Metaverse design guide: Part 1

Metaverse design guide: Part 1
Image by Alex Suprun

Creating user avatars for the virtual space

When it comes to creating virtual worlds, its equally important to design 3D enviornment that allows immersive interactions, and realistic repreesentation of human beings.

Personal avatars are an essential part of the future of virtual communication. Avatars are going to be the way we represent ourselves in the metaverse.

How should a digital avatar be designed? Let’s discuss ten rules that you should remember when creating avatars.

1. Should the avatar be ultra-realistic?

Realistic presence is a key to creating a connected experience. But does it mean that we need to create ultra-realistic avatars?

Ultra-realistic avatar created by ObEN. Image by oben
Ultra-abstract 3D avatars. Image by Minecraft

Christoph Niemann, a visual storyteller who worked with New Yorker magazine, coined a concept called abstract-o-meter:

Every idea has a just-right way to represent it
Abstract-o-meter. Image by Christoph Niemann

The same principle applies to 3D avatars. We need to find the right balance between too abstract and too realistic visual representation. It’s absolutely fine to use a cartoony avatar as long as it fits naturally in the 3D environment of your virtual world.

Hardware limitations are another aspect we need to consider. For the current technology state, a more cartoonish avatar is the best option.

Cartoon avatar created using Genies

2. Give users a freedom of choice

Users should have complete freedom over the visual representation they choose to have. Most of the time, people will approach creating their virtual avatars like they approach creating their social media profiles.

At the same time, people don’t want to be exactly like themselves; they want to be better.

Our digital avatars are better versions of ourselves.

It is similar to how people create avatars for social medial platforms right now.

3. One avatar for all virtual worlds

The Metaverse is not a single virtual world; it’s a network of virtual worlds people visit for different purposes. At one moment, users might want to visit a virtual office space to collaborate; at another moment, they want to join a virtual game environment. Users shouldn’t be forced to create a new avatar every time they want to join a new world. The avatar becomes the user’s digital identity that helps them travel naturally between different worlds.

Avatars should travel across the Metaverse.

At the same time, it’s essential to keep in mind the context. A user might choose to have an avatar of a Viking or a robot for a virtual gaming world, but this avatar won’t work for work-related activities. A business meeting in virtual space will likely require a more formal and more recognizable avatar. That’s why a true-to-life digital representation is more relevant for formal events.

4. Quick process of avatar creation

Users should be able to create an avatar from their photos. The user simply takes a selfie or picks an existing photo from their collection, and the system creates the avatar based on this information. Later, the user should be able to customize the avatar.

5. Offer inclusive experience

The avatar represents the user’s persona, and it’s important to offer users a lot of visual ways to express their identity. Offer different skin tones:

Different skin tones in Ready Player Me avatar creator. 

and support various style elements such as different hairstyles, beards, etc so that the user can choose to design a style that matches their expectations.

Avatar generation using Ready Player Me

The user should be able to change style elements whenever they want. Depending on your virtual space, the style change can happen on the go or require a visit to a virtual stylist.

Changing hairstyle on the go. Image by Ready Player One

6. Use full-body avatars

There are two types of avatars available on the market right now — top-body avatars and full-body avatars. If you join Horizon Worlds, you will see only the top part of the body. This is mainly due to limitations of the current system (unable to track legs and, as a result, unable to develop a kinematics system). But this approach creates a highly unrealistic representation of the human and prevents users from immersing in the virtual space. Whenever possible, try to design and use full-body avatars.

Top-body avatars in Horizon World. Image by Meta.

7. Support eye gaze change, blinking and lips movement during conversation

Uncanny valley is a cognitive effect that people experience when the humanoid character doesn’t perfectly resemble a human. When people experience this effect, they typically have negative emotions. The uncanny valley effect multiplies when we use ultra-realistic avatars — people dislike seeing avatars that look almost like humans but behave unnaturally.

When we interact with other people in the real world, we see gazes and lips movement. The same should work in Metaverse. We already have software solutions that allow us to emulate mouth movement, such as Oculus Lipsync.

Oculus Lipsync

8. Convey facial expressions

Non-verbal communication represents a significant part of human communication (some researchers say that more than50% of all communication is nonverbal). Digital avatars should be able to mimic facial expressions in real-time and make natural eye contact. By displaying people’s expressions in real-time, we allow users to interact more naturally in a virtual environment.

The next-gen VR headsets will likely be able to help us with that. Veeso and Emteq are two companies working on facial expression concepts right now. Veeso users two extra infrared cameras — one camera captures the mouth and the jaw while the other captures the position of the eyes and the eyebrows. Emteq follows a different approach — it uses technology that measures muscle movement and heart rate and tries to predict user emotion based on that signals.

Veeso VR Headset allows users to transfer emotions and facial expressions to VR. Image by Veeso

Meta’s upcoming headset codenamed ‘Cambria’ is also likely to support real-time facial expressions.

Project Cambria VR prototype revealed at Facebook Connect

9. Allow users to feel objects in the virtual space

Meta is working on a physical glove with sensors that will allow you to feel VR objects. For example, you will have the sensation of holding an object. This is another step towards creating a fully immersive experience. These sensations work alongside visual and audio cues to produce the illusion of physical touch when avatars interact with each other in a virtual space. And this will gives an even better idea of a physical presence.

Haptic glove created by Meta. Image by The Verge 

10.Allow using, exchanging and selling digital clothing

An avatar allows you to show your identity as much as you want. And clothing your avatar wears plays an essential role in this process. Similar to the real world, the avatar represents the user’s current mood and social status in the virtual space.

Mark Zukerberg explores his digital wardrobe. Image by Meta

Users should be able to buy, sell, and exchange clothing with other users. Basically, avatars should be a canvas for digital assets. Non-fungible token (NFT) should help make digital assets transferrable between different avatars.