Design careers find a new dimension

A colorful illustration of a character wearing VR goggles mirrored with itself like it's exploding glass

Image credit: Adobe Stock / grandfailure

For Extended Reality (XR) creator and designer Don Allen III, part of his career strategy designing for the rapidly evolving worlds of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) is to consistently, repeatedly, and without fail, put himself out of business every week.

In this article

  • Metaverse opportunities for creators
  • Your 2D skills translate to 3D
  • Where creators should focus in the metaverse

“I try to learn a skill every week that would put a past version of myself out of work,” he said. “I call it the octopus model. Have a different tentacle in different tools and spaces within the industry. Designers are often taught that you learn skills in school, and have everything you need to go out there and succeed. That is just long gone.”

Metaverse opportunities for creators

Allen’s advice may seem to suggest the emerging opportunities for motion work, world-building, and immersive design in the nascent metaverse are cutthroat. It’s certainly an increasingly crowded field, with Microsoft, Roblox, Epic Games, NASCAR and The Coca-Cola Company among other global media and tech companies investing significant talent and resources.

But Allen feels it’s actually quite the opposite. Emerging opportunities and fast-paced change mean that with the right skillset, and more importantly, an open approach to learning, young creators can tap into new career paths for a variety of clients. The rapid growth of metaverse platforms, brand extensions, and even stores and commerce opportunities, such as Nike’s play to sell sneakers in the metaverse, requires extensive design talent to help companies and products stand apart —whether it’s completely immersive virtual work or augmenting views of the real world through new wearables or apps. Bloomberg Market Intelligence estimates that the metaverse is at least an $800 billion opportunity by 2024, with dozens of competing platforms and a $200 billion entertainment market alone.

“Those who are really shining within AR, VR and web3 — are curious,” said Kim Alban, a product designer at Coursea and teacher/mentor who created a series of video tutorials and resources hubs for designing in virtual spaces. “It’s important to always be thinking spatially, and always keep learning. I try to stay up-to-date with tech newsletters, to pay attention to what companies are buying and to gauge what everyone else is doing.”

Your 2D skills translate to 3D

The jump to AR and VR, especially for those versed in two-dimensional (2D) design skills and apps, may seem complicated. But many of the skills, experiences, and even apps transfer well. With the popularity of wearable devices growing, and breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, enabling quicker and more seamless graphics — the “CG-to-real process” that turns basic graphics into sophisticated renderings — is making it easier than ever to author more immersive digital experiences. Popular tools like Adobe Illustrator now let creators easily turn 2D sketches into 3D graphics.

“2D graphics aren’t vanishing,” Allen said. “They’re going to be used in a different way.”

Both Alban and Allen underscored how an embrace of world-building, and a willingness to experiment, are key, but also note that building on traditional graphic design can help create a bridge towards a successful career in XR. Design thinking skills also carry over, especially for corporate projects and clients who like to see the thought process behind distinct design decisions and not just the finished project. What does the filter do, how does it compare to what’s already in the market, what are the assumptions made during creation, and most importantly, can you as a designer communicate about what you’ve made?

Great composition and workflow will always be important, says Allen, especially since a lot of 2D work concepts can transfer easily to VR. Sometimes when he’s building a 3D asset, he’ll simply make a sprite in Photoshop, and create scalable vector graphics in Illustrator.

Allen recommends creators revisit classic animation work, and think in terms of storyboarding and storytelling, to refresh thinking and inspire designing for motion and space. To successfully create in a more active, immersive medium, all designers will need to think like film directors, to a certain extent.

Maria Martinez created this beautiful world. Read how she made it in the Substance 3d magazine.

Where creators should focus in the metaverse

On the players: Wearable fashions, as well as character and virtual influencer creation also offer opportunities for up-and-coming creators, says Allen. People like to reinvent themselves in the metaverse, so there’s an opportunity for products that contribute to new digital identities, such as clothing and items for platform avatars. There are also branded commerce opportunities, which meld traditional design concepts with motion graphic skills, such as Sotheby’s creating a gallery for virtual art in the metaverse, or Wendy’s and Chiptotle creating virtual restaurant environments.

On creating for multiple virtual worlds: Working across mediums is an incredibly important business and creative skill for creators. It’s a time of great experimentation, with a bevy of different technologies competing for attention with different degrees of openness and customization, so having the flexibility to port projects across different metaverse platforms is vital. “It’s important to show that you can make a product and virtualize it for different metaverses,” Allen said. “For instance, what’s the more cartoon version of a more serious design?” Plus, show off your work — distributing and promoting via NFTs and social media adds to your marketability.

On starting small — you don’t need to build a video game to create for the metaverse: Alban suggests novice designers focus on creating and designing filters, digital effects superimposed on real-life images that can be interacted with or shared. It’s easy to analyze and augment existing trends, and after publishing and sharing new designs, designers can share across platforms and track metrics, such as impressions, shares, and captures of the number of times a user takes a photo or video with a specific filter. And while lots of VR and AR worlds may take place in gaming engines, which can have steep learning curves, Alban began building early effects, like swirling images that rotate over a user’s face in a camera app, in Adobe Aero. She created a Pinterest board of sorts within Aero, filled with interface icons and designs, and played with interactions and behaviors to begin grasping how to factor in an extra dimension. More important than technique, especially at the beginning, is embracing experimentation.

“You need to get the feeling that you’re playing around, and get past the feeling that it has to be great from the beginning,” said Alban. “That’s how I learned Photoshop, just played around with it for hours. You should take the same approach with the metaverse.”

Want to jump in and start creating for the metaverse? We have resources for you. With the Adobe Substance 3D ecosystem, you can create AR experiences right now. And check out more information about how your big or small business can become metaverse-ready.