Visual Communication in Three Dimensions

by May 11, 2004

Now that Microsoft seems to have committed to three dimensions for it’s new operating system (Longhorn), it may be a good time to consider how physical properties can enhance communication within an interface design. For example, Sun’s Looking Glass OS allows users to rotate any given Web page and use the back as a Post-It note. While I’m sure this may get a few oohs and ahhs, I can’t help thinking of it as an opportunity lost.

“In the real world, holding a book in your hands tells you a lot about it. Its thickness provides a clue as to how long it may take to read. […] These types of physical cues come from our understanding of space and are sorely missing online.” -Lessons of Three Dimensions for the Web

Could the depth of a Web page provide valuable “physical” information about content? When a Web site is rotated (as in Looking Glass), the depth could indicate the size of the site: a thin spine would indicate a sparse Web site, while a site like eBay would be quite thick. There might even be an opportunity to provide an indication of a specific page’s “location” within the site. Dare I say that the spine could even be navigable?