3D or not 3D…

We advocate the use of three-dimensional environments in the vast majority of our work, but what are the benefits?

Certain types of data are three-dimensional, such as models of human anatomy, building architecture or terrain data for example and it would only make sense to show these in their natural (3D) setting.

Two-dimensional information may become transformed into three dimensions by the addition of time-varying data. Consider a set of monthly sales figures, these look like 2D – sales on one axis and months on another. What if you then want to show these figures for several years – you now have sales on one axis, months on another and years on the third. It is not uncommon to have two-dimensional data with a time element included.

Traditionally 2D data is visualised with bar charts, graphs, histograms, etc. and the use of 3D representations of these structures has been widely criticised. This is because these representations of the data are static. A static image of a 3D structure may be very difficult to interpret, due to the perspective making it difficult to gauge data values, or structures within the data obscuring other parts.

All the applications that we create are highly interactive. A lot of these issues are then no longer relevant. You can view the 3D representation from any angle, you can scale the data, colour the data or show/hide the various structures. This lets you see the data exactly as you would like and examine it in detail.

So, exactly what are the benefits of showing traditional data in a 3D environment?

  • There’s more space – it may sound obvious but you have more space to arrange and configure the data, potentially making it easier to understand.
  • The extra dimension – you can now readily show multi-dimensional data (as described above) which may not even be possible in a 2D environment.
  • Emerging trends – as you can show data with more dimensions you can analyse the data in more ways. For example, you may spot trends in monthly sales figures, but now you can spot trends for the same months in successive years. You could even combine all the points to show a “terrain” of your data over time. This could have positive impacts, saving both time and money.
  • Context – the flexibility of 3D visualisations lends itself to more appropriate representations of the data. Imagine that you wished to show some global data, such as climate change, population growth, ice cream sales, pretty much anything. You could do this on a 2D bar chart, no problem. However, you could construct a model of the earth showing all the relevant data at each city and rotate and interact with the model as illustrated below. I know which one I’d rather use!
2D data visualisation
3D data visualisation
  • Interaction – we make sure that all our applications are highly interactive. You can view your data from any angle, change the scale, colour, what particular aspects you want to see, analyse the trends. Although 2D applications can be interactive, they typically don’t offer this level of functionality.
  • Sharing data – as 3D functionality is readily available on the web, then you can share your data and your visualisations with anybody else.

We hope you are convinced! Let us know what you think.