Designing the Metaverse @ CCA

With the backdrop of a global pandemic, we just wrapped up our online multidisciplinary studio at CCA on “Designing the Metaverse”. Thirteen sophomores and juniors from across interaction design, illustration and graphic design began their journey fifteen weeks ago with no prior experience in 3D design or tools, let aside the emerging and fluid subject of the metaverse.

The class had three principle tracks:

It was incredible to see how quickly the students were able to progress over such a short time — just fifteen weeks!

In terms of the conceptual framework we started from an interaction design centric definition that frames the metaverse experience as a core interaction loop. We learnt how to formally analyze metaverses using a generalized design framework. We discussed cinematic & spatial design; avatars, 3D interaction & game mechanics; shared and persistent contexts; and VR/AR/XR as modalities to access the metaverse. Finally we considered the broader implications of the metaverse in terms of economic, social and ethical considerations.

Olivia Mendoza’s analysis of “Genshin Impact” using the metaverse design framework

Tools: Unreal has done an amazing job of making 3D authoring accessible and intuitive while still enabling high quality experiences which kept the students motivated. Even as an online only class, we were able to dive in straight away by leveraging Epic’s learning portal which provides content rich courses that are reinforced by in-line quizzes and assignments.

Unreal Learning Portal reinforces learning with quizzes and hands-on assignments

Our early projects built on this hands-on learning with individual projects to design a grey box level and a small team project that allowed more creative expression through the use of marketplace assets.

Grey box level design by Amruta Bhavsar — Click to view movie
Material & lighting design in Asset Level by Kaja Berry — Click to view movie

Our guest speakers were instrumental in bringing diversity of perspectives and real world experiences into the classroom. Their engagement with the students and leaving plenty of time for QA and discussion were critical in exploring this evolving and fluid subject that can be approached from many different directions.

A very special thanks to all our guest speakers including Neil Blevins from Monolith Productions, Karan Parikh from Green Rain Studios, Cosku Turhan from Spire Animation Studios, Max Planck from VR Adventures, Morgan Tucker and Josh Anon from Roblox, Tony Garcia from Duality Robotics, Sam Anderson from Adobe, Ozan Serim from TribeXR, and Oren Haskins from Google. An extra special shout out to Sam and Tony for also mentoring the final project teams.

CCA students are strongly grounded in a core foundational design curriculum that gains focus in their discipline of choice as they progress through the undergraduate program. Our final projects gave students the opportunity to apply their foundational knowledge and their multi-disciplinary toolbox to design metaverse prototypes of different smart spaces. From the very initial idea stage, three teams had to collaborate and negotiate every aspect of their project. Mentors were assigned to each team to provide additional guidance and technical support for prototype implementation.

Persona development for Home-Office smart space by Danqi Huang, Weiran Hu, Xinyao Xu and Hongyu Zhao
Journey map (After) for smart Home-Office

Two of the projects, implemented with Unreal Engine, developed prototypes of a Smart Urgent Care Clinic and a Smart Home-Office setup. The third was an augmented reality project implemented with Aero to make children’s story reading time more immersive.

Concept work for aReader by Sebastien Petersen, Chloe Kim, Olivia Mendoza and Joel Murnan
aReader in action

For our final class was we held a “demo day” where students had an opportunity to share their final projects. A number of our speakers and outside guests joined in making this a very special conclusion to our semester.

Spatial design for smart urgent care clinic by Philip Joo, Mariana Guerra, Mateo Satalegui and Amruta Bhavsar
Interactive 3D prototype of smart urgent care clinic

I would like to acknowledge the hard work and adaptability of the students in this very first metaverse design class: Kaja Berry, Amruta Bhavsar, Marian Guerra, Weiran Hu, Danqi Huang, Philip Joo, Chloe Kim, Olivia Mendoza, Joel Murnan, Sebastian Petersen, Mateo Saralegui, Xinyao Xu and Hongyu Zhao. If your team is looking for talent grounded in strong design fundamentals combined with a fearless and innovative mindset, please keep an eye on this very special group!

Finally a very special thanks to Erin Malone, Chair of IxD BFA program and my fellow faculty members and staff @CCA.

Maker and life long learner interested in customer experience innovation