Erfan Dastournejad




Actual Conversations for the Virtual World


Conversations in the metaverse (Social VR) are a distorted reflection of the familiar real-world experience. The information insufficiencies, such as incorrect context or lack of nonverbal signals, prevent these virtual experiences from fully recreating a “real” conversational experience. My thesis project is a set of design suggestions I culminated, focusing on making it easier to join / initiate conversations in social virtual reality. Also, a high-fidelity VR prototype supplements the demonstration and visualization of these suggested concepts.


I always found passion in technology whether it was computer-generated images (CGI) in the 80s or virtual reality in 2020. It is always exciting to discover new capabilities or form novel experiences using emerging tech. Studying Interaction Design and Master of Design at the UW, and being in contact with talented students and illuminating mentors, helped me pursue this passion and make a career out of it.

The advent of the metaverse and its cascading effect on the wearable tech industry, and consequently pop culture, provides a wide variety of opportunities for designers. Social virtual reality (VR) became my main focus in this project since it is a potent new medium with a lot of new possibilities to explore. In the current model of social VR, people join virtual public / private spaces with their customized / personalized avatars and usually engage in conversations or activities with others. In some senses, it is very similar to any other social setting. However, the whole “virtualness” of the interactions brings novel possibilities for research and development. My thesis project hypothesizes ways to improve the initiation of conversations in VR. I theorized a communication potential factor to determine the chances for a successful conversation and categorized different contributing factors to evaluate and improve it. My artifact in this exhibition is a VR experience that summarizes my design solutions for a better virtual conversation initiation.


  • Axel Roesler, Chair
  • James Pierce
  • Atien Taheri


  • MDes, University of Washington, 2022
  • BDes, Interaction Design, University of Washington

Excerpt from commentary by Heidi Biggs

For his thesis, Erfan examined the ambiguous, awkward, and emerging arena of socializing in avatar-oriented virtual reality experiences like Meta’s (Facebook’s) Metaverse and Microsoft’s AltspaceVR. As part of his initial research, Erfan performed walkthroughs of these platforms and their social spaces. He found that the social or context cues we would normally use to enter a conversation or gain a sense of belonging simply don’t exist in the same way in the metaverse….social environments in VR as it stands don’t give a user many clues who they are talking to, the context of the conversation, and VR and avatars don’t generate life-like body language or social signaling, so Erfan decided to design ways to build context and anticipation such that conversations are easier to join in open, social VR spaces.

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