're designing. By the time these high-fidelity models are introduced into the process, you would be at the stage of finalizing the details of the UX design. Prototypes naturally take longer to produce and cost more than wireframes or sketches. However, the ability to build and test prototypes at a rapid pace and in iterations lets you "envision" new products, evaluate feedback-based user engagement, and improvise without "developing the product" until you have a final version that everyone approves. This is a valuable way of making a small budget go a long way while reducing unwanted rework and collateral damage. In designer terms, this process or practice is called "Prototyping."

Prototyping Definition

Prototyping is an experimental, iterative model of an idea - a mockup of sorts - that lets you test and retest before finding the best solution to your problem. It requires a mix of creativity and practicality, perhaps one of the essential steps to delivering good design. Add the word Rapid to Prototyping, and it becomes a process of quickly mocking up features of your website or mobile application. The term rapid implies that this process is quicker and inexpensive than a full-blown mockup of your product.

Commonly used Rapid Prototyping Techniques:

  1. Rapid sketched paper prototypes: These include a rough schematic design on a paper demonstrating the relationships between the various elements. These are typically used in the initial design stages to validate the fundamental, underlying concepts and test the design logic. Basic flaws in reasoning, layout, comprehension, and structure can be removed using this method.
  2. Lo-fi, monochromatic wireframes: When you are satisfied that the basic concepts are comprehensively covered, you can progress onto more complex prototyping models such as lo-fi monochromatic wireframes. These are digital models but very minimal, almost skeletal in detailing to avoid distractions from testing the operational structure and functionality. The absence of any actual design or content helps understand the working relationships between elements and whether they practically deliver user outcomes.
  3. High-fidelity, clickable mockups: This advanced phase of Prototyping requires some effort and expense before getting to the final stage. This mockup will cover most, if not all, of the features needed, though not completed to the level of detail or design of the final version. It will be an interactive and clickable model emulating the app or website. It would allow users to test the functionalities and features in a natural environment. Any issues or feedback derived from this activity can be taken as pertinent to the completed product. Thus, it is an exemplary process for accuracy and relevance checking and validation of the final model of the product.

The Process behind Rapid Prototyping

Rapid Prototyping helps visualize interfaces or UI screens and user flows while adding interactions so that potential users can test the product's usability and functionality. Here are the first steps you should take before starting on your prototype.

  1. Define the problem and perform requirements planning.
  2. Ideate and come up with a tentative solution.
  3. Create your Prototype.
  4. Empathize with your users based on the feedback.
  5. Refine the problem.

And continue the process until you find the best, most relevant solution.

Requirements Planning for Rapid Prototyping

The requirements planning phase includes getting the UX Designers, developers, business analysts, managers, and other stakeholders to agree on the business requirements, constraints, and project scope. With rapid Prototyping, what and how much of the interface and process should be tried and tested are determined.

Creating a Scenario: Create stories that describe when users will be working with your app and what these users' needs will be. This allows you to attempt to create valuable prototypes.

Iterating the UX: Start simply by creating low-fidelity prototypes. Don't focus on the content or even the design. Instead, pay attention to usability and user flow. You do not need or want actual content or higher fidelity designs until the early prototypes have been validated. A prototype usually starts with an outline of the basic idea. It is then refined with features, functionalities, and interactions until the final prototype is handed over for development.

First, you scope the prototype. A prototype isn't a fully functional, coded, working end product. Instead, it is made to help designers test their idea's functionality, and further help users and developers visualize the concept before using/building it. So, ensure you answer these questions before jumping onto making your prototype:

  1. How much should be prototyped? Designers usually prototype core functionalities and any novel technologies/interactions they may have planned.
  2. Outline your user flow: Identify coherent paths your user may take.
  3. Plan your iterations: Start with the broad idea, and then narrow it down to selected areas.
  4. Choose the fidelity method and tools: It means choosing the technique and devices you want to use to help make your prototype closest to your end-product.

Fidelity refers to how closely a prototype resembles the final design. There are multiple dimensions to fidelity, and prototypes can belong anywhere on the spectrum for each of these dimensions. Fidelity methods are unique tools to make your prototype work significantly better. The types of fidelity methods are:

  1. Visual Fidelity: Styled interfaces, focusing on the look and feel of your concept.
  2. Functional Fidelity: Interactions that focus on how your concept will work.
  3. Content Fidelity: Real content and headlines instead of dummy text.

Second, you choose the appropriate fidelity level. The spectrum of fidelity lies across.

  1. Low Fidelity: Sketching on paper, without using any tools or codes, and used most often in the earliest stages of the design process.
  2. Medium Fidelity: Using computer-based tools like Visio and Omnigraffle, creating wireframes, task flows, and user scenarios, most useful to clock user behavior and experience.
  3. High Fidelity: Using application-simulation tools like Axure and iRise to simulate the functionality of the final product. Most useful to produce an almost-working, refined prototype of your final product.

Expert Tip 1: Consider creating a content wireframe in the early stages of your prototyping process. Carve out spaces for broader content categories and then narrow them down to more delicate interactions. That way, you cover both the design and responsiveness of your product.

Expert Tip 2: Consider creating a content wireframe in the early stages of your prototyping process. Carve out spaces for broader content categories, and then narrow down to more nuanced interactions. That way, you cover both the design and responsiveness of your product.

