Graphical User Interfaces: 2D, 3D, and Web3D
by Larry Rosenthal, cube productions inc.
What 3D Interface
and Communications Add: Immersion, more powerful than
an Intellectual Engagement.
The addition of the "3rd" dimension to an interface brings with
it the new elements as listed above and the often mentioned "Z-axis"
Depth, to the 2D screen that is physically an object of the y- height
and the x- width. The 2D interface that has developed over he last
decade has adopted the "desktop" metaphor stating that although
"pages" or windows can stack up over each other. There is always
a "back surface" or "desktop" below providing a final border to
the interface in the z-axis. This "final border" provided with it
a device to simplify the usage of the computer and how much information
could be presented to viewer at one time. The user would always
be "above" or in front of the screen desktop and in the same "still"
seated position. This addition of "depth" to the screen and the
change from "desktop" to a "window onto an extended world" brings
with it the major changes to interface and communications that 3D
It is this "illusion" and "presence"
that the user can now " be in" an environment as opposed to just
"viewing it from above" that provides that greatest challenges for
developers and designers. This "immersion" factor requires that
developers/designers provide an interface that is completely consistent
since the user will be "thinking" that they are within this world
and reality. This "illusion of immersion " can be so much more effecting
to the user than the "intellectual" involvement that 2D interfaces
offer so well. They can become so effective that any element that
seems out of place with the users' understanding of the 3D interface,
can destroy the illusion thus the interfaces usability.
If its a "real/virtual world” in
the computer? What am I supposed to do? How does the "virtual world”
work? And all of a sudden "I'm working in it?"
A "3D world" simulation brings with it two elements: those of Navigation
and Emotional involvement. Although they can be part of a 2D interface,
they are overwhelmingly more a part of creating a successful 3D
We are beings of movement and motion
within 3 dimensions. We walk from place to place in the physical
3D world. We navigate from position to position with our eyes in
front of us. We see forward and rely on memory to tell us what we
have walked past. We live in a 3D world of up/down/front back/right/left.
Each direction with its own outcome and new confrontations. All
of this stimulation has evolved us into beings that "feel" and "react"
based on the ever-changing environments and confrontations before
us. We use devices like "interfaces" to "clean up" those confrontations
and distractions to focus our attention and do a task.
Creating and developing a 2D interface
allows us to immediately "cut out" the "backside" of our concerns
in accomplishing a task. The real 3D world does not. The new 3D
virtual worlds of interface available to the masses via web3D will
undoubtedly be recreations of rooms, cities and spaces meant to
"surround" the virtual presence of the user. The 3D spaces created
will then require navigational devices within them to tell the user
where and when they exist in this 3D world. The user will need to
exist within the 3D space able to comprehend the space’s rules and
laws that will very much be the users "reality" during their time
"within" the interface. The users ability to understand and use
the 3D world presented to them will be the mark of a "good" 3D interface.
Navigation as Interface element:
The mechanics of navigation for the web3D masses have become the
immediate domain of the toolmakers. Each takes their own best shot
at how to "offer navigation in 3D space". Most developers/designers
will have to utilize one/all of their solutions during this early
period of web3D integration into the WWW. Lets then discuss some
questions about navigation that comes from within the world itself
that’s offered by the developer/designer.
An Object's Consistency in the World:
Inanimate objects around us do not move around and navigate as we
do. A chair cannot instantly become a lamp, or grow an arm. Objects
in the real world also have properties of mass and existence that
define them as "real". The digital world does not have such guarantees
and offers such miracles. It is the application of such events and
the status of the user to comprehend the change that is the major
factor as an interface device. In a 2D interface the change of an
object can occur and most likely be witnessed within the framed
window. In a 3D virtual world the user can be looking 180 degrees
in the opposite direction at the time of an object's change. The
challenge of the interface is to make the change known so that whatever
purpose is served by the objects transformation, its "history" must
be known by the user so that the object is useful for them.
Audio to suggest spatial relationships:
The ability to localize audio and effect is volume within the 3D
world allows audio interface to become as important as any visual
cue to understanding the world you’re within. Just as in the real
world where you can "listen" to a conversation of the person your
with in a crowded bar, and only "hear" the sounds of the distant
others around the bar, such audio localization’s can be an effective
interface element to communicate to a user in the 3D world. Audio
has been used by 2D interfaces to offer at best an "ambience" or
"direct imput feedback" to flat www interfaces, but audio as a localizing
element to an object you cannot see ( behind you..) is a interface
device that only the 3D interface offers.
The user's effectiveness to alter the environment.
We affect and alter our real environment constantly. There are things
we can do, like move a chair over to sit on, and things we cannot,
like move a car over, sideways to fit into a too tight parking space.
The same rules and laws are offered to exist with 3D web worlds.
The user’s ability to create "cause and effect" will immediately
place them in the world and define its rules. When a rule about
an object is broken, consistency is lost and the user cannot be
sure of an action’s reaction.
Time, Scale, and Distance as an Interface device:
When using a 2D interface the user is kept for almost all actions
outside of the computer’s "clock" and is functioning within "real"
time. The 2D interface is an element of the computer (object) on
the desk in the users real world. Time may seem different as many
experience when interacting with a computer but the rules of time
are set by reality. Within the 3D interface elements like time can
become altered and elements like distance that are associated with
time can also be affected to behave "unreal".
Scale also becomes a variable for a developer/designer
to effect in relationship to distance and time. Is the castle far
away or just small? Or both as you navigate closer? The manipulation
of time and its relation to 3D space can become a navigational nightmare
within the 3D interface. Our body size in the real world sets many
of our notions of time, scale, and distance. It’s no coincidence
that we measure distance in "feet". We use our own mass and size
to "fit" into our real world. Within a flat screen on our desktops
3D offers the world paradigm but to most at small scale (a screen
that’s about 15 inches across:). Interface designers working with
3D will have to confront the issue of scale, speed, and distances
in a way never required in 2D windowed interfaces.
The Addition of EMOTION:
The developers/designers use of the 3D space and the objects within
will when coupled with the discussed elements of navigation cause
an emotional response within the user.
Immersion within the (real)world will, by the nature
of our being, cause an emotional response. Simulated 3D interfaces
and worlds will offer the same responses. The "feelings" brought
on by 3D immersion will be of an entirely different nature then
those of the simple 2D interfaces immersion capabilities. The "roller
coaster" IMAX film experience is very different than even the most
well written and acted action movie presented on a normal movie
screen. "Being there" within the world will effect our thoughts
and feelings in a different way than the detached "windowed" 2D
interface can offer. 3D interfaces offer the developer/designer
the reaction of "I was there" to add too "I did/saw that" or "I
read about that" when a user is recounting an interactive experience.