04.–07.06.2023 #immcologne

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Digital spaces

How can the furniture industry benefit from the metaverse?

Blockchain, NFTs, the metaverse: These new technologies have been greeted with great euphoria, and digital business models linked to them are proliferating. As the digital and real worlds become ever more closely merged, one question emerges: What’s behind all the excitement about virtual spaces? We spoke with metaverse expert Tim Frank about the potential that the parallel universe opens up for the interiors industry

Virtual cafe in pastel colors

Photo: Anshita Nair on Unsplash

On Web 3.0 and interior design in the metaverse

The metaverse is the buzzword in the tech scene. But what is it exactly? To put it briefly, it’s an online universe beyond the real universe. A collective space that virtually expands physical reality. The original idea behind the Internet as a decentralised platform for making information accessible to everyone has almost vanished with the rise of giants of the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon. They dominate the market. The metaverse now offers the first opportunity to chip away at the big players’ power and monopolies. We spoke with Tim Frank about the immense potential of this new technology. As the founder of the agency VRtual X, he has specialised in virtual reality , augmented reality and 360° experiences since 2017.

How can the metaverse become the basis for a digital business model for the interiors industry? How does interior design work in virtual spaces? And why is now the right moment to take the step into digital design? Metaverse expert Tim Frank has the answers.

Avatar Tim Frank

What the future might look like: Metaverse expert Tim Frank is already out and about as an avatar. He was early to recognise the potential of the virtual universe. (Photo: Tim Frank)

“The metaverse is opening up a new sales market – 100% guaranteed.”

Tim Frank
Founder of VRtual X

What are the benefits of this technology for the interior design industry?

People are increasingly working in digital spaces in videoconferences. But virtual conferences are tedious – and impersonal compared to a real meeting. A videoconference is face-to-face or rather “face-to-screen” communication in which all the sounds come from one direction.

Meeting with avatars by contrast is much closer to the real-world experience – simply because there is the possibility to move about in three dimensions. When all the participants come together in a three-dimensional digital space and sit around a table, like they would in real life, it feels like a real conference room. Communication is no longer solely “face-to-screen” but takes place in a radius around me. Groups can also be formed in virtual spaces. This means that it’s not just when we’re playing games that we’ll be spending more and more time in the metaverse – we will also do so at work and in our personal lives.

The analytics company Gartner predicts that, by 2026, around 25 per cent of people will be using the metaverse for at least one hour a day . That’s a lot of time and a highly realistic scenario. Turning the idea on its head, we can say that the more beautiful my virtual environment is, the more time I’ll spend in it. And the more time I spend in it, the more I’ll want to make it feel like home. That means the metaverse needs to be furnished like a home from home. This is precisely what makes the metaverse so interesting for the interior design industry. When celebrated designers offer their products in it, a new sales market will open up – 100% guaranteed.

For whom do experienceable virtual spaces have potential: just the major players or smaller designers too?

Furniture can already be designed entirely on a computer. These designs per se are digital versions that can be used in virtual spaces in the metaverse . It doesn’t matter if I’m a small, independent designer making specialist products or part of a giant: The data comes from the same program and has the same basis. It’s very easy to use it in metaverse software. In this respect, all you need from a technical perspective is some further training or the knowledge to upload designs to the metaverse. The entry barrier is very low.

Are there already exciting examples of companies that are moving into digital spaces and perhaps even into NFTs and the metaverse?

The fashion industry is the pioneer here. If I could give the interiors industry one tip, it would be to take a look at what’s happening in fashion. Fashion designers are dressing avatars , whereas the furniture industry can furnish the virtual spaces that the avatars move about in. Virtual spaces that are freely configurable are the next step. So if anyone in the interiors industry hasn’t got on board the trend yet, they don’t need to be afraid that the excitement will die down soon. The key is to start working on it now. This is how designers and companies will be able to establish themselves in the metaverse while it’s still in an early stage.

There’s also a lot going on in the drinks sector. For example, Miller Lite has recreated an entire bar in the metaverse. You can meet friends there, just like in real life. And the best thing about it: The bar’s opening was timed to coincide exactly with the Super Bowl – and it included the exclusive rights to stream the Super Bowl in the metaverse. Anyone who wanted to follow the sports event logged in with their avatar and got together with their friends in the Miller Lite Bar. Naturally, the beer brand used the virtual broadcast to advertise itself as well.

McDonald’s is also filing lots of patents because it wants to take McCafé into the metaverse. Chipotle already has branches in the metaverse. You can buy wraps via a program and then have them delivered to you in real life. But European brands like Kaufland are also making moves in the metaverse. It’s incredible and hard to grasp how many companies are discovering the metaverse and harnessing it.

How can the interior design industry harness the metaverse?

If it doesn’t want to miss the trend, the interiors industry should start engaging with it now. We’re still at a point where the market isn’t overcrowded yet, and there’s the chance to position businesses in the metaverse while it’s still in its infancy. That is especially exciting for furniture manufacturers and designers.

Furnishing our homes is something that will predominantly take place via virtual reality applications in the future. Growing numbers of people own VR glasses and are using them to visualise the position of items of furniture true to scale in the rooms of their homes. Any form of interior design can be experienced in this way. Customers can move about virtually in refurbished rooms and try out furniture to see if it works directly. It would also be conceivable to link the metaverse and the real world via a direct purchase option, which would transfer virtual spaces into the real world.

In the future, will we be able to do entirely without comparable physical places?

That won’t be the case, as the past has shown. There will still be real festivals, trade fairs and events in the future. We can’t and don’t want to replace all of that with digital alternatives. But the digital components will get bigger and bigger, and more and more relevant, until the real and virtual worlds are on a par. One will never be a substitute for the other – on the contrary, the two worlds will grow and exist parallel to each other. That’s why the name “metaverse” is so apt. Meta” means “behind”, “above” or “in between”. The metaverse enlarges our world, opening up completely new opportunities. For example, if an event or something similar takes place in both worlds at the same time, it is accessible for considerably more people.

In moments of technological progress, companies are often afraid of the new. People prefer to run it down and label it a short-lived trend. Electric cars are a prime example of this. All the major car manufacturers were already experimenting with electric engines some years ago. But the products were often not thought through and, in my opinion, deliberately so badly designed that customers didn’t jump on board the trend. And that gave lots of companies an argument to turn their backs on progress. That attitude doesn’t cut it any more – our world is too global and too digital for that. Companies need to address disruptive business models. Doing so pays off, as the situation with electric cars also reveals. Tesla is now selling more of its Model 3s than Volkswagen is selling units of its classic, the Golf, purely because Volkswagen didn’t want to move into this market.

In the metaverse, we have the same scenario. Any company that wants to start a digital transformation, whether it’s small or large, must see it as an investment in the future.

Our thanks go to Tim Frank for the inspiring interview and informative insights. Are you interested in receiving regular updates on the latest industry trends? Simply subscribe to the magazine by imm cologne newsletter to stay in the loop.