When creating a Rapid Prototype: How much to build?

Prototyping an entire app's UX is a ton of work! But, it's not necessary to build a complete app. So, what to make?

At Radiant, we commonly prototype the following:

Core Functionality and Features: This depends on where your users spend most of their time and their most-used features. Focus on critical areas of your app and ensure they are meeting user expectations.

Novel interactions and patterns: Users are familiar with conventional structures and experiences—users knew their way around the typical design elements and how to use them. Any novel design departing from normal user expectations has to be prototyped and tested. This will iron out any kinks that could confuse users.

We recommend tackling one part or feature at a time.

Finally, choose a prototyping tool.

A gamut of prototyping tools is available in the market. However, here are the top five questions you need to ask before making a choice.

  1. How easy is it for you to learn the tool?
  2. Is the tool scalable/flexible enough for mobile AND desktop applications?
  3. What are the resources that come with the tool?
  4. Is it easy/quick to incorporate feedback and changes into the tool?
  5. What are the collaboration and licensing terms of the tool?

The most popular prototyping tools in 2021 include:

  • InVision – Sketch tool integration, no-code Prototyping, smooth transitions, interactions, hotspots, overlays, multi-device support, direct feedback and comments, and attractive headers.
  • Framer- 5-minutes prototyping, high-fidelity, smart features, drag, and drop components, layout tools, building blocks, auto-sizing, asynchronous collaboration, and more.
  • Adobe XD – Keyboard and gamepad support, audio playback, auto-animate, voice prototyping, scroll groups, anchor links, wires and triggers, device preview, overlays, and more.
  • Origami Studio - Native hardware APIs, Photo Library - Pull in images from your devices, Camera Roll, Audio Metering, Create visualizations from live audio or recorded samples, Haptic Feedback, Access GPS data, and more.
  • Webflow – Clean semantic code for developers, no-code support for designers who can publish to a webflow.io subdomain for handoff, designers can specify hover states, transitions, and interactions. One prototype for different devices with fluid breakpoints.

But here's an important question that may arise in your mind. "Why am I doing all this? Is Prototyping that helpful?"

Yes, it is. You would understand this better with these three prototyping advantages.

  1. Better Communication: Design decisions are crucial to the development of an optimally functional product. With an interactive prototype at hand, it becomes much easier to understand your users' feedback while also ensuring the whole team shares a shared understanding and goal.
  2. Reduced Turnaround: Hand over your prototype to your developer and see how your end product turns out. Take our word for it. Instead of writing pages after pages of documents to describe your concept and product, a rapid prototype does the job, especially in specific user flows and interactions.
  3. The ability to experiment, iterate and create (more confidently): Rapid Prototyping is beneficial when it comes to bouncing ideas off other designers and testing multiple approaches and solutions for your product. It enables discussions, brainstorming sessions, and great engagement, resulting in a faster and better UX design after confirming its viability. Prototyping makes way for intelligent design in no time.

What should you avoid during the rapid Prototyping of your product?

  1. Adding too many features: A prototype is meant to be a simple mock-up of your final product. Cramming it up with too many features and interactions will shift your focus away from the primary goal and stop you from achieving a final, good product.
  2. Focusing too much on aesthetics: You like pixel perfection, we know. But a prototype is meant to spark conversation and allow you to understand the nature and experience of your user. And it does just that. You want your elements to function. You want your users to 'get it' - so focus on that instead of trying to make it look perfect every time.
  3. Creating too much of everything: Make a plan, set up a KPI, and lock with your team on the prototype's scope. Remember when we spoke about core functionalities and novel interactions? Yes. Stick to what's essential. All. The. Time.
  4. Thinking you can do it on your own: Rapid Prototyping is not a solo activity. It always needs a second set of eyes. It loses its whole purpose if you're the only one designing and reviewing, right? Sharing, interacting, dialogues! They make for a worthwhile process. You need different perspectives to create a good product, and if done right, Rapid Prototyping is an efficient way to create a product that deserves a pat on the back.

Every time you start on a new project, ask yourself, am I a better designer today than yesterday? Can I do anything better? To help you with that, we've curated three exercises to help improve your prototyping skills.

  1. The 8-6-4-2 Rapid Prototyping Method: Sketch for 8 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes, and 2 minutes with quick two-minute feedback sessions in between. Task: Choose a problem and spend 30 minutes reaching out to people. Understand pain points and spend 1-2 hours sketching low-fidelity prototypes to solve those pain points.
  2. Solve a real-life problem you have encountered: Good design is about solving the practical pain points of your users. Sketching a prototype is a more straightforward way to achieve your daily goals for your UI design. Create one! Solving real-life problems is the foundation of good design, and nothing better than setting yourself up for a task every day.
  3.  Collaborate with team members or people from your industry: Social media, blogs, LinkedIn Pulse are great channels to connect with like-minded people and share prototyping experiences. Set up a meeting, find a problem, and challenge each other to develop the best low-fidelity prototypes in a time-bound process. You will be surprised to see the potential you can reach.

Wrapping up

UX designers must get into the habit of practicing and creating prototypes, no matter how basic they may be, because "It's not about what you're building, but what happens afterward." - Christian Abell, Vice President of Creative Projects, Marriott. Connect with Radiant’s UX design team to learn more!