In his comment on my post from the other day, Alan Kay raises in intriguing point. As we venture forth into wide scale adaption of virtual reality, is full 3D immersion a distraction for human/computer interfaces?

We could make an anthropological argument in support of his thesis. Consider the last several thousand years of human tool building.

Down through the ages we have developed many systems for recording and organizing, from cave paintings to stone tablets to papyri to books to computer screens to smart phones.

For all of that time we have had 3D sculptural media, yet we never turn to them as organizational structures. Instead, we consistently turn to arrangements of flat surfaces.

Perhaps there is something fundamental about how our brains work which privileges 2D, or at most 2.5D, for organizing information, regardless of the technology we use.

3 Responses to “2.5D”

  1. Greg Chang says:

    Well, like learning anything, we will almost always start simple and build up towards more complex models and strategies to understanding subjects. I think the same applies to VR. On the basic level of grasping concepts, we will rely on 2D models. While for some higher-level concepts, learning in VR may be more beneficial. For example: understanding biological interactions between 3D cells will be easier to grasp when modeled in 3D + we can interact with it.

    I think the ease of creating interactable things in VR is what sets it apart from other means of learning, which in the past 3D learning would either be too costly (physical material) or too timely to make.

    But for organizational purposes, I think 2D things will always exist for learning/organizational purposes. Our most important sensory is sight which is quite 2D in nature. Thus, organizing in 2D is most natural to us + 2D creations are very convenient and simple to make.

  2. Stefan Fritzsche says:

    I think about this each time I see a full 3D “holographic” interface in a sci-fi show or game .. would you really design it like that if you could project anything into mid-air?

    I think since we live in three spacial dimensions there is something fundamental about using interfaces which are ‘one level down’ – because they are meant to be abstractions, SIMPLIFIED representations of the world. When designing UI you try to take complexity out, it’s never just a 1:1 minituarized version of reality (think about a train/subway map). Maybe using one less dimension is a large part of making that effort successful.

    one additional thought: as humans we traditionally only ever used two dimensions in most cases – like walking on terrain. Before planes we didn’t possess the ability to make use of up and down much. Now imagine venturing into space with six degrees of freedom .. try that in any game/simulation – it’s really HARD to find your bearings if not for some UI augmenting our natural abilities with additional information (orientation, navigation). Quite possibly our brains are only trained to handle two dimensions well. But also maybe this might be overcome with the use of 3D UI in everyday life, all the time, and from an early age on…

  3. There may be something to the idea we can only operate in 2d. I remember a podcast on the BBC talking about how when cities try and make use of the 3rd dimension with skyways, most people struggle and hate them.


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