Designing the Orb:
The universal value of simplicity
One of its most immediately notable characteristics is its subtly familiar tilt: 23.5 degrees, the same degree at which the Earth is tilted relative to its orbital plane around the sun. This design choice was intentional. It’s part of what Thomas Meyerhoffer, lead designer of the Orb, refers to as the device’s necessary universality.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s likely because Meyerhoffer was the first hire made by Jony Ive, legendary Chief Design Officer of Apple, Inc. His designs have directly influenced everything from iMacs to surfboards and many other products used and trusted by millions of people every day.
When it came to designing the Orb, the “most unique and challenging project” of his life, Meyerhoffer had one goal in mind: “It must be simple enough to speak to all of us. Everyone, all around the world.”
The simplicity of a sphere
Paramount to achieving this universal simplicity is the Orb’s spherical shape.
Its resemblance to a planet helps connect the device to the overall mission of the Worldcoin protocol: to serve as an identity and financial utility for everyone on Earth. Even its previously-referenced tilt, while mirroring the Earth’s, also acts as a way to make it simple for people to correctly align their eyes with it, enabling a more natural and seamless interaction.
For Meyerhoffer, however, the significance goes even further. Like the center of the famed mosaic that decorates the passageway of Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theater, the sphere is an archetypal form. It is primal, uniform and eternal. It appears in the natural world as often as it does in artwork and architecture across cultures and throughout millenia. This ubiquity makes it uniquely approachable in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible with a standard box.
Together with the engineering team, Meyerhoffer optimized the Orb’s size and weight for portability. “Because inclusivity is core to the Worldcoin project, we wanted to ensure that it could reach anyone, even people in the most remote locations. To do this, we had to keep it mobile. The Orb is roughly the size of a basketball, with a weight of 2.8 kg.”
A simple design to complement complex technology
The design language is intentionally simple.
Underneath the shell of the Orb you’ll find, according to Meyerhoffer, “some of the most complex technology you can imagine.” He’s referring to the Orb’s customized collection of sensors, cameras and electronics that are advancing the state-of-the-art in iris imaging technology.
“The simpler an object is, the more it can communicate inherent values to a person,” says Meyerhoffer. “It’s an intuitive process. Simply by looking at the object, a person can either say, ‘Oh, this technology is unfamiliar and intimidating’ or ‘This is approachable, and I’m curious to learn more about it.’”
As the Orb has evolved to fit the strict security requirements of the Worldcoin protocol, guided by iterative learnings resulting from years of Beta testing in dozens of countries around the world, it has moved closer towards a final form that’s calm and familiar. This has meant changing from a shell that’s metallic to one that’s white and removing the black, flat glass front that was necessary in prototypes to quickly verify the technology. It has also meant adding a warm copper ring, soft lighting and a mirror to make the experience more personal and, quite literally, reflective of each individual person.
“From a design perspective, we want to create separation between the advanced technology inside the Orb and the experience of the person using it. It should feel at the same time natural and ethereal, personal and universal. It should communicate trust and connection not just to a small network, but to the whole world.”
An ongoing evolution
Meyerhoffer is quick to point out that the design is continuing to evolve and that there’s more work to be done:
“Designers typically wouldn’t ‘allow’ for an early version to go into production. The complexity of the Worldcoin project, however, meant that I had to support the engineering team with testing and evolving the Orb by getting it out into the world.”
In the near term, the Orb you experience when verifying your uniqueness and humanness will likely look different than the ones pictured here, as the newest iterations haven’t yet gone into production.