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Into the Metaverse: A Game-Changing Year for UI and UX

The pandemic has changed the way we work and how we interact with digital tools, challenging old assumptions, and even upending traditional business models.

In the past 12 months we have seen major changes in digital engagement. That the pandemic triggered a wave of digital adoption is clear, but what was less easy to predict is just how far that digitization would continue. In our increasingly connected society, we are still working through the profound shifts that started post-COVID -- changing the way we work, how we interact with digital tools, challenging old assumptions and upending traditional business models. Given the increasingly dominant role of digital to help -- or hinder -- how businesses engage with their customers, 2022 is shaping up to be a milestone year for UI and UX.

Why are we expecting UI and UX to evolve so dramatically?

Businesses have an understandable tendency to want to map digital change to a timeline. It makes things easier to plan and budget for, and it’s why most digital transformation strategies are mapped out in terms of years rather than weeks or months. However, the pandemic took away the luxury of time. As a result, we saw a decade’s worth of digital change in the space of just 90 days. Cloud migration, hybrid working, e-commerce -- all technology leapt forward as businesses adapted. We even saw Facebook rebrand as Meta and launch the metaverse, which has the potential to permanently alter how we interact with the online world.

While – technologically -- we’re developing rapidly, are people keeping up with the changes?

As any IT decision-maker will be aware, UX and UI designers are typically the ones who bridge the gap between technology and those that interact with it. They ‘translate’ it for us, removing barriers and making it easier for us to ‘talk’ with devices, apps, websites and yes, even the metaverse. When advances in technology combine with rapid digital adoption, we’re likely to see some new UI and UX trends emerge as we learn to break down those barriers in more efficient ways.

With 24 million developers around the world, the odds are high that you’ve got a CAD specialist in your ranks. A decade or so ago, mastering CAD would have been a difficult but worthwhile undertaking, giving your business a competitive edge in everything from product design to creating digital experiences. More recently, tools like Adobe’s Photoshop or InDesign have become prime examples of design-centric tools that do away with steep learning curves, and that’s partly down to artificial intelligence. Today’s UX and UI designers can spend less time doing iterative, pixel-by-pixel design work, and more time focusing on “big picture” ways to shape digital experiences.

Into the Metaverse

This attempt to stake a claim in a next-generation virtual world isn’t entirely original, but it is the first time a company of Facebook’s size and influence has basically rebranded itself around the idea. The metaverse will play a key role in shaping the future of work and entertainment.

For UI and UX designers, the immediate challenge will be how to navigate businesses and their users through this new virtual space. Will we host meetings in virtual rooms as virtual avatars? Invite clients to virtual roundtables in carefully designed digital spaces? Perhaps we’ll invite customers to peruse virtual stores and interact with items before they buy? If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because we are already leveraging virtual tools to improve customer experience. The metaverse is just the next step toward making that experience feel more tangible, memorable, and engaging -- and that’s the path UX and UI designers will now have to start plotting.

Informed Design for an Informed World

Data and design go hand in hand in the digital world.

In the year ahead we will see how data and design create new ways for customers to experience brands. We can already glimpse this future through TikTok and Instagram Live, where we see influencers sell their experiences and products to us in real time. These engagement opportunities are increasingly becoming a part of how we design and market hospitality, health, wellness and more.

This new type of data-driven content will not necessarily come to us as a feed of text, images, or video but as part of our ongoing lived experience of things happening around us. UI and UX designers are already familiar with data-driven design. Seemingly small tweaks to a product or service can substantially impact usability, increase satisfaction, remove friction, and improve brand loyalty. Immersive experience, such as the metaverse, raises the stakes for businesses to pour more resources into retaining customers as they bridge the gap to the virtual world. Creating a “digital self” or curating an immersive digital experience carries a lot more risk than, say, designing a landing page or website.

Leverage Data to Build Tomorrow’s Future Today

Tomorrow’s UX and UI design is going to be heavily data-driven in every sense of the term. But the good news is that much of that data, thanks to the web of connectivity we already inhabit, is already available. Our world is teeming with the information needed to design effective digital experiences, from smart thermostats and smart watches to virtual assistants and automated coffee machines, we’re already beginning to build digital personas for ourselves without even realizing it. The next step for businesses will be using data to harness those digital personas, giving UI and UX teams the tools they need to start painting on a new, seemingly infinite canvas.