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Creative 3-D Display and Interaction Interfaces: A Trans-Disciplinary Approach

by Barry G. Blundell and Adam J. Schwarz
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2005
371 pp., illus. Trade, $94.95
ISBN: 0-471-48271-4.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


This is a well researched, wide-ranging and extremely detailed investigation into the way we interact with computers. It concentrates not on ergonomics or hardware styling but on the visual and tactile interface and how the display enhances, or in many cases, limits our productivity and creativity. The authors argue that in several fields, especially medicine and certain scientific disciplines, present flat screen computer displays have significantly outgrown their original word processing and number crunching display capabilities.

The book is comprehensively illustrated with black & white diagrams, photographs, and drawings and is divided into nine chapters together with various Appendices, an excellent Bibliography and vast reference section. The following annotated chapter headings will give the prospective reader a good idea of the extent of this exploration.

1 — The Nature of the Quest describes traditional interfaces, the possibilities and limitations of these.
2 — The Perception of Our Space: Vision is a detailed look at just how we see things and includes neurophysiology and psychological understanding of perception.
3 — The Perception of Our Space: Haptics briefly discusses such sensory channels as cutaneous sensitivity, proprioception and motor pathways.
4 — A Backward Glance looks at ways we have devised throughout history to see things differently and includes mathematics of linear perspective, Camera Obscura and Lucida and the development of perspective in painting.
5 — Traditional Interaction Mechanisms cover topics such as the joy stick, mouse, graphics tablet and also discusses the Fitt’s model.
6 — Depiction and Interaction Opportunities — this chapter gets down to the nitty gritty of designing better interfaces using techniques like stereoscopic display, multi-view lenticular systems and actual 3-D space displays.
7 — The Haptic Channel looks at force feedback systems, haptic interaction with volumetric data and collision detection.
8 — The Visual Channel discusses immersive virtual reality systems, electroholography and dynamic multi-view systems.
9 — Adopting a Creative Approach offers approaches to augmenting the desktop interface and bi-manual interaction and performance.

If a person uses only a word processor or basic accounting spread sheets much of the above will seem unnecessary. With keyboard and mouse input, these basic activities are well suited to 2-D display. However, with the advent of high-power processors computers can now do far more than produce letters and reports. One powerful example is that of a surgeon using computer aided imaging. They need (really need!) to know exactly where their scalpel or other invasive instruments are in 3-D space. Present 3-D simulations, the authors argue, lag far behind the accuracy and confidence a surgeon can have when using true 3-D imaging. Early medical displays presented a flat section of the patient’s brain to the surgeon who had to make educated guesses as to just how deep the various capillaries, nerve fibres and so on were. The authors want new interfaces to, "…permit tasks that are inherently 3-D in nature to be carried out within a 3-D design space" (p. 23).

The authors, to lighten up the highly technical nature of the book, have used The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as a metaphor for the journey through their investigation; the quotes from the various verses give the book a "good feel". This poem was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge with a caution to the reader concerning "a willing suspension of disbelief". It is this visual disbelief and illusion that is of prime concern in designing effective 3-D visual computer interfaces. As an aside, I always thought it was Shakespeare who first came up with "the suspension of disbelief" but, alas, it was Coleridge writing to Wordsworth! Unfortunately, in addition to the Ancient Mariner quotes, there is also too many other quotes from various sources in section headings which become a bit tedious after a while.

Blundell and Schwarz have produced a body of research, jam packed into this book that will surely become a standard text for all interested in this important and pressing area of 3-D interaction interface design. This includes not only hardware system engineers, but also software designers, artists, architects, medical practitioners, and entertainment gurus who specialise in creating a "willing suspension of disbelief". Whilst the authors may not be the first to work in this area they have certainly created a pioneering work in an area that has been fairly silent.

"The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea." (p. 319)




Updated 1st July 2006

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