Graphical User Interfaces: 2D, 3D, and Web3D
by Larry Rosenthal, cube productions inc.

Table of Contents:

The Last Decade's Battle:
the 2 Dimensional GUI won
It’s been more than 15 years since the GUI of the MACINTOSH was unleashed on the design community in 1984. In 1985 at a design conference I was invited over by a young woman dressed in typical silicon valley polo shirt attire to see a small computer that enabled you to drag and draw simple geometric shapes, all in black and white. As a just graduated designer fresh from college, my reaction was “ho- hum.” Little did I know what was to come... years later I learned that the woman showing me this new computer and interface was Susan Kare, the original "Mac artist" and designer of the icons for the original Mac interface. It would be what she and others had created that would "be the real design" work of the future to come.

The black and white "icons" she showed me led to the death of the "text-dos" interface and the birth of the 2D graphical GUI interface. First used by the public on the Mac, then almost everywhere else with the introduction of "Windows", the 2D GUI and its language of metaphors and iconography has become the standard for computer-user interface in today’s world. The 2D GUI and its inherent strengths have created a medium where the tool maker and tool user both have learned to understand "how to get around" and "what the story is" and "how this thing works" from the use of visual cues and relationships that became so obviously more effective than the text-only interfaces which offered to do the same functions.

Today, 15 years later, the interface, tools, and medium are again at a crossroads. Following the burst of the Web Bubble dominated by flash cartoons and short videos, the simultaneous emergence of capable Web3D technologies, and the mass user inter-connectivity of the internet, Web3D looks poised to provide the immersive and game related interface to the internet. At this time when the web industry seems stalled and new models and functions for the web need to be discovered, it seems like a good time for designers to ask the questions about the 2D interface and communications, the capabilities and differences of a 3D interface and communications and how, why each does what they do and how and why and when a designer/developer now working with 3D communications and Web3D should be aware of each disciplines strengths and weakness when utilizing each.


This article is a start to examine where and when 3D interfaces and communicative designs can/should be used:

  • The 2D HTML WWW
    The rules and laws of 2D interface design and communications have with the GUI been implemented in mass and a community of computer users have learned to communicate and work via a 2D-interface metaphor. Pictures, words, pages, windows on the flat screen have been accepted as how to work on a computer. In 1994 the www exploded into the digital consciousness and it was 2D HTML and its pictures, words, clickable zones and 2d page metaphor of interface that "made the internet" easy to navigate for everyone". The discipline of "Graphic Design" over the last 60 years had taught everyone, the creator and audience alike, the principles of "understanding" 2D design and communications and the 2D html web used that understanding to succeed. Today millions are using the www and principles of 2D interface and communications are being used by trained designer/developers to create an understandable and usable tool and medium out of the WWW Internet.

  • The new 3D WWW
    In 1994 a small group of designer/developers were working on a 3D version of the http protocol. It would be soon called VRML and would offer during the next few years the ability to create and distribute 3 dimensional information, models, and environments on the Internet as freely as the 2D html interface presented text and images. 3D communications and interfaces also follow basic principles many which flow from the established 2D principles. During the last 5 years the first tools for designers that create Web3D have arrived and like the PageMaker and Photoshop designers before them did with 2D, 3D designers are now ready to flood the internet with 3D banners, worlds, spinning logos, objects and characters. All of this "Web3D" content for the most part will be successful or not based on the content's development and design according to the principles of 2D/3D interfaces and communications, and basic design. All of what developers/designers will and have placed on the WWW have been affected, knowingly or not by the content's interface.

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(C) 2001 cube3 productions

Current features
* Graphical User Interfaces: 2D, 3D, and Web3D
* Techniques of Perception in VRML
Onsite Features- Europe:
* Echtzeit AG
* Lunatic Interactive
* PhilemonWorks

Previous Features
* Interactive Web Graphics with Shout3D Book
* Web3D 2001 Coverage
* Core Web3D Book
* Spazz3D: Authoring-tool
* Game Programming in VRML
* State of the Industry
* The X3D Initiative (2000)
* Alphabet Soup: Our glossary of technical acronyms

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