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What Will Design in the Metaverse Look Like?

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 03/17/2022 | 4 Minute Read

The brand experience is entering a new dimension—quite literally.

Maybe you believe the metaverse is the future as we know it, or perhaps you think it’s merely a glorified video game. Either way, this cyberspace is as exciting as it is confusing.

While it’s easy to dismiss the metaverse as Mark Zuckerberg’s ramblings, the metaverse is just as squishy and difficult to define as the internet was in the 80s and 90s (just ask Bryant Gumbel). The public may be hesitant to change and adopt new technology, but if the rise of the internet taught us anything, it’s that we can’t simply ignore it—especially brands and designers.

“It’s going to be the most complicated digital platform we’ve ever created as humans,” said Phil Garnham, senior creative type creator at Monotopye. Phil designs custom typefaces for clients, constructing them around a brand’s tone of voice and identity, plus he also had a hand in creating their 2022 Type Trends Report.

“It feels like we’re building this big, significant moment with technology, something that’s probably going to influence design in the way desktop publishing did all those years ago," he said. "We’re blurring that boundary now between physicality and pixels. I think there’s so much opportunity in exploring what it could be, and that’s why designers should care about it.”

A few years back, Monotype developed the world’s first variable font logo for Amsteldok, and it could indicate just the beginning of what design might look like in the metaverse. Phil doesn’t have all the answers for designers’ many questions about the platform—no one does—but he thinks they should be curious about now only what it could look like, but its potential. As a type designer with a graphic design background, he understands that designers will inevitably influence this space.

Although there’s no manual to designing for the metaverse, there are existing cyberspaces that can offer some guidance. Video games with constructed worlds like Fortnite, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, or Second Life (which has existed for decades) are the likeliest places to look for inspiration. These are universes all their own, complete with currency and virtual gatherings—yes, even weddings.

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Plenty of folks have also greeted the metaverse with a healthy dose of skepticism. As Cecilia D’Anastasio wrote for WIRED, the intriguing aspects of a virtual world do already exist in video games, some of which are outlined above. D’Anastasio also questions the ability of a digital space that can accommodate as many people browsing the internet at any given time. In The Washington Post, Will Oremus explained that the term “metaverse” became a trendy buzzword in 2021 when Zuckerburg announced it. However, there’s still so much uncertainty surrounding the space itself—not to mention, “getting rival companies to meld their products into a single metaverse would require a level of cooperation and openness for which today’s tech gatekeepers have shown little appetite or aptitude.”

The metaverse poses as many questions as it does possibilities—but those questions could be what helps shape the opportunities of a new virtual space.

“Words are so powerful, so how are they showing up in these environments?” Phil wondered. “It's really interesting how we as type designers can adapt the way we design, our letter shapes, and how to serve the user experience.

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“The way we interact with words is going to change in that space. Will we get to the point where we will be immersed in the text, like literally walking around it or interacting with it? Is it going to flow around us? Will it move or animate? Will it track like our eyes when we read, and will it even disintegrate or know what we've read?”

Phil paints a picture of a digital domain that could vastly improve the reading experience, especially regarding variable fonts. The letters in front of you could morph in various ways—changing the shape of words through sentences based on sound or adjusting in size based on someone’s proximity. Perhaps user profiles would also influence fonts to adjust based on eyesight prescriptions or personal preferences. That could ultimately equate to a more inclusive space for those that are differently-abled.

“I think there’s a lot to learn from wayfinding design as well, and signage,” Phil added. “It’s almost like we’re creating worlds that have to deal with the same issues we already deal with, in a wayfinding perspective, like the signage problems we have in stadiums and places like that.”

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For brands, Phil believes storytelling is crucial—something video games do so well. For this additional aspect to a brand’s design, they’ll want to consider the narrative and what they’re trying to say, aside from standing out as recognizable and distinctive. That also won’t be a one-and-done situation, but rather something that needs to be maintained. “Good typography has become this glue that binds everything together,” Phil said. “It’s probably the most important brand asset of all, and it’s likely touched on more than the logotype. So coming from flat digital spaces and into the metaverse, I think type will create and maintain that synergy across various top touchpoints.”

Phil considers the metaverse as a sort of new frontier, a space brimming with possibilities. He doesn’t know what it will look like exactly, but that’s part of the thrill—that it could become anything really, and that designers can help shape it.

“I'm really excited about the metaverse in terms of what it can do creatively for typography,” he said. “I’m excited to see what people come up with.”